Breaking Down Devan Dubnyk's Role with Nashville Predators

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Breaking Down Devan Dubnyk's Role with Nashville Predators
Mark Humphrey/Associated Press
Nashville Predators goalie Devan Dubnyk.

Size is an undeniable asset to goaltenders, and now the Nashville Predators have two that are 6’5” or taller, but unfortunately, one is injured and the other is Devan Dubnyk.

Two games in after being traded to the Predators from the Edmonton Oilers, the 6’6” Dubnyk is already up to his old tricks—none of them good.

Despite being available to the Preds against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday, Dubnyk served as Carter Hutton’s backup, much the same way he had become Ilya Bryzgalov’s in Edmonton.

Since the latter played his first game for the Oilers back in late November, Dubynk had started just 11 of 25 games. And you know what they say about backups to Ilya Bryzgalov, don’t you? Well…they’re worse than Ilya Bryzgalov. It’s admittedly not that popular of a saying, but, boy, does it ring true.

Given the net against the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday night, Dubnyk allowed five goals on just 29 shots. He now has a record of 11-18-2 on the season.

Admittedly, a large reason for that horrendous record is that he had been playing behind the defensively unaware Oilers. However, that excuse won’t fly playing behind the Predators.

Whereas the Oilers average 31.9 shots against per game (eighth worst), the Predators average 29.2 (10th best). The Oilers, meanwhile, have allowed the most goals in the league at 179, and a large reason for that is they had been playing in front of Dubnyk. He now has a goals-against average of 3.42 and a save percentage of .892.

Granted, the Predators have allowed a lot of goals this season as well, 146 in all, but that’s a big reason why they got Dubnyk in the first place—to tend goal until No. 1 Pekka Rinne (who’s 6’5”) is healthy again following his hip surgery back in October.

Since then, the Predators have been forced to try to get by with second-rate goaltending. They had given the reins to a duo comprised of 22-year-old Marek Mazanec, who can probably stand some seasoning in the AHL—and 28-year-old AHLer Carter Hutton, who can probably stand to just be sent back down to the AHL, period (despite some admittedly awesome saves).

It should be noted, following the acquisition of Dubnyk, Mazanec, who’s 8-10-4 on the year with a 2.80 goals-against average and .902 save percentage, was promptly demoted. It should also be noted that he’s 6’4”, which isn’t really important, but just weird in that the Predators management really does seem to have a fetish for tall goalies.

Hutton, for the record, is a practically dwarfish 6’1”. Rinne’s former backup, Anders Lindback, was 6’6”, though, so Hutton simply must have some incriminating photos of general manager David Poile in his back pocket or something. Just how extreme is this fetish exactly?

Anyway, a common misconception is that Dubnyk is horrible. And while, yes, he certainly isn’t, well, good (at least not right now), he has had his moments.

For instance, in each of the three seasons prior to this one he never once earned a save percentage below .914. Last season, through 38 games as the Oilers’ undisputed fodder—er, starter—he actually had one of .920, which is actually very good.

So, one has to believe the Predators were on some level taking a calculated risk that the goalie they were acquiring was the Dubynk of 2012-13 and not 2013-14. Of course, if they really possessed time-travel capabilities, one has to believe they would have gone back to undraft Alexander Radulov by now.

Coincidentally, Radulov (15th overall) was the pick immediately after Dubnyk (14th) back in 2004. Despite it being a relatively weak draft after the first two picks (Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin), it’s safe to say the Oilers missed out on Cory Schneider (26th), and the Preds missed just about anyone who didn’t leave for the KHL…twice.

In any case, the younger and statistically superior goalie, Mazanec, being demoted following Dubnyk’s acquisition indicates that Poile is perhaps “calling” the Predators season and prepping for April’s post-mortem press conference as we speak.

Few would blame him.

At 21-22-7, the Preds are now 10 points out of the last wild-card spot in the Western Conference and 18 back of the Colorado Avalanche for the last of three Central Division berths. There is still no timetable for Rinne’s return. So, this is likely just about biding time and giving Mazanec the chance to properly develop under better circumstances with the Norfolk Admirals actually having a shot at the playoffs.

After all, Nashville didn’t give up a whole lot to get Dubnyk. Going the other way was Matt Hendricks, a grinder whom the Predators had admittedly just signed to a four-year, $7.4 million deal in the offseason.

While that four-year term would indicate the Predators believed Hendricks was a missing piece of the puzzle, the $1.85 million price tag per year is kind of steep for a third- or fourth-liner, especially for the Preds, who traditionally make it a habit to not spend up to the cap.

Mark Humphrey/Associated Press
Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne.

So, the Oilers actually did the Preds a solid here. In return, the Preds get Dubnyk’s expiring contract. Chances are good he won’t be re-signed. But if he is it will only be as Rinne’s backup.

It would be a definite step backward for Dubnyk. Being as tall he is, though, he must be able to more easily see the forest for the trees and know his options are limited. He’s got talent, just not the confidence right now. He has to build himself up again from square one, because being forced to back up Bryzgalov?

That’s pretty much rock bottom.

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