Wild coach Mike Yeo is apparently safe and General Manager Chuck Fletcher has yet to pull the trigger on a trade during a stretch of 10 losses in 11 games, including five in a row and an 0-3 road trip.
It’s no wonder the stressed-out-looking GM said 13 times in an eight-minute interview Saturday that the current cast of Wild players must start playing “the right way.”
“We talk about results all the time, we have to get back to playing the right way and the process,” Fletcher said hours before a 4-1 loss at St. Louis. “We don’t win the game because we’re turning pucks over, we’re not defending the right way, we’re not as structurally sound as we normally are, so if we can get back to being the strong defensive team that we have been in the past, the results will follow. Typically the better we defend, the more often we have the puck and the more opportunities we’ll have to score as well. So, I think guys just have to get back to playing the game the right way.”
One reason Fletcher might desperately need his current players to play the “right way” is because there are few trade options.
The Wild’s a team filled with veterans on long-term, arguably untradeable contracts (Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Mikko Koivu are going nowhere, and who’s taking Jason Pominville for three more years, Thomas Vanek for the price of $7.5 million next year and Niklas Backstrom, who hasn’t played in 13 months?
The Wild had — let’s stress, had — depth on the blue line. But Jonas Brodin, who had been in trade talks, is now sidelined a month because of a broken foot and Jared Spurgeon sustained an as-of-now undisclosed injury Saturday.
Pending free agents Justin Fontaine, Jarret Stoll and Ryan Carter wouldn’t get much and the Wild doesn’t own its second-, third- or fifth-round pick in this year’s draft or its second-round pick in 2018.
The only options besides trading prospects would be to trade young players off its roster, but trade deadline “buyers” normally don’t conduct business that way.
Fletcher downplayed all of this sentiment with the Feb. 29 deadline on the horizon, saying, “We have assets that other teams like, I can tell you that much from the conversations I’ve had. The question is: Are you going to make a good trade? That’s the whole point right now. I’m not interested in moving young assets for rental players at this point.”
Fletcher said he doesn’t feel pressure to make a trade because “that’s when you make mistakes. I’m approaching this the same as if we had won five or six in a row. If there’s an opportunity to make our team better, I’ll do it.
“Obviously I’m talking to GMs every day. This is the time of the year where you’re in regular conversations with your counterparts, and there may or may not be opportunities to do something. … We can’t be sitting around waiting for help from the outside. This group has won before, it’s a good coaching staff, it’s a good player group, we have a good leadership group, and it’s incumbent upon all of them to figure this out.
“It doesn’t matter who we add at this point: If we don’t start playing the right way, one player is not going to make a difference.”
Nothing Yeo and Fletcher has said or done so far has spurred this free-falling club. It certainly feels as if players are waiting for something external to occur.
“You can’t wait for something to happen,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “I know personally I don’t want to see anybody in here go anywhere. I know as a group in here we’re capable of being a great hockey team. I hope we find it in here. That’s the only way to do it.”
The Wild returns home for a difficult three-game homestand starting Tuesday against the Dallas Stars. The Wild is 0-3-2 in its past five at home, and frustrated fans are bound to be surly.
“There’s games left,” Stoll said. “We’re definitely not out of it, that’s for sure. Not one guy in here thinks that way. We just have to find a way to get a game. It’s not going to be easy. It’s never easy to get out of these things.”