Until this weekend, when they Lego’d together two wins for the first time since November, the Montreal Canadiens had been doing the Minnesota Wild a favour.
The nosedive of the once-mighty Habs had relegated the Wild’s similar descent to sidebar status.
But as Montreal is showing signs of righting the ship (some of us need more proof), Minnesota is tossing deck hands overboard without lifebuoys to follow.
“I’m not happy with the play of anybody, really,” general manager Chuck Fletcher told the local papers Saturday.
“There’s probably been just a couple of players that have played well. You guys know who they are. But the focus can’t just be on what we’ve done at this point. It has to be about what we’re going to do.”
What the Wild has done is lose 10 of its last 11 games, drop three points behind Colorado for the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference, and establish the worst road record of all the Central Division clubs (9-12-6). Minnesota can't win a shutout and it's been more than a month since its offence managed four goals in a single night.
What the Wild — the definition of a bubble team — is going to do is become one of the most-watched organizations as we approach the NHL trade deadline, three weeks from today.
“I’m talking to GMs every day,” Fletcher told the Star Tribune. "We have assets that other teams like, I can tell you that much from the conversations I’ve had. The question is: Are you going to make a good trade? That’s the whole point right now. I’m not interested in moving young assets for rental players at this point."
Prospective contenders interested in plucking from the reeling Wild would be buying low. Defenceman Jonas Brodin, the reported trade bait dangled for Ryan Johansen, is out three-to-six weeks with a broken foot.
Underachieving forwards Jason Zucker and Thomas Vanek were healthy-scratched for Saturday's loss to the St. Louis Blues. Defenceman Jared Spurgeon suffered a deep bruise in that loss, missed practice Monday and is doubtful for Tuesday. And those events occurred after star defenceman Ryan Suter described the group as "very fragile."
Fletcher stated that fifth-year head coach Mike Yeo's job is "safe," and the handsomely paid Wild forwards most guilty of under-producing this season all hold no-movement clauses. Six goals for Jason Pominville's $5.75 million salary this season doesn't cut it.
Should he choose to shake the roster up, Fletcher has a list of players 25 and under on affordable contracts: Zucker, Brodin, Mat Dumba, Marco Scandella, Erik Haula, Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter. Remember, this is a group that suffered through a similar loss of confidence a year ago, and it was a trade — hello, Devan Dubnyk — that shook them out of it and propelled them into the post-season.
Dubnyk can't stand on his head every night, and it's become apparent that a 22nd-ranked offence that is snapping fewer shots than two-thirds of the league, lacks the firepower to contend in the NHL's toughest division.
The world knows Tampa is listening to bids for Jonathan Drouin. Impending free agents with scoring touch such as Eric Staal, Loui Eriksson, Teddy Purcell, Jiri Hudler and Radim Vrbata might be made available on the rental market Minnesota seems wary of entering.
So will Fletcher be tempted to deal a young blue-liner despite recent injuries? The GM figures an itchy trigger finger only leads to mistakes.
“We’ll certainly look inside our group first," he said. "But as always, if there’s opportunity to go outside our group, we’ll do that. But the message can’t be we can’t be sitting around waiting for help from the outside. Again, this group has won before, it’s a good coaching staff, it’s a good player group, we have a good leadership group, and it’s incumbent upon all of them to figure this out.”
They have three weeks to find a solution from within, and it starts with a nasty home stand against the Stars, Capitals and Bruins. Each one of those opponents looks like something the Wild is currently not: a playoff team.