We’ve come to the point in the Wild’s season that a playoff berth is a long shot. Minnesota won’t play until Friday night, and the Wild is four points behind Colorado for the final Western Conference playoff spot before Friday night’s game at Vegas. With only five games left in the disappointing season, Puck Drop editor Randy Johnson and Wild beat writer Sarah McLellan discuss what must be done to fix the Wild.
Randy: “Blow it up!’’ were the calls from many fans as the trade deadline neared, and Wild General Manager Paul Fenton did that to an extent, shipping off Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund. We all can debate what Fenton received in return – three more years of Victor Rask at $4 million per year, really? – but now is the time to see how new additions Ryan Donato and Kevin Fiala, along with emerging Jordan Greenway, develop. That will take patience, the word that fans love to hate. It’s unfortunate that the promising youngsters likely won’t be gaining playoff experience this spring, because that only would help their development. Can the Wild return to the playoffs next year? Yes, especially with a healthy Matt Dumba. But if you’re looking for a Stanley Cup contender, the maturation and improvement of the new young core points to a rebuild longer than a year.
Sarah: This season started to get rocky once injuries piled up, so improving the Wild’s depth to withstand adversity like that looks like a logical offseason target. The team has veteran experience in the likes of Ryan Suter, Zach Parise and Eric Staal, and the youth movement led by Jordan Greenway, Luke Kunin and Ryan Donato seems promising. But adding more established NHLers in between those two age groups could provide major help – not just when times are tough, but throughout the schedule. Another reliable center, winger and defenseman would bring more balance to the lineup, and that’s a trademark of the teams that tend to keep playing deep into spring.
Randy: Will the Wild have enough salary-cap space to make a big splash in free agency, Sarah? Certainly, there will be spots to fill, and fans can always dream about luring the Islanders’ Anders Lee back home in free agency. Then there’s the other pressing question: Will Bruce Boudreau be the coach next season? Fenton didn’t hire Boudreau, and Dean Evason was added to the coaching staff, replacing Boudreau’s longtime assistant John Anderson. Might we see the GM further put his stamp on the team with a new coach?
Sarah: It’s a question that will undoubtedly accompany the team into the offseason, whenever that begins. Fenton has already shaken up the team in his first season at the helm, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he continues to tinker with its look. Regardless of where the Wild finishes, it should be an intriguing summer. There is some room under the projected salary cap to maneuver but not a ton of flexibility, especially once the team addresses its class of restricted free agents. But considering how the Wild has struggled this season – offensively, at home and against lesser opponents – it’s clear improvement is needed to compete. Talent usually comes at a steep price, particularly in free agency, so perhaps the trade market is a more viable option. That could obviously mean more subtraction, but this was a group poised for change as soon as Fenton took over.