Change is nothing new for the Wild.
The organization is on its third general manager in the past three seasons and has shipped out four longtime players in the last year, former figureheads who at one point were supposed to lead the way to a brighter future.
This shuffle, however, hasn’t done much to alter the identity of the team on the ice.
A group still headlined by veterans despite a budding crew of youngsters, the Wild has been competitive but not a Stanley Cup contender — a middle-of-the-pack designation that has manifested itself in first-round playoff losses or last season’s absence altogether.
That’s still the perception the Wild is working to shrug off even after the latest shakeup, a reality that was evident in a 2-0 loss to a lowly Sharks squad Saturday in front of an announced 18,611 at Xcel Energy Center.
It was a missed chance for the Wild to gain ground in a tight Western Conference race.
But what is different after the trade of Jason Zucker and firing of coach Bruce Boudreau is how much the Wild is setting itself up to evolve in the future while still transitioning in the present as it chases a playoff spot — a two-track metamorphosis that’s become the tone of first-year GM Bill Guerin’s tenure.
“We’re fighting for our lives,” winger Marcus Foligno said, “and we’re still in our minds a playoff team.”
Signs of the Wild’s busy week were accounted for Saturday.
Interim coach Dean Evason was behind the bench, his first game since he was appointed on Friday to replace Boudreau for the rest of the season before a thorough search gets underway in the summer.
And winger Alex Galchenyuk was in the lineup for his third Wild game after being acquired from Pittsburgh on Monday night in exchange for Zucker.
After that move, the Wild responded like a team focused on staying in the hunt for the postseason — dispatching the Golden Knights 4-0 on Tuesday. Even in the 4-3 shootout loss to the Rangers on Thursday, the Wild moved closer to the second wild-card seed in the West, continuing a 7-3-1 run that captured the urgency of the team’s situation.
But on Saturday, its push looked listless, routine — especially against a Sharks club that played the night before and was missing a handful of regulars. Evason and the players, however, described the Wild as having an engaged attack.
“Before the game, we thought our energy was awesome,” Evason said. “We had a lot of life before, and, honestly, we just chatted in the room that we liked where the feel was with our group. It didn’t obviously translate.”
San Jose opened the scoring 3 minutes, 8 seconds into the third period on a deflection by Dylan Gambrell off a shot from Brent Burns. Melker Karlsson tacked on an empty-net goal with 15 seconds to go.
Before then, it was a tug-of-war struggle that included quite a few looks for the Wild but zero execution.
This was the second consecutive game in which the power play came up empty. It went 0-for-3, as did San Jose.
“I thought our bench was upbeat and guys were ready to go,” Foligno said. “We had a lot of looks, and I just would like [us] to get to the more dirty areas. Obviously, that game was just going to come down to a dirty goal like the one that they scored.”
In the end, the Sharks’ Martin Jones made 39 saves for his first shutout of the season. Alex Stalock had 19 stops.
“I don’t think it was a letdown,” center Eric Staal said. “I thought we competed hard.”
One game won’t define Evason’s takeover, and although the value of every point gets magnified in a packed playoff race like the one the Wild is in, this outcome isn’t likely to diminish the team’s hopes too much.
But what the result did reinforce is how the most meaningful impact from the week’s maneuvering is set to arrive at a later date — even more so than last season’s trades of Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund.
The pick and prospect (defenseman Calen Addison) the Wild also received from the Penguins headlined the return in the Zucker trade, assets that could certainly help the team down the road.
And whoever the Wild tabs as its next permanent head coach will be essential in shaping that future, whether that’s Evason or someone else.
These looming ramifications weren’t designed to detract from the current goal Guerin has outlined for the Wild, and that’s to continue to jostle for a playoff berth — the message players took from the week.
“It’s all about the guys in this room,” Stalock said. “Right now, we’ve got to win games.”
What’s clear, though, is that this isn’t the only objective, with progress beyond this season appearing to be very much part of Guerin’s plan for the franchise.