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Future Hazy for Dumoulin After Injury-Filled Season



Brian Dumoulin Pittsburgh Penguins

Brian Dumoulin has, for the bulk of his pro career, been one of the most reliable members of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Rarely misses much more than a handful of games. Always does his job.

The guy doesn’t have a flashy corpuscle in his body, but he’s been consistently responsible and effective. Although his game doesn’t generate many highlights, it does help to win games.

Until 2021-22, anyway. The just-concluded season was unlike any Dumoulin has had since he became a fixture in the Penguins’ lineup in 2015-16.

His decision-making, so long one of his greatest strengths, was suspect on more than a few occasions. Coincidentally or otherwise, the unwavering efficiency that had been a staple of his play for so long often was missing.

And now Ron Hextall and his staff have to figure out why.

Is it because the demands of his blue-collar style have exacted a toll that can’t be reversed? Dumoulin won’t be 31 until Sept. 6, which is awfully early for a well-conditioned athlete in today’s NHL to be in the twilight of his productive years, but it can’t be ignored that Dumoulin has logged a lot of hard minutes in recent winters.

Or was it that he wasn’t particularly close to 100 percent, physically, for most of the season? Dumoulin said a few days ago that he was dealing with an unspecified foot problem in the early says of the season, the first in a series of issues that dogged him until a torn knee ligament sidelined him during the Stanley Cup playoffs.

One other possibility: Maybe Dumoulin simply had a subpar season. Just about everyone does if they’re in the league long enough. Slumps and struggles happen, even to guys who seem like they would be almost immune to them.

It remains to be seen whether Dumoulin’s future will be affected by where his usual defense partner, Kris Letang, decides to sign before next season.

If Letang returns to the Pittsburgh Penguins, it would be logical to hold onto Dumoulin, given how well they have played together in the past.

“I definitely love playing with him,” Dumoulin said. “And I think we play really well together.”

It’s also possible that management would be inclined to keep Dumoulin if it determines that he would be an effective partner for an offense-oriented defenseman who would move into Letang’s old position on the right side.

Dumoulin has one year remaining on a contract that carries a salary-cap hit of $4.1 million. While his pay surely will be factored into any conversation management has about his future, Brian Dumoulin’s prospects for overcoming the wear-and-tear he’s endured as a pro might be a bigger concern.

“Throughout the whole year, it seemed like whether it was a blocked shot or something, it hit me in a bad spot,” he said. “But I’d never want to come out of the lineup or not play.”

He had no choice after suffering a Grade 3 tear of a medial collateral ligament during Game 1 against the New York Rangers, when he crashed into the net trying to prevent a goal that ultimately was disallowed.

“My knee kind of hit the post and hyperextended,” Dumoulin said.

He played a bit more that night, but couldn’t go in the games that followed.

Now, Dumoulin has time to heal, to recover from a season unlike any he’d experienced before it.

All while the front office decides whether his 2021-22 was an aberration or a portent.