With just over a week left before the Feb. 25 NHL trade deadline, the Wild finds itself in a delicate spot. The playoffs are within reach, but trying to trade for future assets is a prudent long-term decision. So what should the Wild do?
First take: Michael Rand
As someone who compulsively checks the Hockey Reference playoff probability report almost daily, I can tell you the Wild’s post-break swoon has taken them from a pretty good chance of making the playoffs down to less than a coin flip chance.
That said, a hot week or two is all it would take to reverse that trend — particularly in the Western Conference, which is loaded at the top but mediocre in the middle.
I think as long as there’s a realistic chance of making the playoffs, which barring a dramatic tumble in the next week will be the case, GM Paul Fenton should not go into “sell” mode. The Wild, after all, did have a 10-2 stretch earlier this season and is 3-0 against Winnipeg. Get into the playoffs, and you never know.
Wild beat writer Sarah McLellan: Agreed. The playoff race in the Western Conference is too wide open to consider this season a lost cause. So as long as this team has a chance to advance — which is likely until the schedule runs out — it should give itself that opportunity to compete.
But not being a seller doesn’t mean the Wild is automatically a buyer. This team isn’t positioned high enough up the standings to merit a rental or two. Perhaps the best course of action is to stick with the current roster.
Regardless if it makes the playoffs, its strengths and weaknesses should become clear. And a blueprint for the offseason may be the most important takeaway from the remaining games.
Rand: No, I definitely wouldn’t “buy” if I was Fenton. He did some minor-to-moderate tweaking of the roster a couple of weeks back (to mixed results at best), but this doesn’t feel like a group that’s one or two pieces away from real contention.
The most frustrating thing about the Wild, aside from inconsistency, has been that its on-ice production hasn’t matched expected production. Per Corsica.hockey, the Wild was plus-13 in expected goal differential (10th best in the NHL) entering play Friday, but Minnesota was minus-6 (No. 18) in actual goal differential.
Minnesota has allowed 20 goals more than advanced stats suggest it should have. Find a way to clean that up, and there might be hope.
McLellan: The team certainly has been leaky at inopportune times in its own zone lately, especially in that crushing collapse to the Flyers that included a poor line change and blown coverage right in front of the net.
But the offense also has to improve. It has fallen flat recently against the Stars, Oilers and Islanders, and when the Wild has managed to score more than once, it has still frequently missed that clutch tally — the go-ahead goal in a back-and-forth struggle or another insurance marker.
Although the group has had a knack for bouncing back after giving up the game’s first goal, it’s becoming tougher to rally because teams are hunkering down as they jostle for the playoffs. And while close losses can point to competitiveness in October and November, they aren’t as flattering in February and March when they tend to decide who advances and who’s done after Game No. 82.
Rand: I guess my advice is do nothing for now and hope for the best. At this rate, I should be the next Wild GM.
Final word: McLellan
Keep in mind this is a core that’s made the playoffs the past six seasons. And that group is likely going to decide the Wild’s fate regardless of what happens before the deadline.
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