There's about a month to go before the NHL trade deadline, plenty of time for this recalibrated Wild team to make a move that improves their odds of winning a playoff series, or two, or four.
The Wild have reached the All-Star break with 58 points, 14 behind the pace of their club-record 113 points last season. Their offense has taken a hit, mostly because they miss Kevin Fiala (traded to Los Angeles in June). But some observers, including this one, think they might be built better for the postseason, when the ice shrinks under the playoff spotlight, than a year ago.
They are bigger and better defensively. And they should consider doubling down on their strength in the next month.
As some Wild players headed to Cabo San Lucas for the All-Star break — same place, coincidentally, as some Vikings players traveled this week — the team is positioning itself to be a tough out once the Stanley Cup playoffs arrive.
General Manager Bill Guerin and the Wild front office face a choice as they approach the deadline: boost the offense, or buttress the defense.
After averaging 3.8 goals a game last season, the Wild are at 3.1 this season. Defensively, they have allowed 138 goals, ninth fewest in the league. The Wild were outscored 19-5 in four playoff losses to St. Louis last season. Their current goalkeeping tandem of Marc-Andre Fleury and Filip Gustavsson makes a repeat of that happening unlikely.
They also are a little bigger with the addition of confirmed clobberer Ryan Reaves, who makes opponents think twice about pulling any shenanigans with Kirill Kaprizov or other Wild forwards. This was an early-season deal that needed to be made after a slow start, and Guerin deserves a stick tap for identifying a problem and addressing it quickly. The best move would have been to just re-sign brawler Nic Deslauriers, a trade deadline addition last season, but Chuck Fletcher slipped a four-year contract offer under his nose to play at Philadelphia, one he couldn't resist.
The defense has not been a wall. There's always been a high-risk/high-reward side to Matt Dumba's game, but recent poor play made him a healthy scratch for two games. Ryan Hartman's rash of penalties tested the penalty kill more than coach Dean Evason liked, making him a healthy scratch as well. Is it time to add another defenseman to the mix? Should they wait for Brock Faber after the Gophers' season is over?
But what about another goal scorer? The hope was that players would step up and mitigate the loss of Fiala's 85 points. That has not happened.
Matt Boldy has plenty of potential, and the Wild have smartly signed him to a contract extension. But there has been a drop in production from Hartman, Jordan Greenway and Marcus Foligno that has more than offset Boldy's 36 points. Injuries and availability have played a role in that drop, too.
There are some followers dreaming about landing Patrick Kane, who's making $10.5 million in the final year of his contract with Chicago. At age 34, he still has something to offer offensively and likely would be energized by escaping the tanking Blackhawks. He would likely require a first-round pick as part of any package. Guerin will not give up a top pick for a rental player. Then there's the issue of absorbing the cost of Kane the rest of this season and next, if he was willing to stay. Any trade to bring in scoring will likely require a first-rounder and stress the payroll as well. That's problematic.
Instead, the Wild should look to get even bigger before the deadline, after struggling with such teams in the past. Dumba, Calen Addison and Alex Goligoski are undersized. Would someone like Canucks defenseman Luke Schenn check that box? Inexpensive and a free agent after this season, Schenn might not cost much capital to acquire.
This Wild season has not been as successful as a year ago, but this group plays a brand of hockey that might be a better fit once the Stanley Cup playoffs arrive. The Wild should accentuate its strength and beef up even more.