Player: Brian Dumoulin
Born: September 6, 1991 (age-30 season)
Weight: 207 pounds
Hometown: Biddeford, Maine
Draft: 2009, Carolina Hurricanes, second round (51st overall)
2020-21 Statistics: 76 games played — three goals, 15 assists, 18 points
Contract Status: Dumoulin has one year remaining on a six-year deal that has paid him an annual average value of $4.1mil/year. He is eligible for free agency in summer 2023.
2017-18 Pensburgh Season in Review (75% A+/A Grade, 23% A-/B+ Grade)
2018-19 Pensburgh Season in Review (19% A+ Grade, 62% A Grade, 14% B+ Grade)
2019-20 Pensburgh Season in Review (30% A Grade, 59% B Grade, 11% C Grade)
2022-21 Pensburgh Season in Review: (53% A Grade, 46% B Grade)
It was a short and painful playoff for Dumoulin, who tore his MCL during Game 1, but managed to finish the game even though it went to triple OT. After that point he was unable to dress for any further games and has been recently back on the ice rehabbing for next season.
Story of the Season
Long the rock and steadying influence on the Penguins’ defense, 2021-22 was an uneven and difficult season for Brian Dumoulin. As he admitted, a foot injury hindered him early on in the year, but Dumoulin was able to play 76 games this season — significantly more than the 41 and 28 games he appeared in for the previous two seasons.
Be it via the injury or what, Dumoulin appeared very uncharacteristically weak at times. Maybe a step slow with his lateral skating movement, or a misplay of the puck — occurrences that stood out if only because they were so rare and unusual for what has been a super-steady first pair player since about 2016.
For a normally smooth player who handles tough details of the defensive end of the game, 2021-22 just looked like a labor for Dumoulin. He dealt with COVID in November and missed a handful of games. From there, he had the foot issue, but was even missing practices in late January and coach Mike Sullivan said he was dealing with “bumps and bruises” though he didn’t miss games at that point. Dumoulin missed a game in March with a non-COVID illness and then avoided an injury scare in the final game of the season...Everywhere you turned, it just felt like a very difficult season for Dumoulin to endure and battle through, which was very strange for a player that is usually so smooth on the ice.
Regular season 5v5 advanced stats
Data via Natural Stat Trick. Ranking is out of 7 defensemen on the team who qualified by playing a minimum of 150 minutes.
Corsi For%: 49.5% (7th)
Goals For%: 55.8% (2nd)
xGF%: 51.0% (7th)
Scoring Chance %: 51.1% (7th)
High Danger Scoring Chance%: 51.7% (6th)
5v5 on-ice shooting%: 8.6% (2nd)
On-ice save%: .931 (1st)
Goals/60: 0.13 (5th)
Assists/60: 0.56 (6th)
Points/60: 0.68 (7th)
—Dumoulin’s Corsi For% went from 50.1% last season to 49.5% this year, and marks the first season Dumoulin has been under 50% in the CF% since he has became an NHL regular in 2015-16.
—This was the first year where first pair minutes seemed to really weigh on Dumoulin. A lot of his numbers were either the worst or among the worst on the team, some no doubt a byproduct of carrying a heavy load in terms or minutes and defensive assignments, but it was a new experience to see Dumoulin not be able to rise to the occasion.
—Offensively, Dumoulin brought little to the table, which could also be a reason why late in the season the Pens made the unusual step of breaking up their first pair of Dumoulin and Kris Letang and instead opting to add the offensive of Mike Matheson in Dumoulin’s place for an extended look.
—Split from Letang, Dumoulin worked for over 200 minutes this season with John Marino, and the results were not very encouraging in the developing sample. The Pens were outscored 6-13 at 5v5 with the two on the ice, with Corsi and scoring chance figures in the low 40%’s. That is a perhaps unexpected and ugly picture that could be reversed with more time next season, but can’t give a lot of confidence should Letang depart from the roster in free agency.
—Dumoulin’s results would have been a lot worse, had he not gotten some really great goaltending while on the ice. This probably isn’t all luck — he’s a good defender and surely helps his goalies by keeping a lot of extremely dangerous chances down a lot — but it’s still probably worth pointing out that for at least one year Dumoulin went from “guy to be relied on to suppress and limit” and turned into “guy who needed some help to not have disastrous results”.
The above seems negative and focusing on weaknesses, which is perhaps the case for a defensive defenseman who plays a game of mistakes (and usually is good at eliminating or erasing the miscues of others). there could be some evidence that the old eye test and perception of Dumoulin perhaps isn’t as bad as it seems, and his drop off wasn’t as big as that growing narrative is. WAR% still liked his defensive impacts quite a bit, for instance.
An actual big issue for Dumoulin is that he spends a lot of time on the ice with Letang, Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust and Sidney Crosby. There’s only one puck on the ice, so who knows just how much the fifth member of that crew needs to provide...But when it comes to in-zone passing, shooting ability and setting up plays, Dumoulin simply lacks some of the elements of offensive creation that is necessary. At some point, a team just can’t have a player with such limitations to not carry weight there (and again, if reading this your mind harkened the Matheson experiment as an attempt to add more in these departments, that’s probably a good point to think about).
Dumoulin is good at standing up players at the blue line defensively and preventing entries, and once he gets the puck back it’s almost a sure exit, which is very good to initiate play going north. Then again, he’s dealing with exceptional teammates who can do a lot of that heavy lifting and having good figures there should be a given. It would be difficult not to look good there with how good of seasons offensively that players like Crosby, Guentzel, Rust and Letang had.
Overall, like WAR%, the GVSA models appreciated Dumoulin’s defensive inputs and he still graded out overall fairly strongly across all categories.
January 21st against Columbus was Dumoulin’s banner day offensively. He scored this goal, stepping up nicely in the o-zone and unleashing a nice shot and also added two assists. It was his only three-point game of the season (and he only had one other multi-point game).
This season, the Penguins are 20-3-0 when scoring the first goal.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) January 22, 2022
We're looking to keep that up after this goal from Brian Dumoulin - just 32 seconds into the game. pic.twitter.com/mOr1IY6WTE
Dumoulin getting into the leadership group is a big deal too. As a two-time Cup winner and one of the more veteran players who has been around for a long time and logged a ton of minutes, he’s growing into a role where youngsters look up to him to lead by example and in the room.
Brian Dumoulin has played a big leadership role in the absence of key players over the last couple of weeks.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) November 1, 2021
Hear what he had to say to the media today following practice ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/nR0gyooqBg
As illustrated above, this might have been one of the most taxing and difficult seasons for Dumoulin to work through. He got dinged up quite a bit at various times as he mentioned in the article linked above, but was able to stay on the ice for almost all of the games. His performance graded out acceptably defensively by the metrics, but some of his shot-based advanced stats declined to career-lows. He certainly looked like a player gutting it out and not as his typical, really steady self.
Dumoulin should be a steady first-pair player that will kill penalties and be in strong defensive position while his offensive minded teammates attack. Depending on what happens with Letang and Evgeni Malkin, he could also be recognized as a full-time alternate captain for next season. Dumoulin has proven to not have a ton of skill or offense to offer, but if he plays an all-around solid game then he will have a very nice contract season if most importantly he can stay upright and healthy and looks a little better with his skating next season.
Question to ponder
Now north of 30 years old and playing a style that requires absorbing a lot of abuse, what should be next for Dumoulin and the Penguins? Should they look to extend his contract, or ride it out this year and see what follows? After more than a decade in the organization, is time right to move on for the team rather than commit to what would be his age 32-35/36ish seasons if he signs another multi-year contract? If Letang doesn’t come back, should Dumoulin’s role change in addition to his partner? Having been so solid and reliable for so long, this could be the first summer in a very long time where Dumoulin’s level of play, age and contract status actually raises any summer questions or debates about what his future might hold.
How would you grade Brian Dumoulin’s 2021-22 season?