When Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price went down to injury, it was time to examine the depth chart. Peter Budaj? Yes. Dustin Tokarski? Yes. Devan Dubnyk? Holy smokes, forgot he was there. Where was he in all this?
Dubnyk gave a polite laugh at that recollection as he drove from Lethbridge to Edmonton on Sunday afternoon. He is back at home with wife Jennifer and son Nathaniel.
"It's kind of a weird situation," he said. "The year was really tough and really long."
Let's start at the beginning.
Nine months ago, Dubnyk arrived at training camp as Edmonton's starting goalie and a pending unrestricted free agent. He had high hopes for both himself and the Oilers.
"It's crazy," he said. "If you had asked me at the start of the year, 'What's the worst thing that would happen?', I wouldn't have thought of half of this scenario."
And he's pretty blunt about where things started to go wrong: "I wasn't good."
Dubynk wasn't the only one.
Edmonton won just three of 14 games in October. On Jan. 15, the Oilers traded him to the Nashville Predators for forward Matt Hendricks. Dubnyk was excited to go, but he played just two games.
"[Carter] Hutton played really well," Dubnyk said. "It didn't help my situation."
Hutton earned the net when Pekka Rinne succumbed to an infection. Forty-nine days after acquiring him, Nashville sent Dubnyk to Montreal for future considerations. He never dressed for the Canadiens, going to the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs, where he partnered with Montreal's emergency playoff starter.
"It's funny, I never get nervous when I play, but get nervous when I watch someone I'm friends with," Dubnyk said of Tokarski and his sudden post-season fame.
But Dubnyk was unhappy, far from Nathaniel, born almost 10 months ago.
"I didn't want to talk anybody or talk about it at all," he said. "Going from being an NHL starter to the AHL was embarrassing.
"My wife really helped ... [she] put up listening to me complain about it for a couple of months."
The Bulldogs missed the playoffs, so Dubnyk joined Montreal for the NHL version. Price, Budaj and Tokarski practised with the regulars, making Dubnyk a "black ace" skating with six or seven others with little chance of playing.
After the Canadiens eliminated the Boston Bruins (Price was still healthy), Dubnyk asked if he could go back to his family.
"I was missing a good portion of the beginning of [Nathaniel's] life," he said. "It felt more important than what I was doing in Montreal... [the Canadiens] were great about it."
Dubnyk will begin training this week as he seeks new employment. He would like to continue working with Frederic Chabot, who coached him in Edmonton.
"He's been incredible for me," Dubnyk said.
Asked about Dubnyk, other goalie coaches suggested he also seek out new ideas. When you have a year like this one, a fresh set of eyes can make you see what you didn't see before. One of the reasons the Predators traded Dubnyk is he didn't philosophically bond with Mitch Korn, their goalie coach.
Korn has an excellent resume and it may not be a bad idea for Dubnyk to revisit that, to see why it didn't work out. After all, don't we learn the most about ourselves when we're at our lowest?
Whatever the case, Dubnyk's ready to begin the journey back.
"I still feel I can be a good starting goaltender," he said. "I know it will be more difficult.
"To be out of the league [NHL] was tough to swallow ... Even if I had to backup and play 20 games, I'd obviously do that than end up like this year, but I'm trying not to think about it -- it makes me too anxious.
"I'll see what comes on [July 1]."
1. In Tokarski's first two starts in the Eastern Conference final, he really fidgeted with his equipment during stoppages and timeouts. Nerves or normal? Normal, according to Dubnyk. "He messes with his gear more than anyone I've ever seen. It's always something different -- changing his straps, kneeling in the corner... When I got here, guys were saying, 'Wait until you see him with his equipment.'"
2. Guaranteed that nobody was more proud to see Tokarski win Game 3 over the New York Rangers more than Charlie Hodge, who, legend has it, begged, cajoled, pleaded and screamed at the Tampa Bay Lightning until they drafted the goalie in 2008. Hodge, who won six Stanley Cups with Montreal as a player, was a scout for the Lightning. Apparently, Tampa didn't tell Hodge it would take Tokarski, so it would be a surprise.
3. With Barry Trotz closing his deal to become Washington's next head coach, the obvious question becomes 'Who is the general manager?' You've got to think Trotz knows the answer -- or has a very good idea. It sounds like the Capitals interviewed and/or talked to about 10 people for the job, including Craig Button, Jay Feaster, Paul Fenton, Brian MacLellan, Ross Mahoney, Darcy Regier, Don Sweeney and God only knows who else. I suspect there was some kind of contact with Mike Gillis and Ray Shero, but don't have confirmation. As for Wayne Gretzky, the position would have been bigger than GM, obviously, but it didn't go too far.
4. Trotz has a lengthy history with Fenton and Shero, but do not ignore MacLellan. According to several sources, the current assistant GM was involved in the Trotz interviews and helped show him around the U.S. capital. It is unlikely someone on the way out would be so heavily involved. When this process started, his hiring would be a surprise. Not anymore.
5. Newly hired Canucks GM Jim Benning said he would like to meet with Ryan Kesler, who requested a trade. There's a lot of info flying around about the centre. Here's what agent Kurt Overhardt would confirm: that he and Kesler have met once with Canucks president Trevor Linden, who met solely with Kesler on a second occasion. Both sides agreed to have another discussion once the new GM and head coach were hired.
6. Here's what Overhardt would not address: What it would take to change Kesler's mind. Both Linden and Benning talk about the Canucks retooling on the fly, and, from what a couple sources say about Kesler, that's a critical part of the discussion. He's suffered some pretty painful losses in his career (2010 Olympics, 2011 Stanley Cup, 2014 Olympics) and badly wants to win. The agent also wouldn't talk about Kesler's list of teams (Anaheim Ducks, Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Detroit Red Wings, Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay). It is believed, however, that group may change.
7. While Overhardt was trapped on the phone, I did ask him about another client, Ryan Johansen. Overhardt said talks with the Columbus Blue Jackets would begin shortly. Then, he hung up before I came up with anything else.
8. New Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving said he's met with UFA-to-be Mike Cammalleri, but it was more of a feeling-out, get-to-know-each-other conversation than a serious discussion about numbers. You never know until the offers get exchanged, but the two sides are going to give it a shot.
9. When it comes to the Vancouver coaching job, there is a belief that this may be as much Linden's call -- if not more his call -- than Benning's. Linden was up front about his wishes (a career teacher) well before the new GM was hired. Benning's opinion matters, but Linden clearly knows what he wants here.
10. When coaches join the Hockey Night in Canada studio panel during the playoffs, I don't badger them about their situations. That's the case with Adam Oates. My personal opinion? I think he's intrigued by Vancouver, although I have no idea if they're interested in him. Oates clearly loves unlocking offensive ability -- Troy Brouwer, Jason Chimera and Joel Ward all had career highs in points this season -- and the Canucks need to rediscover theirs. Oates might not like reading this, but it wouldn't be the first time he's annoyed by something in this blog.
11. Now that the Los Angeles Kings beat Anaheim and is giving Chicago all it can handle, does it change how the San Jose Sharks feel about themselves? There was so much anger and heartbreak over the collapse, but you should almost always throw out comments made in the heat of the moment.
12. Even if the Kings go on to win the Stanley Cup, there's a limit to how much you can use that to say, "We're not as bad as we thought," because it was a 3-0 lead. I don't know if anyone expected them to try to trade Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski or Joe Thornton, but I do think teams were wondering about Brent Burns. Now that the Sharks plan on moving him back to the blue-line, there's a feeling Doug Wilson will not let emotion rule the day.
13. One possibility is the Sharks moving Antti Niemi. He's got one year left at $3.8 million US.
14. Some internal changes you might see? Marleau's led San Jose forwards in ice-time per game since 2008-09, usually above 20 minutes per night. Does that come down? Couture has never been above 19 minutes. Does he get more? Thornton is consistently in the 18:30 range now, but takes a lot of defensive-zone draws (and considering how many points he gets, I was surprised to see how many he took). Does Thornton get more offensive-zone work to conserve his legs?
15. I was surprised to see former AHL Manchester head coach Mark Morris unemployed, especially as Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli terrorize Kings opponents. Morris did good work with L.A.'s prospects. Washington's AHL job (Hershey Bears) is open and that may be a fit if he's not an NHL assistant.
16. The Ryan Miller trade didn't work out for the St. Louis Blues, but another exec had a pretty interesting take on it. He said that if the current playoff setup stays in place, he's glad he's not in Chicago's division (everyone assumes Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews will be signing lengthy extensions). If you know you've still got multiple years of Kane, Toews, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, etc., will you have to judge the years where you think you really have a shot and really go for it?
17. One of the Rangers' biggest problems with Derek Stepan out? They don't have enough right-handed shots on the power play -- can't set up one-timers. Even with Chris Kreider's return energizing the unit, it's tough to score that way.
18. Hockey Night analyst P.J. Stock with a good catch: Watch how good P.K. Subban is at using his back to ward off big hits. Even Milan Lucic had a hard time getting him.
19. If Sweeney is no longer in consideration for Washington, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him added to Pittsburgh's list.
20. I'm not sure if the Penguins have asked for permission to speak to the Rangers' Jeff Gorton, but the answer could reveal a few things. Whenever Glen Sather decides it is time, the belief is his replacement as Rangers GM will come from within (though Sather has denied on at least two occasions that he's stepping down after the season). The three possibilities are Gorton, Doug Risebrough and Jim Schoenfeld.
21. There's doubt that Risebrough would want to do the job, as he is happy with his current role. That leaves Gorton and Schoenfeld. If it is Gorton, would the Rangers clarify his future to prevent his potential loss?
22. One team president's theory on Pittsburgh and head coach Dan Bylsma: "In the real world, an owner hires someone at the top who makes decisions on everyone else. I'd bet that's what [Penguins owner] Ron Burkle is doing." I'll say the same thing I say about all of these openings: 'Make it quick. Don't let people hang.'
23. Other openings? For Florida, I'm hearing people with lengthy resumes -- Marc Crawford, Tom Renney, maybe Ron Wilson. The question is if the Panthers widen the search if they run out of what they consider to be experienced options. For the Carolina Hurricanes, a wait to at least talk to Ulf Samuelsson. I'm not saying he gets it, but he's in the picture.
24. I heard some good words on Josh Morrisey, the Winnipeg Jets' first-rounder in 2013. After the Prince Albert Raiders exited the WHL playoffs, he joined the AHL St. John's. The defenceman had one assist in eight regular-season games, but has six points in 11 post-season matches as the IceCaps compete for the Eastern Conference crown. He's making a nice step.
25. As the Toronto Marlies go farther in the AHL playoffs (they lead Texas, 1-0 in the Western Conference final), you wonder what that team's success means for the coaching staff. Head coach Steve Spott is doing very well in his first professional season, but the Toronto Maple Leafs may want him to continue running a bench. Assistants Gord Dineen and Derek King also make sense for promotion since they've done good work with players like Jake Gardiner and Nazem Kadri.
26. At this time of year, half the job is searching through hockeydb.com and seeing who worked with/coached/played with who. Perry Pearn, who was in Winnipeg this season, coached Brendan Shanahan in New York and worked with Randy Carlyle as an assistant to Terry Simpson back in 1995-96. You wonder if that's a fit.
27. Here's another one. Going through Cam Ward's history, he had a 1.99 goals-against average for the AHL Lowell Lock Monsters in 2004-05. That was a split club as Carolina shared the roster with Calgary. The Flames goalie coach back then was David Marcoux. I'm probably overthinking this, but you're always told to look for the connections.
28. Now, something a little different. Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig is reportedly facing a battle in setting up his replacement. His choice is believed to be baseball's COO Rob Manfred. There is a list of candidates to be interviewed, though. Could Blackhawks president John McDonough, who spent 24 years with the Chicago Cubs, be on it?
29. I know kids today are big on texting, but is it really enough to just text someone "sorry" after a play that injures them? I hate hearing that. Make a phone call if you really want to make amends.
30. Writing this in my home office, I have Fischler's Hockey Encyclopedia next to my laptop, published in 1975. I bought it at a used bookstore years later. Stan and Shirley Fischler's photo is on the back cover and their dedications are nearly exact, explaining how both could never have loved hockey so much without each other. Shirley died of cancer two weeks ago and it's fitting the Eastern Conference final is being played at Madison Square Garden, where she was the first female to cover hockey. Best to Stan and her family.
Follow Elliotte Friedman on Twitter @FriedgeHNIC
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