With the NHL trade deadline less than 2 weeks away, the Minnesota Wild are trying to keep pace in the Western Conference playoff race. The Wild were mired in a 7 game losing streak, during which they only managed to gain 2 out of 12 possible points. Teams such as Calgary, Colorado, and Dallas all jumped Minnesota in the standings during the losing streak and even the up-start Anaheim Ducks crept very close to Minnesota after an abysmal start to the season.
To add insult to injury, the Wild weren’t exactly helping themselves out as they lost two games to the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets, dropping both contests by a score of 3-1. Nothing was seemingly going right for the Wild, but a great showing by Niklas Backstrom against the Boston Bruins helped guide Minnesota in the right direction as the club searches for a way back into the playoff race.
Even though the club was playing without Mikko Koivu, the Wild found a way to beat the Bs despite surrendering a bunch of shots on goal. More importantly, the Wild played a team-oriented game that they hadn’t played for what seemed like the better part of a couple of months. While the Wild gathered a crucial 2 points, some weaknesses were still illustrated as Niklas Backstrom had to face a whopping 48 shots.
Brent Burns’ trade to the San Jose Sharks seems to be paying its dividends for San Jose, but the Minnesota Wild are struggling without a solid d-man. Giving up such a massive amount of shots on goal won’t garner the Minnesota Wild many points, especially since the team lacks proper depth and is playing without the services of their captain. If the Wild are to have any shot at getting into the playoffs in a tightly packed Western Conference, they’ll probably need to win at least 14 out of their remaining 23 games, a tough task for any NHL team.
In order to win those crop of games, the Wild need to make a change to the product on the ice and more call-ups from within the organization are not the answer. Some players must be traded from the roster in order to light some kind of a fire under the seemingly lackadaisical team.
One of the most glaring changes that needs to be made is the removal of Marek Zidlicky from the Minnesota Wild roster. Zidlicky has expressed his unhappiness playing in Minnesota and was the subject of a trade rumor earlier this week when it was reported that he would be shipped to the New Jersey Devils. While Zidlicky has made it apparent that he wants out of Minnesota, such trade rumors are undoubtedly in the back of defencemen Kurtis Foster and Matt Taormina and the Wild would be lucky to get rid of dead weight such as Zidlicky.
Some options that the Wild might consider targeting are Bryan Allen of the Hurricanes or some sort of puck moving defenceman. The Lightning have some goaltending issues and could sure use Josh Harding at this point and time if they hope to make a playoff run in the Eastern Conference. The question remains as to what Wild GM Chuck Fletcher will be willing to do once the deadline rolls around as he has explicitly stated:
“It is not a big market in terms of the number of sellers,” Fletcher said. “And second, the prices are very high. And historically, if you look, I’m not sure that 25% of these rental trades work out for the teams that are buying.”
Zidlicky has been the subject of trade rumors, but Greg Zanon could also be shipped out as a result of his sub-par play and limited team contributions. Aside from lacking on defense, the Wild have had immense troubles scoring goals and could use a top-six forward if they hope to make a run at the last playoff spot in the West. Top-six forwards will be at a premium at the NHL trade deadline, but the Wild and GM Chuck Fletcher have Josh Harding to shop around as well as over $10 million in cap space that they can work with.
Forwards such as Rick Nash have been made available for those in need, but there is no need to pursue Nash, especially with the team expected to give Mikael Granlund, Jonas Brodin, and Jason Zucker a chance to turn pro next season. However, the Wild still have options that they could explore when looking for a top-six forward.
As previously mentioned, the Tampa Bay Lightning could be an ideal trade partner for the Wild as the former could use a reliable goaltender such as Josh Harding. With Nicklas Backstrom still under contract and Matt Hackett close to being NHL-ready, it might just be time to unload the biggest trade chip that the Minnesota Wild have. Ryan Malone could be a viable option for the Wild as he has a $4.5 Million cap hit, but more importantly, Malone gets paid $3 Million (2012) and $2.5 Million (2013/2014) for the remainder of his contract.
Players such as Ales Hemsky and Tuomo Ruutu are also viewed as forwards that can possibly end up in Minnesota, but neither of the aforementioned players are answers to Minnesota’s scoring deficiencies. With Mikko Koivu considered day-to-day with an undisclosed injury and the Minnesota Wild being on the cusp of the Western Conference playoff picture, the team might make a move that will help the organization in the long-haul.
Playing without a top 4 defenceman as well as having 3 of your top 6 forwards absent from the lineup can have a devastating impact on an NHL lineup and the Wild are learning firsthand that injuries do catch up with teams. The team schedule will not get any lighter as 20/23 of the Wild’s remaining opponents are vying for a playoff spot in either the Eastern or Western Conference. This much is certain, the Wild must build off of their most recent win and explore the trade market for either a puck moving d-man or a forward that can help the team generate some quality scoring chances and shots on goal.