The NHL shuts down for four days during Christmas, which usually means a freeze on big stories.
Not for the Wild.
The team broke major news Wednesday when it revealed defenseman Matt Dumba, arguably the team’s most valuable player through the first third of their season, will miss a minimum of three months after shoulder surgery.
The Wild announced Dumba, who leads NHL defensemen in goals with 12, had “successful” surgery to repair a ruptured right pectoral muscle on Wednesday.
He suffered the injury in the first period of the Wild’s loss to Calgary on Dec. 15 at Xcel Energy Center. Last Friday, General Manager Paul Fenton announced Dumba would have surgery, but didn’t reveal the exact nature of the “upper-body” injury for concern that opponents might target the area when Dumba returns.
A three-month recovery would mean Dumba’s earliest return could come in late March. If it takes longer, it might not be until the postseason, if there is one; the Wild’s final regular-season game is April 6 at Dallas.
The surgery was done by Dr. Brad Nelson at Tria Orthopaedic Center.
The Wild is in 11th place, two points out of the final playoff spot, in the Western Conference entering Thursday night’s game in Chicago. The team is chartering to Chicago on Thursday morning for its first practice since Saturday’s 2-1 overtime loss to the Stars.
Dumba was second on the team in ice time, behind fellow defenseman Ryan Suter, at 23 minutes, 23 seconds per game. He also leads NHL defensemen in power-play goals with six.
The 24-year-old native of Regina, Saskatchewan, signed a five-year, $30 million contract during the summer. He manned the point on the Wild’s top power-play unit and was among the team leaders in hits (60) and shots (93).
Fenton said Friday the team would explore its options. Once the holiday blackout is lifted, it likely will recall a defenseman from Iowa of the American Hockey League. Ryan Murphy and Louie Belpedio are the most likely candidates.
Nate Prosser has been the Wild’s seventh defenseman this season but has rarely played as Dumba, Suter, Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon, Nick Seeler and Greg Pateryn were a healthy six.
That all changed with Dumba’s injury.
“It really hurts,” Fenton said Friday. “There’s no question that it really hurts. I was really glad with the way our defense was playing. We had balance.”
The cause of Dumba’s injury was unclear, although he did engage in a fight 40 seconds into the Calgary game with Flames winger Matthew Tkachuk, a confrontation that served as retaliation for Dumba’s hard but legal check on Flames center Mikael Backlund in the Dec. 6 meeting between the teams in Calgary. Dumba continued to play and ended up logging 5 minutes, 37 seconds in the first period. But he did not return for the second and third.
On Friday, Fenton said even Dumba isn’t sure when the injury happened.
The defenseman hoped to avoid surgery, but a second medical opinion last week settled the issue.
“He’s a big loss on the defense,” coach Bruce Boudreau said Friday. “There’s no doubt he was coming into his own as a young player maturing into becoming one of the better offensive defensemen in the league. So it’s a blow, but we have to get over it and not feel sorry for ourselves.
“He was taking a leadership role. He was the vocal leader in the room. He was the guy that was excited and got everybody going, and all this is maturity. The consistency of his game on a night-to-night basis was much better than in previous years.”
Dumba tied a franchise record for the longest point streak by a defenseman at seven games and became the sixth blueliner since 1989-90 to reach the 10-goal plateau through his team’s first 22 games.