Six losses in their last seven games, including four straight defeats highlighted by a 7-3 shellacking at the hands of a healthy Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins Tuesday night, has sent the Minnesota Wild tumbling in the Western Conference playoff race.
Entering play Wednesday, Minnesota is eight points behind Vancouver (54 points) and Winnipeg (54 points) in the wild-card race.
Not only are the Wild – dead last in the Central Division – eight points out of it, they also have to jump three teams in front of them: Vegas (54 points), Nashville (49 points) and Chicago (48 points), not to mention San Jose (46 points) right there, too.
"We've got a lot of individuals that have played a lot of years that have got a lot of pride. I would assume that they're going to be able to just say, 'OK, we've been stinky lately, let's get it back on top here,'" said coach Bruce Boudreau. "That's what we gotta do. We can't give up in Game 47. Then you're really in trouble."
Perhaps more demoralizing than losing on the road to a recharged Penguins team is that the Wild are 1-3-1 in their last five home games. If there's a silver lining it's that Minnesota is historically very good at home, and they play their next seven games at Xcel Energy Center and 11 of 12 overall in St. Paul.
Minnesota starts that stretch Thursday at 7 p.m. against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
It could be a defining stretch that finally reveals who the Wild are. Are they the team that was one of the worst in the league in October or the club that was one of the top team sin the NHL from early November to mid-December?
Right now, they're playing like the prior.
The Athletic's Michael Russo added some interesting nuggets in his gamer (paywall), saying Pittsburgh has shown interest in trading for Wild winger Jason Zucker, while Carolina likes defenseman Jonas Brodin.
Added Russo about Wednesday's demoralizing loss: "This is also the type of loss that can signal the beginning of trade season."
When Russo starts typing sentences like that, everyone should pay attention because he's as locked in with the Wild and NHL as any reporter on the planet.
Does Wild GM Bill Guerin consider Zucker to be part of the long-term fix, or does he think the value he can get in return for the 28-year-old is more valuable? Remember, Zucker was nearly traded to Pittsburgh last offseason, and he'd be a Penguin had Phil Kessel not blocked a trade to Minnesota.
SportsNet's Rory Boylen also discussed Zucker among his list of 20 NHL trade candidates:
"Nearly traded already to Calgary and Pittsburgh over the past year-plus, Zucker is again a candidate to move — and possibly even to the Penguins still, as they deal with the loss of Jake Guentzel to injury. With 12 goals and 24 points in 35 games, the 27-year-old Zucker’s scoring pace this season is rivalling his career best. Far from a rental, Zucker has another three years after 2019-20 on his contract with a $5.5 million cap hit, but he does have partial trade protection — he can submit a no-trade list of 10 teams."
The NHL trade deadline is Monday, Feb. 24.