Winger Nino Niederreiter reported to Xcel Energy Center Thursday morning to prepare for the evening’s game with the Ducks, participating in the morning skate before leaving to rest up.
But after the Wild was flattened 3-0 by Anaheim, the stall that Niederreiter once occupied was already set up to welcome center Victor Rask – the player the team acquired in exchange for sending Niederreiter to the Hurricanes.
“We’re going to miss him around here, for sure,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “He was very well-liked here.”
Niederreiter was one of the longest-tenured players on the Wild, joining the team via trade in 2013 from the New York Islanders. He went on to log 434 regular-season games with the team and another 39 in the playoffs, skating as a favorite among fans and his teammates.
“It’s sad,” captain Mikko Koivu said. “Great person. Great teammate. First class all the way, for sure. I guess that’s the business we live in. Personally and as a team, we’ll miss him for sure.”
Although General Manager Paul Fenton has been mostly idle in the trade market since joining the organization last May, it seemed inevitable he would eventually make a move.
But players can still be caught off-guard by the news.
“I think any trade catches you by surprise, for sure,” backup goalie Alex Stalock said. “You never want it to happen. I've been through it myself. It turns your life kind of upside down. You're here for a while and make great friends here and get comfortable with the state and the people here, and then all of a sudden you get a call and your life changes. It's not easy to do. All of a sudden, you're on the other side of the country. It's not easy for Nino right now.”
If the team doesn’t start to consistently win, players expect more subtraction will occur. And preventing that is their objective.
“You never want to be in that position where you're putting yourself in a spot where they have to make that decision, and all of a sudden you have to start getting rid of players,” winger Zach Parise said “It's a tough spot to be in, and I just hope that we can rebound and climb ourselves back in.”
Despite being was scheduled to have the night off with Stalock starting, Dubnyk came on in relief against the Ducks – turning aside all 15 shots he faced after Stalock was tagged for three goals on eight shots less than eight minutes into the first period.
“A few plays around the net, and you get a little sweat going just like any other game,” Dubnyk said. “It was one of those situations I thought Al looked sharp. It was two deflections and a rebound goal. Not much I thought he could do on any of them. At that point in the game, sometimes there’s a need for a reset or a change and I don’t certainly think it was on him by any means. But that’s why you gotta be ready to go.”
Falling behind early was the latest poor start in a string of them this season for the Wild, a trend that mystifies coach Bruce Boudreau.
“I told them, ‘They had a 3-0 lead against Pittsburgh. They had a 2-0 lead against Winnipeg. They had a 1-0 lead. They’re going to come out of the gate flying trying to win this thing,’” he said. “And we got caught sleep-walking. Maybe there’s something more I should have done. I don’t know.”
New winger Pontus Aberg skated 15 minutes, 18 seconds in his Wild debut, putting two shots on net.
“He’s got skill,” Boudreau said. “I thought he made good passes, smart offensive plays. I just hope he wasn’t overwhelmed the first 10 minutes going, ‘What did I get myself into here?’”