The first trade of the Bill Guerin era as general manager of the Wild subtracted a core player while netting a return centered on future assets.
But the decision to cut ties with Jason Zucker doesn’t mean Guerin is throwing in the towel on the Wild’s playoff push.
In fact, if players respond poorly to the loss of a longtime teammate, Guerin anticipates another shake-up ahead of the Feb. 24 deadline.
“If there is quit, there will be more trades,” Guerin said. “I wholeheartedly expect this team to compete for a playoff spot. We’re right there, and if there’s any signs of anybody taking their foot off the gas, that will be an indication.”
A year ago, the Wild seemingly fell apart after the team moved out former fixtures in Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund — sliding from a playoff spot to the bottom of the Central Division.
But coach Bruce Boudreau didn’t sense the same vibe Tuesday when the Wild reconvened after Zucker was flipped to the Penguins on Monday evening, a deal that brought in winger Alex Galchenyuk, a first-round draft pick and prized defensive prospect Calen Addison.
Before puck drop vs. the Golden Knights, the Wild sat five points shy of a playoff berth.
“We have been grinding for so long and so hard that this [trade] cannot interfere,” Boudreau said.
While the meat of the deal is the pick and prospect, the Wild does receive an established NHL player in Galchenyuk to help fill Zucker’s absence.
Although Galchenyuk’s production has waned, with the 25-year-old scoring only five goals in 45 games with Pittsburgh, the Wild is hopeful a fresh start will rejuvenate Galchenyuk and enable him to recapture the scoring touch that led him to being the third overall pick in 2012 by the Canadiens and a one-time, 30-goal scorer in 2015-16.
Galchenyuk is on an expiring contract, but team brass does plan to evaluate him to see if he can be a long-term fit.
“He’s very excited about the opportunity,” Guerin said. “He just wants to come in and play and prove himself.”
Last season, Guerin was on the Penguins’ management team that pursued Zucker and the trade talk picked up once he was on the other side of the proposed deal.
It’s clear why Pittsburgh coveted the forward, looking at Zucker as someone who could slot into its top-six forwards and help keep its Stanley Cup window propped open.
But the trade still made sense for Guerin even though he switched perspectives; it wasn’t that he thought Zucker was expendable, but rather he valued what Zucker could obtain for the Wild.
“It’s a fair trade,” Guerin said. “It fills a lot of holes for us.”
Guerin believes the addition of Galchenyuk was important to bolster the players’ outlook and keep spirits up.
If that demeanor sags and the Wild falters again, as Guerin made clear, more change will be on the way.
Ultimately, though, what makes the Wild better — regardless if a potential trade provides immediate help or hope for the future — is what’s on Guerin’s radar leading up to the deadline.
“If a deal makes sense, then we’ll do it,” he said. “If not, we’ll be patient and we’ll wait.”
He wasn’t at Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday morning, but Galchenyuk arrived in time to make his Wild debut against Vegas.
Galchenyuk, wearing No. 27, started on the second line next to center Luke Kunin and right winger Mats Zuccarello. Despite previously playing at center, Guerin considers Galchenyuk a winger.
“Hopefully we can help him get comfortable as soon as possible,” said captain Mikko Koivu, who chatted with Galchenyuk on Monday night.
• Goalie Alex Stalock got the nod Tuesday, his third start in the past five games.
• Center Victor Rask and defensemen Greg Pateryn remained scratched.