The Wild’s game has taken a turn for the worse the past six weeks, Chuck Fletcher openly admits “there’s no question we need more saves,” and now struggling No. 1 goalie Darcy Kuemper is sidelined for at least a week.
The Wild general manager is scouring the trade market, he says, not just for a potential goalie, but position players. But he is wrestling with what type of assets he’s willing to give up if the Wild keeps sinking in the standings.
“I’ve been on the phone with teams for several weeks,” Fletcher said Thursday morning. “Like every team, we have holes that we need to fill or areas we need to upgrade. I would suggest some weeks you’re looking for different things than others as needs arise or injuries happen, but if you make a move, you want to make sure it’s an upgrade, and that’s the challenge.
“Most teams are in a playoff spot or close to a playoff spot, so it’s difficult to make things happen quickly this time of year. If we can, we will. And I’ll also say if we start to fall back a bit, it certainly makes it less enticing to deal future assets for players.”
Fletcher said it’s incumbent on players to pick up their play and stop waiting for something to happen.
“To sit around and wait for help to come in from the outside to turn this around is the wrong mind-set,” Fletcher said. ”We’re good enough to turn this around, and that’s up to us, and if we show that, then I’m happy to invest more in the team. But it’s got to start here first.”
The Wild has allowed the second-fewest shots per game in the NHL, but it has the league’s second-worst save percentage, so Kuemper and Niklas Backstrom must improve. However, Fletcher said the Wild’s defensive play and offensive execution have slipped the past few weeks as well, and there’s “doubt creeping in” and confidence is starting to wane.
“We’re at a critical point right now,” Fletcher said. “If we fall further back, it’s going to be pretty difficult to get back in if you start getting eight, 10, 12 points back. On the flip side, we also have the opportunity to get through the next few weeks and try to close the gap and stay close. The positive is we play all the teams we’re chasing down the stretch, and we do have some games in hand, so there are opportunities to gain ground if we get our game going.”
Kuemper has a lower-body injury. The Wild doesn’t think it’s major, but as Fletcher quipped Thursday, the roster has literally become day-to-day.
“I think we’ve made six roster moves in the last 36 hours,” he said.
His eyes currently are focused on the goalies. Does he make a short-term fix? Does he give up significant assets for a potential long-term answer? Or does he continue to ride things out and wait to address the goalie situation this summer when he can make a more meticulous decision and perhaps have more goalie targets available?
“Nik is a proven, quality goaltender, and he’s a guy who really hasn’t had a great opportunity this year to play a string of games, so we’ll start [Thursday] and see how it goes and make decisions from there,” Fletcher said.
In the meantime, Fletcher reiterated that coach Mike Yeo and his staff are safe.
“This is not a coaching thing at all,” he said. “I like our structure. … I like our team, but we’ve given away a lot of easy points the last month. We have to find a way. There’s time and there’s the talent and ability in that room to turn it around, but we’ve got to get going.”
• Yeo said defenseman Marco Scandella (upper body) is feeling better and is day-to-day.
• With Scandella and Zach Parise out, Jon Blum and Jordan Schroeder were recalled to play Thursday against Chicago. John Curry was recalled to back up Backstrom.
• Defenseman Nate Prosser (sick) skated Thursday morning but didn’t play. Forward/defenseman Stu Bickel was placed on waivers. If he clears Friday, he’ll be assigned to AHL Iowa.