Satisfied with the direction the Minnesota Wild are headed as February turns into the Stretch Drive month of March, GM Chuck Fletcher has downplayed any possible moves to further infuse talent in the club, according to published reports.
Fletcher told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that unless the player traded for can quickly mesh with the team's current high-level character, that player would not be added by Monday's 2:00 PM (CST) trade deadline.
"These players deserve a chance to stay together and see this thing through. This group deserves that chance; they want that chance, and it's hard to argue with them."
The Wild currently are in 6th place in the NHL's Western Conference with 72 points, two behind 5th place Los Angeles, and three behind 4th place Phoenix, who currently holds the last spot for first-round home ice advantage. The Wild have completed their season series with both clubs.
With Mikko Koivu out for two to three more weeks (broken index finger, left hand) the Wild could use another center. But until (and unless) the rest of the team could buy into a new face near them, Fletcher does not want to mess with the good chemistry in the dressing room. "...we like this team, we're competitive every night and we're winning more games than we're losing. We're content with our group."
Now...the next five games
The next five games (3 at Xcel Energy Center, 2 on the road) are vs. Chicago, two in New York (at the Islanders and Rangers, in that order), then home games against Buffalo and Colorado. Is it too much to expect to win four of those five? Yes, Chicago is a mess right now, and Stan Kroneke is trying to out-cheapen Charles Wang (if that's even possible?) with the Avs current dismantling, but the Wild are in a position to really put some distance between themselves, and the rest of the West contenders this coming week.
Monday's nationally-cablecast game (Versus, 7:00 PM) vs. the Chicago Blackhawks is the final meeting between the two teams this season, and with each game between the two teams having more meaning than the last one, this game should be a fun evening of puck. The Wild are 1-2 in their first three meetings; the Blackhawks winning October 30th at the 'X', and Feb. 16 in Chicago, both games by 3-1 scores; the Wild defeated the 'Hawks 4-2 at the United Center on January 25th, in the last game before the All-Star Break for both franchises. Chicago, although not the star-studded, fully-loaded Blackhawks of last season, are still capable of running up the score should they get going offensively. The Wild will indeed have their hands full Monday night, but so may the 'Hawks, especially if they make a trade deadline deal earlier on Monday.
Before getting back into the meat grinder of the stretch drive, the Wild get a few games which they should actually win. The New York Islanders are, well, the Islanders; all the 'goons' who tried to single-handedly drag the NHL back into the 'Slap Shot' era, will be returning to the Isles' roster in time for Wednesday night's 6:00 PM start. Even with the 'slugfest' against the Penguins two weeks ago, the Isles are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games, better than the 4-6-0 record of the Rangers going into Sunday afternoon's game vs. Tampa Bay at Madison Square Garden.
The New York Rangers are almost as banged up as the Wild are, with five front-line Blueshirts (Marian Gaborik, Marc Staal, Alexander Frolov, Chris Drury, and Derek Boogaard) all out of the line-up. This is the game, I think, that may be a loss for the Wild. The Wild never play that well in Manhattan (1-4-0 all time at MSG), and the Wild will be on the second night of yet another back-to-back on the road.
After three days off (and the state high school wrestling tournament at the 'X'), the Wild will face a Buffalo Sabres' team which is very much hot and cold. On the cusp of the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Sabres will roll into St. Paul on the second game of a back-to-back of their own, and their 4th road game in six nights, the middle game of a 7-game, two-week road trip where, after which, the Sabres play only two more games away from HSBC Arena the rest of March.
What will be left of the Colorado Avalanche will make their last visit into St. Paul on March 8th, a team which is a shadow of what they were at this time last season, when they out-lasted the Calgary Flames to qualify for last season's playoffs. This is not last season's Avs by any stretch, as the team has gone on an economy kick, and is trying desperately to shed payroll, by any means possible.
So, is 4-1 in the next five games realistic? Is it the time for the Wild to show that they really ARE a team worthy of the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
Guess we'll just have to see for ourselves, huh?