Since first-year General Manager Paul Fenton began reshaping the Wild in the second half of the season, he has engineered a pair of trades that affected the team’s future while also not leaving the roster shorthanded in the short term.
Swapping out winger Nino Niederreiter for center Victor Rask in a January deal with the Carolina Hurricanes created cap-room flexibility and presented the Wild with an option up the middle for the next few years, but it also gave the team a player it could plug into its lineup right away.
Same with winger Ryan Donato, the centerpiece of the trade with the Bruins on Wednesday that sent forward Charlie Coyle to Boston. Donato fills an immediate hole while also boasting what management hopes is top-six potential. But if the Wild makes any more changes before Monday’s trade deadline, the returns might not alter the present look of the team.
And that means the current roster, or the bulk of it, will be the one that vies to lock down a playoff spot. And the Wild is confident it can get the job done.
“We have a good mix of everything,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “The young guys are playing really well. The older guys are starting to get ’er going now. Goaltending’s back; [Devan Dubnyk’s] making some big saves, and we need all those things to be successful.”
As soon-to-be free agents, veteran centers Eric Staal and Eric Fehr appear to be the leading candidates to get traded if the Wild continues to maneuver. And since they’d likely be joining a new team as a rental, the cost is usually future assets, such as draft picks.
Prospects can also be included in such transactions, as evidenced by the deal finalized Friday that sent center Matt Duchene and youngster Julius Bergman to the Columbus Blue Jackets for two forward prospects in Vitaly Abramov and Jonathan Davidsson, a first-round pick and a conditional first-rounder. But Duchene was one of the most sought-after rentals on the market.
So unless the Wild decides to part with another core piece under contract beyond this season, to pave the way for a hockey trade, any ensuing subtraction may not signal addition to the roster.
“At the end of the day,” Fenton said, “you do what’s right for your team.”
Although the sample size is small, the Wild’s performance in the aftermath of the Donato-Coyle deal has been encouraging and helps explain why the team has belief in the current group. After a well-rounded, 4-1 win over the Rangers on Thursday in New York that ended a five-game losing streak, the Wild dispatched the Red Wings 3-2 Friday with another methodical effort.
“Paul made a trade, and I think it kind of woke us up,” Suter said. “We lost a guy [in Coyle] that we were all really close with, [a] good player. Brought in a really good player, too, but I think everyone woke up. We’re scoring goals. We talked about it the other day that you’ve got to score goals to win, and that’s what’s happening.”
The team’s youth has been responsible for a chunk of those tallies. Donato and forwards Luke Kunin, Jordan Greenway and Joel Eriksson Ek have combined for eight points during this two-game run, delivering on the regular minutes coach Bruce Boudreau has trusted them to handle.
“They’re competing, and they’ve got a lot of skill,” Suter said. “Guys with skill who compete, it’s a good recipe.”
But a spike in offense hasn’t been the only change. The Wild has also scaled back the number of pucks it’s letting in, with Dubnyk surrendering just three goals over the past two games. And keeping the opposition to two goals or fewer seems to be the Wild’s threshold for success: The opponent hasn’t scored more than that in 23 of the team’s 29 wins. Perhaps executing a game plan like this is easier with experienced players like Staal and Fehr in the mix, especially since they’ve been relied on as key fixtures up to this point. But regardless of what transpires the next few days, this is the blueprint the Wild will attempt to follow.
“They’re coming together as a group,” Boudreau said. “They’re coming closer. I think hard work and strong structure really helps in today’s game. You always want the superstars, but if you can be structured right and you play that way and play the right way, you’re in every game.”