It took more than half the season, nearly 50 games, but first-year General Manager Paul Fenton has finally started to make significant revisions to the Wild.
After acquiring winger Pontus Aberg on Wednesday in a deal with the Ducks, the team traded longtime winger Nino Niederreiter to the Hurricanes on Thursday for center Victor Rask.
Not only did these adjustments come after a patient evaluation process by Fenton, but they also surfaced amid the revelations from that assessment.
And what Fenton has observed is a group stuck in a game of chutes and ladders.
“Right on the bubble,” he said. “We’ve seen fluctuations in the way that we play. We had the stretch in the beginning where we were lights out, and I thought, ‘Wow this team is a lot better than we anticipated.’ And then we hit a couple of bumps in the road and had a roller coaster ride a little bit.
“We’re looking for consistency. For me, when you make changes like this, it shows players that nothing is forever. It gives them an alert that if they want to be here, they’re going to have to play and play the way that we want them to play and be successful.”
The Wild reinforced Fenton’s interpretation in its first chance to respond to his maneuvering, getting blanked by the sputtering Ducks 3-0 in front of an announced 18,907 at Xcel Energy Center. Anaheim ended a franchise-record 12-game losing streak.
Two days earlier, the Wild was solid when it rebounded from a pair of deflating losses to two non-playoff teams in the Red Wings and Flyers by outlasting the Kings in a shootout.
“We’re playing teams that are bottom in the league and a team coming in on a 12-game losing streak,” Zach Parise said. “We get one shootout win out of it. It’s just not good enough.”
Backup goalie Alex Stalock was rewarded for being a catalyst against Los Angeles with another start, but he was chased from the action after surrendering three goals on eight shots — including two in 11 seconds.
Only 3 minutes, 57 seconds into the first period, Adam Henrique sent a shot by Stalock’s blocker. On the very next shift, Rickard Rakell buried a loose puck after Stalock poke-checked it away from Devin Shore. And at 7:58, Brian Gibbons deflected in a point shot.
“You don’t want to give up three goals that quick,” Stalock said. “A change needed to be done.”
Devan Dubnyk appeared in relief, recording 15 saves. Anaheim’s John Gibson had 37 stops.
Both teams went 0-for-4 on the power play.
Wild players were disappointed Niederreiter was moved, with Dubnyk mentioning Niederreiter will be missed and captain Mikko Koivu calling the news “sad.” But they also expect Fenton to start shaping this roster.
“He’s going to put his fingerprints on the team, and he gave us an opportunity to play,” Dubnyk said. “In a business where you’re not executing consistently, there’s going to be unfortunately some changes made and that’s part of it. It’s going to be up to us to start to execute every night and start to consistently put some wins up so that we don’t have to continue losing guys.”
Players didn’t chalk up their latest letdown as a reaction to the departure of a popular teammate, and coach Bruce Boudreau hoped that wasn’t the reason the team sagged.
“We’re professionals,” Boudreau said. “Trades happen.”
A lefty who fell behind Parise, Jason Zucker and Jordan Greenway on that side of the depth chart, Niederreiter slotted on the fourth line if he didn’t play right wing. But Boudreau felt Niederreiter struggled from that position, especially making a backhand pass.
“So where he had success was being on the fourth line left wing,” Boudreau said. “And it’s hard to have a five-and-a-half-million-dollar player playing on the fourth line.”
Whether this is the extent of the Wild’s makeover or just the start of a major overhaul is unclear, as how the team performs leading up to the Feb. 25 trade deadline will dictate Fenton’s strategy.
“One day I’m thinking that we have the opportunity to go forward, and one day I’m thinking that it’s not that great of a team,” said Fenton, who huddled with team brass this week in Florida for scouting meetings. “So I’m letting the players convince us where they are.”
And players know what statement they want to make.
“I don’t think there’s one guy in this room that wants to see anybody else leave,” Dubnyk said. “That’s going to be on us to make sure that we’re not giving him a reason to do any more.”