It’s been a “wild” last few days for the Minnesota Wild.
Riding high off of what one could call a miraculous four-game win streak that saw the Wild defeat four of the best that the NHL had to offer, the team went on the road only to drop three straight to St. Louis, Phoenix, and Dallas.
While no team in the NHL is a slouch these days, the three-game losing streak was certainly a letdown and was three games that the Wild could have, and likely should have, won.
Going into the road trip, the four-game swing had Minnesota just two points out of the eighth and final playoff spot. Now, the Wild have slipped to 12th in the Western Conference and are six points out.
With 11 games remaining until the Olympic Break, the biggest question remaining for the Wild is, quite simply, “What should we do?”
With 32 games remaining, Minnesota is in the unenviable position of playing catch up. While they firmly believe that they are a team capable of making the playoffs, one has to wonder if making a playoff push would even be worth it.
As it stands now, the Wild would be sitting about 11th in the NHL draft next season if the lottery were to play out as the standings did. The team has 14 impending unrestricted free agents that have received playing time in the NHL this season and, of those, seven could be considered regulars.
The bottom line is that one way or the other, this will be a completely different team next season.
So the question is left for the Wild: What do we do?
I don’t know what the front office’s answer to this question is, but I certainly know what mine would be.
Blow it up.
The Wild have established that they can play with anyone in the league. They’ve beaten some of the best teams that the league has to offer, including the defending Stanley Cup Champions—twice.
But the Wild have also established two things. One, they are a supremely inconsistent team and two, their team defense leaves very, very much to be desired.
Both consistency and team defense are of the utmost importance when it comes time for the playoffs and without those, Minnesota would be dead in the water, likely facing either the Chicago Blackhawks or the San Jose Sharks.
While I’ve tried to remain optimistic, at this point I don’t know that making the playoffs would do this team any bit of good.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the team should tank. I do, however, think that they need to look at their tradable assets and decide which of them fits into the future of the team.
The Wild’s minor league system and prospect system has been decimated by poor trading and poor drafting on the part of Doug Risebrough. There is no better time to restock the system then at the trade deadline.
With players like Owen Nolan, Eric Belanger, and Marek Zidlicky all becoming unrestricted free agents, Minnesota has a wealth of players that could be very valuable to any team making a playoff push or even wanting depth for the playoffs.
The trade deadline often breeds insanity through many GMs (a sixth round pick for Chris Simon, anyone?) dead set on improving their team and many would pay a pretty penny for a veteran with a history of goal scoring (Nolan), a faceoff wizard in the midst of a career year (Belanger), or a highly skilled, if defensively deficient, puck-moving defenseman (Zidlicky).
There are players that I honestly think the Wild should hold onto and try to work out a deal with (Johnsson), but the fact remains that few, if any, of the players that are up for new contracts during the offseason are in what people would consider the core of this team.
What the team does have are a handful of restricted free agents (Latendresse and Clutterbuck specifically) that will likely be due for raises and a deficiency of size up front and on the blueline. The combination of all of these leads me back to my initial point: blow it up.
Get picks and prospects or maybe a young, undervalued player like Latendresse, but move absolutely everybody in the organization that doesn’t have a future with the team.
There is no doubt that the future of this team lies not with what they have, but what they will have. Players like Koivu, Burns, and Schultz are undoubtedly involved in the future of the Wild, but the rebuilding and reloading of this organization began on Jul. 1 with the signings of Greg Zanon and Martin Havlat, and needs to continue on Mar. 3 at the trade deadline.