Minnesota Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk knows that expectations will be high with fans wondering what he'll do for an encore.
"I've thought about it a ton," Dubnyk told the St. Paul Pioneer Press this week. "It would be nice not to have to go 27-9 again there at the end. We have to get going faster, have a more consistent start."
The Wild were 18-19-5, losers of 12 of 14 games and eight points out of the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference when Dubnyk arrived in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes on Jan. 14. He won his Wild debut the next night, 7-0 at the Buffalo Sabres.
The Wild finished 28-9-3 to earn the first wild card into the playoffs. Dubnyk started 39 of those 40 games and went 27-9-2 with a 1.78 goals-against average, .936 save percentage and five shutouts to become a Vezina Trophy finalist. Minnesota defeated the Central Division champion St. Louis Blues in six games in the Western Conference First Round before being swept by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
"It's a pretty cool story to have to go through," Dubnyk told reporter Tom Powers. "You learn a lot about life in general and not just hockey. I tried to enjoy it when it was happening. I've filed it all away. Playing as much as I did, there was a lot of information. Whether we won 1-0 or 6-4, or if we lost 1-0, I have it stored in my mind. So many different situations."
Dubnyk signed a six-year, $26 million contract on July 4.
"It is different," he said. "Once you start a family, kids come along, the one thing you want most is security. You want to look after them as best you can. It's not just having job security, but job security in Minnesota, where the team is only going to get better. That was part of the negotiations. It was tight [salary-cap] space, but security was important to me, and they knew that after what I've gone through.
"It took me a little time to wind down. It probably wasn't until almost August. The season went longer for me than it ever had, and there were the awards and then the contract. Now it's been nice to sit back and really think about it and soak it all in."
Dubnyk is unlikely to have to play 39 out of 40 again. Backup Darcy Kuemper, who was injured prior to the trade for Dubnyk, is 27-22-6 with a 2.48 GAA and .910 save percentage in 63 NHL games (56 starts) and capable of providing a breather.
"We were forced into that situation last year when we couldn't afford not to play [Dubnyk] based on the way that he was playing and the fact that there was no signs of fatigue whatsoever in his game," Wild coach Mike Yeo told NHL.com. "Every point was so crucial for us, even in March, even in January, February. We were forced into this situation but obviously things will be different this year."