The trade deadline is approaching and Wild speculations are swirling.
The always interesting Michael Russo of The Athletic linked the Montreal Canadiens to the Minnesota Wild in his column last week. The Habs are reportedly one of the clubs interested in acquiring a defenceman from the Western Conference team.
Minnesota sits a few points out of a playoff spot currently, looking more and more like sellers at this trade deadline. The Habs themselves aren’t positioned to add elements by before Monday’s cutoff, but the respective needs of each organization still means that they could help each other in the next few days or at some point in the off-season.
The two pieces most logically coveted by Montreal on the Wild’s back end are Matt Dumba and Jonas Brodin, two proven top-four defencemen still in their prime. They both come with manageable deals, which only increases their value.
The styles of those two players stand in opposition. Dumba shoots right and generates offence first and foremost, while Brodin, a lefty, acts more as a shutdown presence. Let’s take a more in-depth look at the defencemen’s respective abilities to see if a fit could be found for a Habs team in dire need of help on on defence.
Defending the blue line
The Montreal Canadiens have given up too many goals off the rush this season. While this is a team problem overall (forwards aren’t supporting their defencemen well enough), adding a blue-liner capable of breaking up plays in the neutral zone at a high rate would go a long way toward making life easier for the whole team, especially considering the Habs’ reliance on rapid counter-attacks to generate offence.
Brodin closes the space of opponents effectively. He points his stick at the puck at all times, but rarely over-reaches. He stays in control, weight centred over his skates in a strong athletic position that gives him a large four-way mobility. He is an excellent skater, exploding out of his turns and rapidly pivoting in any direction without losing much speed. He can seamlessly match the momentum and course of incoming attackers.
Even faced with multiple opponents, Brodin finds ways to pressure the carrier. If he fails to dislodge the puck from the opposition, he easily recovers a neutral, risk-mitigating position and waits for a chance to angle opposing forwards to the boards after they cross the line.
The downside of Brodin’s rush defence is that his swaying, crossover-heavy backward skating can betray him. His transitions from one foot to the other makes him more susceptible to dangles.
Dumba employs a different style than Brodin; a bit more unorthodox. But he arguably stops controlled zone entries just as effectively, if not more.
He stands up to the opposing rush aggressively, closing his gap earlier in the neutral zone and looking to play the body. He doesn’t necessarily aim to lay big hits, but simply to use his frame and mobility to create a wall that opponents can’t go around.
He also plays tricks. Instead of having his stick extended at all times, Brodin style, he keeps it sheathed. His top hand lays against his hip to not show the full length of his reach. Dumba invites attackers approaching with their head half down to enter his range, and when they get close enough he swats the puck away with a pokecheck they don’t expect.
In-zone is where the two players separate themselves the most — both offensively and defensively. Brodin protects the slot very well. Out of the two, he’s the player who can most keep shots to the outside, through a high level of activity and an ability to consistently reposition ever so slightly to remain in an effective defensive position.
Just like in his rush defence, the defenceman impacts a large area of the ice with his mobility. He can be glued to his man away from the play in one second, and the next double-teaming an opposing carrier to free the puck. His stick always moves ahead of him when pressuring opponents to continuously deny passing lanes to the middle of the ice.
The defenceman doesn’t necessarily anticipate the offensive rotation like some of the top blue-liners in the league, but what he lacks in foresight he makes up with his high mobility; a great corrective tool.
Brodin recognizes threats even when they move behind him, and can adjust his position to cover multiple opponents in the best way possible. The defenceman takes appropriate angles to shut down opponents on the wall, and when the puck pops open he seals it from opposing access until it can safely move toward a teammate.
He doesn’t hit frequently, averaging only one every two games over his career, but attackers still get pinned hard to the boards if they stop moving against him.
Dumba defends more frenetically; he makes more desperate attempts at takeaways. He’s aggressive, which can be good, but opponents can sometimes move around him with timely cut-backs as he puts himself off balance by reaching for the puck with his stick, something he does more in the defensive zone than off the rush. Sneaky backdoor plays can also get the better of him.
Still, the defenceman competes fiercely in front of the net and won’t let opponents get the inside lane on him very often. If they do end up winning that track, it’s due to an uncommon ability to resist shoves and whacks.
The script flips in the offensive zone. There, Dumba is king.
His hard, piercing shots from the point or the left circle (where he positions himself on the power play) are a true menace for goaltenders and defenders alike. The defenceman has honed his release through the years and found ways to maximize its power, like dropping his knee into the motion to further flex his stick and launch bombs at the net.
His powerful shot earned him a double-digit goal total in each of the past four seasons, but it’s not the only tool in his arsenal. Dumba can also jump down from the point with timely fakes against defensive wingers. He uses the threat of his shot to force the opponents into blocking positions before moving around them to skate along the wall or to the slot.
Dumba’s skill set is comparable to a top-six forward. He can easily act as one lower in the offensive zone and can become the engine behind a team’s offence on a given shift.
Brodin’s offensive game shines in its simplicity. Again, his feet do most of the work. If he sees open space in front of him, he jumps down from the point and receives passes in stride to improve the location of his short-windup wristers. That’s not to say he can’t fire the odd big slapshot like Dumba. His goal against the New York Rangers showed it’s in his arsenal, but the defenceman doesn’t commonly use it.
Overall, Brodin doesn’t bring anything revolutionary to an offence. He makes the expected play, which is often launching the puck back down on net or into space after a low-to-high wall pass.
Most of Brodin’s points come from his transition game, which is based on his one-on-one ability against opponents. Just like in his defensive game, he rapidly moves his feet to win races to loose pucks and chains timely stick-lifts and checks with short passes to supporting teammates.
Picking the puck cleanly from the boards is a real skill, and it’s one that Brodin definitely possesses. He can rapidly turn up ice after recovering possession to look for options. If he’s pressured, he finds ways to move the puck along the wall by switching the handle on his stick or using his feet.
His poise against the forecheck and his short passing game makes him an effective puck-mover. For the more elaborate rushes, however, he tends to defer to his partner.
That’s how Dumba complements his partner in transition. He can make some of the same five- to 10-foot passes to his forwards in his zone, but he has a better handle on the puck. If the opposition gives him space, he doesn’t hesitate to rush up ice.
He can accelerate rapidly in open ice to challenge defenders, and cut laterally against the defence to trace a path through a neutral-zone defence. As he crosses the offensive blue line, he can distribute passes to teammates standing on the walls.
Five-on-five statistical analysis
As expected, the statistical profiles of the two defencemen paint quite opposite portraits.
Negative numbers on the defensive side and positive numbers on the offensive side are good. The model calculates a player’s ability to generate and suppress shots. Dangerous shots have a greater weight.
Jonas Brodin’s isolated five-on-five impact
Brodin suppresses shot much better than Dumba in the defensive end through his attention to positioning, his awareness, and his constant movement. Dumba recoups some of the defensive losses with a much better offensive impact; Brodin simply doesn’t use his toolkit on the attack as well as Dumba does.
Matt Dumba isolated five-on-five impact
That being said, continuing to look at this statistical model inside the pairing of two defencemen, it looks like the improvements to the defensive side of the game brought by Brodin makes for a more positive impact on shot and goal differentials than the added offence of Dumba.
On-ice impact (Without)
|Player||Defensive threat||Offensive threat||Net Total|
|Player||Defensive threat||Offensive threat||Net Total|
|Brodin without Dumba||-20%||-14%||+6%|
|Dumba without Brodin||+19%||-3%||-22%|
This data is strictly at five-on-five however, and the boost that Dumba gives to a power play can’t be dismissed. The defenceman has put up 12 points with a man advantage in the past three seasons, and the Wild’s power play always finished in the top-half of the league in that time.
Organizational considerations for Minnesota
Dumba missed the majority of last season due to a torn pectoralis muscle and Brodin suffered a few issues with hands that also sidelined him, although for only a few weeks. Overall, both have stayed relatively healthy, and don’t seem at risk of repeat injuries that could impair the rest of their career.
Their contract situations differ. While Dumba is signed through 2022-23, Brodin’s contract expires next season, which diminishes his value on the market — unless a deal can be signed in the summer prior to a trade.
Minnesota currently has four capable top-four defencemen. It’s a solid base on which to build a team. Unfortunately, their lack of difference-makers and their aging core up front makes it seem unlikely they can find a way to swing back into contention any time soon.
Even if they lack the defensive prospects to replace Dumba or Brodin — high-scoring AHL blue-liner Brennan Menell likely won’t be ready to face top competition next year, and players like Marshall Warren and the two Johanssons, Simon and Filip, are still years away — their bigger need is young impact forwards, ideally down the middle.
Montreal Canadiens with Jonas Brodin
There’s a feeling of urgency now around the Habs. They stated they want to be competitive, and reach the expectations they haven’t been able to match for several years. If the organization wants to continue taking step forward, they need a long-term answer on the back end.
The team has looked internally for a partner for Shea Weber for a couple of seasons now, without much success. The closest answer they have to the lasting problem is the arrival of Alexander Romanov, but expecting him to fill the void in his first NHL season is extremely optimistic; crossing the ocean is not even a sure thing for him yet.
In this light, acquiring Brodin would make a lot of sense for the team, not only due to his handedness (he could slot on the left side of Weber), but also because he fills the Habs’ need for a puck-mover that is also capable of shutting down access to the blue line and the slot.
The pairing of Ben Chiarot and Weber earlier in the season provided an interesting template for the Habs, one that they could potentially replicate with Brodin. With the Habs, Weber had always been identified as a defensive defenceman, one in need of a potential offensive partner to capitalize on his shutdown ability. But the Chiarot experiment revealed that pairing Weber with a more defensively inclined partner liberated his more offensive self, one that was often restrained by the inexperience of his other partners like Victor Mete.
Weber, for a time at least, looked like he was putting up one of the better season of his career offensively with . So it’s possible that a more mobile and defensively sound ally in Jonas Brodin could elevate the offence generated by a Habs first pairing to an even higher level.
Another bonus: Brodin’s presence would move other defencemen like Ben Chiarot, Brett Kulak, and future newcomer Alexander Romanov down to better fitting chairs on the back-end.
Montreal Canadiens with Matt Dumba
Dumba’s addition would bring different offensive elements to the team, some they critically lack from the back, and that Brodin couldn’t bring.
Dumba’s aggressiveness and rush-defence abilities would fit the counter-attacking system of the Habs very well. Plus, he could finally be the mobile, right-shooting cannon that boosts the effectiveness of the Habs’ power-play. At five-on-five he would help create movement at the top of the zone to shift the opposing defence to find plays to the slot, something most Habs defencemen are not comfortable or capable of doing.
That being said, Dumba’s fit within the team on first look isn’t ideal with both right spots occupied by Jeff Petry and Weber. His hypothetical arrival would have to be preceded by other large changes to the core of the defensive group.
Organizational considerations for Montreal
The more seamless fit is the best one here for me. I would aim for Jonas Brodin. I think his impact would likely be more positive overall to the team through his defensive acumen.
Of course, this is all dependent on his contract. If he comes with only one year remaing on his deal, the Habs shouldn’t be interested. Even if they want to compete soon, they still look toward the future more than anything, and a one year addition doesn’t suit the long-term vision of the organization.
A signed Brodin, however, could easily integrate himself to the young core, while also bridging the gap with their veterans. It’s very likely that Brodin, at 27 years old next summer, still has multiple years of effective hockey ahead of him. Like some other defencemen around his age, he seems to still be getting better. His current season is one of his best, and his production has even surpassed Dumba’s.
What would Brodin cost? A lot. Established top-four defencemen are not a commodity. They come with a hefty price.
The Wild are looking to add to their forward group. In exchange for a signed top-four defenceman, they would want no less than a play-driving top-six forward, probably one capable of playing centre. That, or the chance of getting this specific piece in the near future.
By accumulating young players in the past few years, the Canadiens now may finally have the ressource to deal from a position of relative strength to add to one in need. Losing a player like Cole Caufield or Max Domi would hurt — a lot. It would create a hole up front and in their precious future, but it might be a necessary cost to solve a large need on defence.
The other choice for the Habs is parting with their likely top-10 pick, which would give the Wild a choice of players like Tim Stützle, Marco Rossi, Anton Lundell, and Cole Perfetti, prospects that have quite a high chance of becoming impactful and should push the team in the right direction in a couple of years.
Those trade scenarios are far from ideal, but the alternatives also come with pain. Maintaining the status quo while the prime assets of the team get older means hoping to fetch a top-three pick at the draft and collect Jamie Drysdale, the defenceman most likely to fill a top-four role in the next few years. Relying on the free-agent market also hasn’t been kind to Montreal in the past years. Or the Habs can go the rebuild route, which means adding all assets through the draft but throwing any chance of being competitive in the next few years out the window.
Considering the current direction of the organization, their resetting status, Matt Dumba, and even moreso Jonas Brodin, could represent an interesting compromise. It allows the organization to continue building toward the future by replacing the asset lost through the draft and the development of young players, while simultaneously strengthening the formation in the goal of competing for the playoffs next season.
Ultimately, it might not be a trade that ever manifests itself, but one thing is certain: The organization has to start being more aggressive in their plan, no matter the course taken. If they don’t make clear choices now, those will be made for them; their top assets won’t keep their value forever.