In direct opposition to comments made earlier today by head coach Bruce Boudreau, who guaranteed his team would make the playoffs, the owner and general manager of the Minnesota Wild have made other plans. The Athletic’s Michael Russo reports that owner Craig Leipold has given first-year GM Paul Fenton the “green light” to move roster players before the trade deadline given the team’s current slump.
Russo writes that Leipold and Fenton met yesterday to discuss the state of the team. Minnesota has just one win in it’s past seven games since losing captain Mikko Koivu to season-ending injury and has slipped into the thick of the “turtle derby” for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Wild have fallen significantly behind the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues in the division and now hold on to the second wild card slot by a mere two points over the Vancouver Canucks with a game in hand. Behind Vancouver at 57 points sit the Arizona Coyotes, who are working toward full health, and the Colorado Avalanche, with their potent top line, both at 55 points and a game in hand on Minnesota. There’s also the Chicago Blackhawks at 55 points and even games and the Edmonton Oilers at 53 with a game in hand and a determination to make the postseason. The Wild are by no means guaranteed a playoff spot, even if they keep their current roster together or even make a minor addition or two, as an onslaught of other teams are within striking distance. In light of this situation, Leipold has given Fenton his approval to improve the Wild for the future if he can, even if that means hurting the team’s playoff odds.
So what exactly does this mean for Minnesota? Russo does not expect sweeping changes. He feels that Leipold and the Wild brass still feel that their Stanley Cup window is open, but without Koivu and Matt Dumba, the team’s odds of even making it to the postseason and through the first round are slim, never mind finally winning a title. The core players are likely safe, but Fenton will use his newly-granted flexibility to test the trade waters on his impending free agents and some other expendable pieces. Eric Staal is the player that will jump out to most; the respected veteran is in the final year of his contract and could help many contenders down the middle. Bottom-six forwards Eric Fehr, Matt Hendricks, and Matt Read and depth defenders Brad Hunt, Anthony Bitetto, Nate Prosser, and Matt Bartkowski are all impending UFA’s and should all be up for grabs as well. Among signed players, rumor mill regular Charlie Coyle and buried bruiser J.T. Brown are also obvious names to watch. Russo quickly examines the trade status of much of the roster and settles on Greg Pateryn and Marcus Foligno as possible outside-the-box casualties as well.
There isn’t going to be a fire sale in Minnesota, but no longer are the Wild going to be considered buyers. Perhaps a strong showing by the team in the six games between now and the deadline – four of which are against non-playoff teams – will even convince Fenton to stand pat and hope they can hold on to a wild card spot. However, if Minnesota cannot shake this slump, then Staal and any of the other marketable players mentioned are likely to be gone ahead of the deadline. Perhaps that causes the Wild to miss the playoffs, perhaps it doesn’t, but when the odds are 50/50 as is, the team may as well get what they can for expiring and expendable pieces.