Matt Dumba on free agency, the Coyotes and time with Wild: ‘Hell of a ride’

As much as Matt Dumba knew his time was finally up with the Wild, it didn’t make it any less of an emotional exit.

That held especially true Monday morning, when Dumba’s one-year, $3.9 million deal with the Coyotes was official. One of the first calls he got was from long-time defense pair partner and best friend Jonas Brodin.

Dumba and Brodin were picked by Minnesota in back-to-back drafts, 2011 and 2012, back when they were teenagers. They broke into the league around the same time a decade ago, and have been in the same pair for what seems like forever. So on Monday, they reminisced a bit. Brodin was happy for Dumba, with the two talking about how many good meals together they’ll have when the Wild are in Tempe, Ariz, or rounds of golf they’ll play. Those lifelong friendships are what Dumba will remember the most, and those won’t go away.

“This was a little bittersweet,” Dumba said. “There’s a new chapter I’m starting. Me and (Brodin) have been going together since day one. He’s one of the last two standing. I guess him and (captain Jared Spurgeon).

“It’s been one hell of a ride here in Minny.”

Dumba spoke with the media Monday over Zoom from the Twin Cities, where he still plans to keep his Eden Prairie home. This will eventually be, as Dumba put it, his “home base,” but definitely his spot in the summertime, where he heard Arizona got up to 115 degrees for 15 straight days. “I don’t know if I can hack that,” Dumba quipped. Dumba’s girlfriend is from Eagan, and they’ve made the house their “dream home.” Dumba has also formed a strong connection with the community, his “Hockey Without Limits” camp benefitting kids from all walks of life for the last three years. And Dumba’s efforts for inclusiveness in hockey, growing the game in the local community, will remain, even if some of his teammates are picking up the slack in person.

“I’ll definitely stay connected,” Dumba said. “Because it will be home base for me one day. I value those connections. The bonds I’ve made with all the different groups in the Twin Cities. It’s been so fulfilling. I know that’s part of my life, my purpose, is to help others and in the situation I’m in, I don’t take that lightly I think people around here know that. I’m proud of that. My work won’t stop, it won’t stop here. I’ve got great teammates, former teammates, that will pick up a lot of the pieces I left behind and help facilitate while I’m gone, to be there and continue to grow the game.”

Dumba said he spoke with several teams in free agency, but the Coyotes were there from “day one” and were always the “front runner.” The fact Dumba has a home in the Scottsdale area certainly helps, his experience working out with his trainer in the area. Former Wild teammate Nick Bjugstad, a current Coyote, was texting Dumba every other day, including “putting the clams” on Dumba at a wedding a few weeks ago, trying to sell him on Arizona. The offseason acquisitions by the Coyotes were intriguing, including the signing of University of Minnesota star Logan Cooley. Dumba loved the atmosphere at Mullett Arena on the visits last year, from the packed smaller building to warming up outside. “It almost gives you those junior feels,” he said.

As for the timing of the official announcement of Dumba’s signing — which came the day after the Erik Karlsson blockbuster to Pittsburgh was announced — he noted there were a lot of factors, and teams in play. It was believed that the Stars, the Leafs, Ducks were among the teams that showed interest in Dumba throughout the process.

“I guess call spade a spade,” he said. “It’s a tough situation for a lot of teams this year with the cap,” Dumba said. “I was letting things unfold. Teams played out their hands. And Arizona was around from day one.”

The one-year term offers some flexibility, where Dumba could — in theory — get moved to a contender at the deadline if the season goes a certain way for Arizona. If the Coyotes do well, Dumba would likely be a big part of that, and it’d only boost his value for next summer as a free agent, when he’d be 30.

Dumba said, like most free agents, he was hoping for a deal with more term this summer. But with the salary cap flat again, it was challenging. That’ll change for 2024-25, when the cap should go up $5 million.

“That’s the reason why we play, it’s a living, you want to be the best, you want to be appreciated,” he said. “I’m looking to come here to Arizona to make a big difference right away. It is to show teams, Arizona, that, yeah, we can lock something up long-term.”

Asked what he learned the most about himself in Minnesota, Dumba put it this way: “Maybe I don’t give myself as much credit sometimes, but I’m pretty resilient. I’ve been through a lot here. Injuries, ups and downs. Being on the (trade) block. Not playing your best, playing your best. There’s highs and lows. Everyone feels that. But I’ve been in one spot for a long time. It accumulates. I’ve been able to push through all those things, good, bad, and add to the fire. That fire is burning and my passion for the game and wanting to be the best defenseman I can be is as strong as it’s ever been.”

Several of Dumba’s Wild teammates shared the team’s video tribute Monday on social media, as well as their own photos with him. Marcus Foligno, the veteran forward, joked on Instagram that it’s “only one year.”

“He can always come back,” Foligno said, laughing.

(Photo: Brace Hemmelgarn / USA Today)

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