A futile February in which the Wild has won only once hasn’t removed the team from playoff contention.
The team’s chances, however, have been compromised amid a five-game losing streak, and the consequences of a 1-6-3 stretch are starting to pop up on the roster.
While General Manager Paul Fenton didn’t link the team’s slide to a sell-off when he spoke Tuesday before it was shut out for a second consecutive game, his actions Wednesday — trading versatile forward Charlie Coyle to the Boston Bruins — confirmed the organization is primed to restructure.
The Wild got 22-year-old forward Ryan Donato and a conditional 2019 fifth-round draft pick in return. The pick becomes a fourth rounder if Boston wins one playoff series.
Donato will join the Wild in New York for Thursday night’s game against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, and wear No. 6.
Coyle will end up in familiar territory. He is from East Weymouth, Mass., and played college hockey at Boston University.
He’s the second longtime core piece to be dealt on Fenton’s watch, after winger Nino Niederreiter was shipped to Carolina in January for center Victor Rask. More revisions could be on the way before Monday’s trade deadline.
Fenton has been actively exploring the trade market, making and receiving calls, and deals such as this that provide an immediate lineup option and potential for the future could be the target.
Veteran centers Eric Staal and Eric Fehr are possibilities to be moved because of their looming free-agent status, but Staal has expressed his preference to remain with the Wild even though he and his agent said there haven’t been talks on a new deal.
“Paul has not suggested that it won’t happen,” said Rick Curran, Staal’s agent. “But he hasn’t been in a position to make a commitment, which we have to respect that. That’s his job. He’s trying to assess his situation, and that’s where we’re at.”
While Fenton said he isn’t sure what he hopes to achieve by Monday’s deadline and didn’t specify what he’s looking for in the marketplace, youth and speed are attributes that make sense for the Wild.
How the team looks up the middle next season is also a point of intrigue, and Donato checks at least some of those boxes.
Also a native of Massachusetts, he can play center and wing, although he’s still working to establish himself as an NHLer. Donato has split this season between the NHL and minors, scoring six goals in 34 games with the Bruins and seven goals in 18 games for Providence in the American Hockey League.
Donato played for his father, former NHLer Ted Donato, for three seasons at Harvard.
Drafted in the second round in 2014 by the Bruins, Ryan Donato had five goals and nine points in 12 games during his debut last season after leading the U.S. Olympic team in scoring in South Korea.
In the final season of a two-year, $2.7 million contract, Donato will become a restricted free agent this summer. The Wild created $2.3 million in cap room after parting with Coyle’s five-year, $16 million deal, which had one more season to go.
But that flexibility comes with a price, too, as the team loses arguably its most versatile forward. He was a likable teammate and favorite among fans — Coyle went viral in 2013 for a video that caught him waving at a young boy during pregame warmups — even though the 26-year-old never emerged as the elite scorer the Wild hoped he would become.
Acquired in 2011 in a multi-piece deal with the Sharks that sent defenseman Brent Burns to San Jose on draft day, Coyle arrived as a promising 2010 first-round pick. He had a career-high 21 goals in 2015-16 and set a personal best in points with 56 the following season, but was a regular in the rumor mill.
Still, he was popular for his work ethic and team-first attitude. He switched from wing to center, which seemed to suit him best, whenever called upon. But once the Wild needed help at that position after captain Mikko Koivu suffered a torn ACL and meniscus earlier this month, Coyle was kept on the wing, a sign that the right shot wasn’t in the team’s long-term plans up the middle.
He had 10 goals and 28 points in 60 games this season and ended his seven-year stint with the Wild with 91 goals, 151 assists and 242 points in 479 regular-season games. He’ll be remembered for how his career started, but also for how it ended, as another move made by Fenton that stamps his mark on the team.
“If I can improve the Minnesota Wild and there’s an opportunity to do something,” Fenton said Tuesday, “then I’ll do it.”
Meanwhile, the Wild lost its hold on the final playoff spot in the Western Conference shortly after the trade was made official.