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Zulgad: Sinking feeling: Wild’s latest slump could push first-year GM to start selling

ST. PAUL — There have been times this season when it has appeared as if the Minnesota Wild would be able to overcome a horrendous 1-6 start to the season. There was the 11-game stretch in which the Wild got a point in each and won eight times. There was the stretch of 13 home games to start the season in which the Wild went 9-1-3. There was even a brief stay in a wild card spot.

But for every step forward since that brutal beginning there have been missed opportunities that leave you believing the Wild’s playoff drought is certain to hit two seasons. The latest came on Sunday afternoon as the Wild failed to capitalize on numerous quality chances in the third period of a 4-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks at Xcel Energy Center.

Within a point of a playoff spot only a week ago, the Wild followed a 3-2 overtime victory over Central Division-rival Winnipeg last Saturday with a 5-4 shootout loss to Calgary on Sunday, a 2-1 loss to the Flames in Calgary on Thursday and then Sunday’s defeat in which Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom made numerous big saves, including 12 in the third period.

The Canucks and Wild were scoreless until Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson scored a power-play goal at 9 minutes, 20 seconds of the second period. But the Wild’s Marcus Foligno drove to the net to score on the rebound of Luke Kunin’s shot at 11:58 of the second, giving life to the crowd of 17,348. It didn’t last long as the Canucks’ Bo Horvat scored 13 seconds later. The loss marked the third time in the Wild’s past five home games they have only scored one goal.

It also dropped Minnesota to 2-4-1 at the X since beginning a stretch in which it will play 18 of 22 games in St. Paul. Considering the Wild’s track record, there is likely to be another stretch of points coming at some point and the fact this team has Bruce Boudreau behind the bench makes that more probable. Boudreau appears to have a knack for milking points out of a mediocre to bad team just as Bill Musselman got wins out of the Timberwolves in their early seasons.

That doesn’t mean first-year general manager Bill Guerin should believe this current collection of players deserve the chance to continue taking shots at climbing in the standings. The Wild are now seven points out of the second wild card spot in the Western Conference and tied with Chicago and San Jose with 46 points.

Guerin is soon going to have to decide what types of moves he wants to make by the Feb. 24 trade deadline. Guerin could get a jump on the competition by moving pieces before then.

Forwards Eric Staal and Jason Zucker have no-trade clauses that only include 10 teams and there is a chance Mikko Koivu (in the final year of his contract) could be offered the opportunity to go elsewhere in order to join a contender. Steady defenseman Jonas Brodin could get a big return from a team needing help on the blueline and his contract doesn’t include a no-trade clause.

Guerin has had to like some of the things he has seen from younger players such as Kevin Fiala, Joel Eriksson Ek, Luke Kunin, Jordan Greenway, Ryan Donato and Carson Soucy. The expected addition of Kirill Kaprizov from the KHL will give the Wild a legitimate goal-scoring threat on the wing next season. Adding either draft picks or prospects to that group would be a good idea.

Guerin might already have decided on the path he will take, but if he hasn’t it will soon become clear to him. The Wild will play at Pittsburgh on Tuesday and then begin a seven-game homestand on Thursday against a Tampa Bay team that had its 10-game winning streak end on Sunday. That will start a stretch in which the Wild will be home for 11 of 12 games. That will end on Feb. 15, or nine days before the trade deadline.

Boudreau and owner Craig Leipold likely will make a case for trying to get into the playoffs, but ultimately that decision shouldn’t be left to the coach or an owner who is the Wild’s biggest fan. It should be left to a general manager who was hired to make the decisions that ultimately will give this franchise a chance to not only make the playoffs again one day but this time win games once they arrive.


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