ST. PAUL — If this was any team but the Wild, it might have been surprising that they returned home Sunday having won back-to-back road games against Vancouver and Edmonton. The Wild had looked flat and disinterested in a 2-0 loss to visiting San Jose on Feb. 15 in interim coach Dean Evason’s first game.
This appeared to signify the fight had left the Wild. Only this franchise long has been filled with players who love adversity and so with the NHL trade deadline approaching they decided to get their act together. That meant the Wild were only four points out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference entering Sunday night’s game against the St. Louis Blues.
The defending Stanley Cup champs and standout goaltender Jordan Binnington were kind enough to provide the Wild with a reminder of just how far they are from being among the NHL’s elite, dominating Minnesota en route to a 4-1 victory.
Wild players will tell you their success against the Canucks and Oilers should have given first-year general manager Bill Guerin something to think about with the deadline due to hit at 2 p.m. Monday. Fortunately, it has become obvious that Guerin can see right through this act. Guerin made that clear when he dealt winger Jason Zucker to Pittsburgh on Feb. 10 for the expiring contract of winger Alex Galchenyuk, a defensive prospect and a first-round pick in 2020.
The return in that trade also served as evidence that Guerin isn’t worried about the short term and won’t be influenced by mini-spurts of success. The Wild had their chance to impress Guerin after he took the GM job in late August and now it’s too late.
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“There’s no way around it, (Sunday was a) last chance really … you’ve got to showcase some things and you’ve got to make sure you want to be here and show that,” said winger Marcus Foligno, whose 10th goal of the season was the only puck the Wild put past Binnington. “There’s (going to be) decisions tomorrow that will be made and, hopefully, it’s in here with the same group. But if not we still have got to pick up right where we left off. We had a good road trip, we’re still in it, still have 20-some games left … there’s still the common goal of making the playoffs. That’s going to be the agenda tomorrow.”
The Wild have played a faster and more up-tempo style of hockey since Evason took over for the fired Bruce Boudreau. That’s a good sign for the future but means little for a team that had the aging Eric Staal and Mikko Koivu and slow-skating Victor Rask at center on Sunday. Much like the Timberwolves, the Wild are playing a style that only fits certain players on their roster and Guerin’s goal is to build a roster of guys that all can play the style he wants.
One of those players is expected to be winger Kirill Kaprizov, a star in the KHL who is expected to sign with the Wild this offseason. Kaprizov’s arrival should be a significant part of the reset that Guerin is in the midst of orchestrating.
Who could be gone by Monday’s deadline? Koivu, who has spent his entire 15-year career with the Wild and has a no-move clause, was given the chance to land with a contender and declined. Guerin could look to deal Staal, who has a 10-team no-trade list, and there have been reports that winger Zach Parise might be on the move, if he will waive his no-move clause. Galchenyuk also could be shopped and Guerin would be thrilled if anyone would take Rask.
“It’s never a good time of year to be completely honest, there’s a lot of emotions involved and there’s a lot of different things that go along with it that are out of your control,” said Staal, whose name popped up in trade rumors near the deadline last season before former GM Paul Fenton gave him a two-year, $6.5 million contract extension. “We’ll come to work tomorrow and do our best to learn from this game and get better. Whatever happens, we’ll deal with it from there.”
Guerin’s most difficult decisions likely will come down to whether he wants to move defensemen Jonas Brodin or Matt Dumba. Brodin is an extremely talented player who would instantly bolster the blue line of any contender. Dumba has only four goals in what has been a disappointing season but his potential as an offensive defenseman and the fact he’s a righthand shot make him valuable.
The price for Brodin or Dumba would be extremely high, but if Guerin gets the right offer it might be too tempting to pass. Guerin isn’t going to do what Wolves president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas did at the deadline when he traded most of his roster but by Monday evening the Wild roster could be minus several familiar faces.
That was going to be the case no matter how the much the Wild tried to change Guerin’s mind with their play in Western Canada.
“You just can’t think about that (trade) stuff,” Wild goalie Devan Dunbyk said after giving up four goals on 26 Blues shots. “All the storylines and all that. You win the game, lose the game, I don’t think it’s going to change … he’s not going to make a knee-jerk decision based off of 60 minutes of hockey. Billy knows what he wants to do, he’s smart and he wants to make our team the best it can be for now and for later. But we certainly believe in here that this group is capable of being where we need to be at the end of the year.”
Guerin has seen enough to know better.