Wild aren’t going away, despite injuries and trades

You’re to be forgiven if you had already written off the Minnesota Wild this season because, well, it was a pretty easy thing to do.

It was just a couple of weeks ago that they were in the middle of a stretch where they had lost nine out of 10 games, were on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture and surrounded by a pile of teams that all seemed to be in a better position to make a run at a playoff spot than they were, and the roster was in the process of being torn apart by trades and injuries.

Already playing without one of their top defenders in Mathew Dumba, they also lost their captain, Mikko Koivu, for the remainder of the season.

As if those two injuries were not enough, there were the trades that saw Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, and Mikael Granlund all get shipped off in exchange for Victor Rask, Ryan Donato, and Kevin Fiala. Those trades allowed the Wild to get younger and a little cheaper, but it didn’t seem to make the team much better in the short-term (or even the long-term where a couple of those trades are still questionable moves).

There was every reason to believe the season was teetering on the edge of collapse not long after coach Bruce Boudreau all but guaranteed a playoff berth.

Somehow, even with all of that adversity and roster upheaval, the Wild have managed to collect a point in seven consecutive games (winning five of them) and still have a hold on a playoff spot in the Western Conference, sitting two points ahead of the Colorado Avalanche for the second Wild Card spot and only two games back of the St. Louis Blues for the third spot in the Central Division.

Their past five games alone have been against Calgary, Winnipeg, St. Louis, and Nashville (twice) and they managed to come out of that stretch with eight out of a possible 10 points. That is three of the top teams in the Western Conference and a fourth (St. Louis) that is one of the hottest teams in the league. And they came out way better than could have reasonably been expected going in.

What is driving that recent success?

For one, starting goalie Devan Dubnyk deserves a lot of credit for playing some outstanding hockey over that stretch, posting a .935 save percentage and a 5-0-1 record. If you get a .935 save percentage (and let’s not forget backup Alex Stalock posted a .953 mark in his one appearance during that stretch, too)  you are going to have a chance to win a lot of hockey games no matter what the rest of your roster looks like or who you are playing on any given night.

They have also received some big contributions from some of their newest acquisitions.

Since arriving from Boston in the Coyle trade Donato has been one of the team’s best offensive players with two goals and five assists in seven games.

Fiala also had a big game on Tuesday night with a pair of goals against his former team to help the Wild secure at least a point in the standings.

Eric Staal has also been on a role as of late with nine points over the past seven games.

[Related: Zach Parise having sneaky good season for Wild]

Put all of that together and suddenly the playoffs don’t just seem to be a possibility for the Wild, they seem to have a great chance to punch their ticket even with all of the chaos that has happened within.

It certainly helped that they caught Calgary, Winnipeg, Nashville when they did, because while all three are the top teams in the West, none of them have really played their best hockey as of late.

It has also helped that the competition for the two Wild Card spots in the Western Conference has thinned out dramatically.

Vancouver, Chicago, Edmonton, and Anaheim — teams that were all within a point or two of a playoff spot just a couple of weeks ago — have fallen back out of the race and now sit as many as seven points back. None of them, realistically speaking, are a serious threat to the Wild (or anyone else in the playoff race, for that matter).

The two biggest threats on the outside remain Colorado and Arizona, while Minnesota still has a head-to-head game remaining with each.

A couple of weeks ago the Wild were a battered team whose roster was in the process of being broken apart and were one of nine teams fighting for what would only be three playoff spots.

Today that potential playoff race has been whittled down to just five teams fighting for the same three spots.

The Wild are not only one of the five teams still in it, they are probably sitting in a better position and playing better than at least three of them. That might be all they need to get in the postseason and give themselves a chance.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Predators reclaim top spot in Central, Wild pick up huge point

At some point you have to think all of the players the Minnesota Wild have lost over the past few weeks, whether by injury or trade, is going to catch up to them.

Even though they fell to the Nashville Predators in a shootout on Tuesday night, 5-4, they still managed to pick up a huge point in the standings by taking the game to overtime and extending their current point streak to seven games. They are 5-0-2 during that stretch and are guaranteed to remain in a playoff position in the Western Conference through the end of the night on Tuesday.

Considering what this team has gone through this season it is a pretty incredible accomplishment.

They’ve already lost Matt Dumba and Mikko Koivu to injury.

They traded Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, and Mikael Granlund.

On Tuesday they got another scare when forward Jason Zucker had to briefly leave the game with what looked to be a fairly significant injury only to see him return to the lineup.

Given where the Wild were in the standings when they started trading off players, and at one point had lost nine out of 10 games leading up to the trade deadline, they probably should have been out of this race long ago. But here they are, still hanging around. By this point we know the bottom of the Western Conference field is as weak as it has been in years, but it is still impressive this team has overcome the adversity it has over the past couple of weeks to still have a shot to get in.

Kevin Fiala, who was acquired from the Predators on deadline day in exchange for Granlund, played a big role in helping to keep them afloat on Tuesday when he scored a pair of goals against his former team, including the game-tying goal late in the third period.

But let’s not forget about the Predators here because this was a huge night for them, too.

Their win, combined with the Winnipeg Jets’ 5-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, put them back into the top spot in the Central Division for the time being. They have not been playing their best hockey as of late, but they have still won five of their past eight games to keep going back-and-forth with the Jets at the top of the Central.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL on NBCSN: Wild flirting with playoffs, but big picture should be GM’s focus

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday night’s matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

While Bruce Boudreau is still believing he can guide his Wild team into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, his boss is focusing on reshaping a roster that he inherited that’s been quite inconsistent with results.

As NHL trade deadline approaches, Paul Fenton is in listening mode, having already moved Charlie Coyle, which brought in Ryan Donato from the Boston Bruins. There’s still more he can do before 3 p.m. ET Monday. Eric Staal, who owns a modified no-trade clause, is on an expiring deal, as is defenseman Brad Hunt, who was acquired in January from the Vegas Golden Knights. Beyond those two pending unrestricted free agents, there could be value in moving a Mikael Granlund or Jonas Brodin (both signed through next season) or a Jared Spurgeon (tied up until 2020), but are those pieces the GM wants to build around or use to bring back future assets?

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Following two straight wins heading into Sunday’s meeting with the Blues, the Wild are a point out of a Western Conference wild card spot and seven points behind St. Louis in the Central Division. Fenton has said he’s been waiting for his players to dictate what he’s going to do before Monday afternoon.

The handcuff on a major clean out is, of course, the contracts of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Both are signed through the 2024-25 season and eat up nearly $16M in cap space a season, which hampers things even with a cap ceiling that has been rising every year. The current roster hasn’t cut it, so changes will have to be made.

There is certainly opportunity in the wide open bottom portion of the West. But as a new GM, Fenton has to think of the long-term picture of his team. This is also a roster that will be without Mikko Koivu and Matt Dumba for the rest of the season. A reset is needed, and even the owner is behind whatever moves are necessary, even if it costs them a playoff spot.

Chris Cuthbert (play-by-play) and Brian Boucher (‘Inside-the-Glass’) will have the call from Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. Pre-game coverage starts at 6 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Kathryn Tappen with Keith Jones and Anson Carter.

Tough night for Blackhawks in playoff race

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Even though the Western Conference Wild Card race is a jumbled mess where nobody seems determined to want to secure the two spots, and even though the Chicago Blackhawks have been one of the hottest teams in the NHL over the past month, they still have very little margin for error the rest of the way.

That is the punishment for a terrible start to the season and the challenge that is trying to gain all of that ground back in the second half. No matter how well you play in the second half, a bad first half can make it all irrelevant.

That is why Friday was such a tough night for the Blackhawks.

First, they had a head-to-head meeting with the Colorado Avalanche, one of the teams they are in direct competition with for a playoff spot in your classic four-point game in the standings. A regulation win either way would be massive for whatever team ended up getting it, and in this case it turned out to be the Avalanche who came away with a 5-3 win in what was a back-and-forth game.

J.T. Compher‘s goal with just under six minutes to play went in the books as the game-winner for the Avalanche while Carl Soderberg put the game away with his second goal of the game (and 21st of the season) with an empty net goal while the Avalanche were killing off a 6-on-4 disadvantage in the final minutes of regulation.

That leaves now leaves the Avalanche two points ahead of the Blackhawks in the standings while Colorado still has a game in hand.

As if that was not bad enough for the Blackhawks, while they were losing to Colorado the Minnesota Wild were picking two important points against the Detroit Red Wings to move back into the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, sitting one point ahead of the Avalanche and three points ahead of the Blackhawks.

With all of that in the books on Friday night, here are where things stand for the Blackhawks…

They are obviously not out of it by any means because, well, you can see standings and what the current field looks like, but that is not an ideal spot to be in.

The Blackhawks have done well to try and salvage their season and get back into the race, thanks in large part to an incredible run by Patrick Kane (who extended his point streak to 20 games on Friday) and some great play by Jonathan Toews, Alex DeBrincat, and Dylan Strome (all of whom also contributed to the offense on Friday), but there are a lot of signs that it is not really a sustainable run and that this team still has a lot of holes.

Elsewhere in this race, this was a huge night for the Avalanche who have now won three in a row and four out of their past five. Their season started to spiral away from them after a white-hot start and it is a near miracle they are still this close to a playoff spot considering they only went 8-17-6 between Dec. 1 and Feb. 12.

The Wild, meanwhile, have lost their captain Mikko Koivu to injury for the rest of the season, have made two trades involving veteran players that have almost certainly made them worse in the short-term, and have only won three of their past 12 games and are still currently in a playoff position.

The Western Conference Wild Card race, folks. It is … something.

Related: Blackhawks are back in playoff race, but are they a serious threat?

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Bruins add Coyle from Wild in hopes of secondary scoring boost

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The Boston Bruins have desperately needed scoring depth for the entire season and tried to address that hole on Wednesday evening by acquiring forward Charlie Coyle from the Minnesota Wild in exchange for Ryan Donato and a conditional fifth-round pick.

The 26-year-old Coyle has 10 goals and 18 assists in 60 games this season and is still signed for more full season at a salary cap hit of $3.2 million.

Even though the Bruins’ offense has been ridiculously top-heavy this season with almost all of their forward production coming from the trio Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, and Brad Marchand, they still have one of the league’s best records and entered the day with the second-highest point total (78) in the Eastern Conference. With a little extra depth to take some of the pressure off of the big-three up front, and with the type of goaltending they have received from Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak all season, they could be a dangerous team in the playoffs.

Coyle was born in Massachusetts and played his college hockey at Boston University, so this will be a homecoming of sorts.

From the Wild perspective, this is the second core player general manager Paul Fenton has traded during what is quickly becoming a bitterly disappointing season.

Even though the Wild entered the day in a playoff spot, they only have a one-point cushion over a pack of teams that is right on their tail (two of which, Colorado and Chicago, could jump ahead them on Wednesday night), lost their captain Mikko Koivu for the remainder of the season, and are on track to finish with their worst record since the 2011-12 season.

Most recently, they have lost nine of their past 10 games and been shut out in each of the past two.

Donato is obviously the key to this deal for the Wild and they have to be hoping that he can fully reach his potential with what should be a bigger role than he was getting in Boston. He has 11 goals and seven assists in 46 career games (but only six goals and three assists in 34 games this season) but has shown flashes of top-six ability. That is the good news. The bad news is he turns 23 in a couple of months and hasn’t yet solidified himself as a regular NHL player. That is obviously not old when it comes to a player’s peak, but it is definitely reaching the point where a prospect starts to become a suspect if they do not start to produce more consistently.

A few weeks ago the team sent Nino Niederreiter to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for Victor Rask, a deal that has backfired tremendously in the short-term (and probably will in the long-term as well).

These two deals together, combined with the injury to Koivu, should be a pretty loud message to the team and fans as to what they should expect over the new few days — the Wild are sellers, and now it is just a matter of who else goes out the door before Monday.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.