Depending on whom you ask, the Wild is either one injury away from obscurity or one player away from contention.
Looking at the standings, in which the Wild is currently in 6th place in the Western Conference, tied for second in the Northwest Division and only two points out of third and first, respectively, you would have to side with the latter of those two categorizations.
But, looking at other metrics such as goals differential (GF 135, GA 136), road record (12-11-2) and recent performance (5-4-1 in last ten games), and the glass looks less-full.
The Wild is certainly on course for the playoffs - and that is to be expected of them - but the question is: are they going to be able to take the next step which would seem to be defined as winning a series (or two)?
One is left to wonder, then, which of the aforementioned descriptions of the team Wild GM Doug Risebrough subscribes to at this point in time. That subscription, most likely, being the determining factor of whether DR goes shopping at Nordstrom's (read: for an impact, top-line type player) or at Wal-Mart (read: for an inconsequential "depth" type player).
Obviously there are mitigating factors.
If the prices at Nordstrom's are as high as they were last year (when GMs frivolously tossed out 1st round draft picks like candy at a parade) then one suspects DR will not be seen riding up and down the gilded escalators at Nordy's.
There's also the little matter of how the team intends to manage the careers of guys like PMB, Rolston, Demitra and Schultz.
PMB ($2.6M), SRV ($595k), Matt "Nine Lives" Foy ($506k), Voros ($495k) and Foster ($1.025M) are all RFAs after this season.
Demo ($4.5M), Rolston ($2.432M), Radio ($680k), Fedoruk ($875k), Carney ($2.1M), Schultz ($1.85M), Nummelin ($1.2M) and Hill ($475k) are all UFAs after this season.
By my math, that's $5.221M in RFAs and $14.112M in UFAs (salary, not cap hit) from the current team. The Wild currently has about $3.7M in cap space according to nhlnumbers.com.
As much as some Wild fans would like to think it, Skoula, Radio, Johnsson, Foy and Foster will not command anything approaching a Marian Hossa. And our impending UFAs are unattractive to big sellers unless they become desperate to get SOMETHING for their player - which is unlikely.
Without suggesting that DR is alone among his GM peers in this quandary, it is not an enviable position.
So, back to the question at hand: Nordstrom's or Wal-Mart? There are certainly some Nordstrom's-quality names being bandied about right now. Marian Hossa, Mats Sundin and Olli Jokinen, to name a few. Any of those three would seem to offer an immediate and significant upgrade for the Wild. We all know about Hossa's blood brothers the WonderGroin Twins - so we might have an edge there. We all know about the Wild's utter lack of depth at the center position, so Sundin or Jokinen would be that much more appealing.
And there's also the spectre of Peter Forsberg skating lazy circles out on the horizon. While one suspects that, when a Sundin or Forsberg says they're only interested in going to a contender, they don't mean the Minnesota Wild, one can never be too sure.
It's being reported as all-but certain that Sundin returns to the Buds this summer as a UFA, which makes him a rental player at the deadline - and a very, very expensive one at that. I don't think the Wild is one Mats Sundin away from the Cup so I don't see DR giving up a package that would probably include a PMB, Pouliot and a 1st round pick (at least) for twenty regular season games and maybe 10 playoff games with the acquired player.
Instead, I see DR making a move only in the event that he is all-but certain he can re-sign or extend the player, and if he's going to move youth he's only going to do so if he's getting youth back in return.
I think PMB is the Wild's most-tradable asset right now. It's not that I don't like him, I just think his skillset is the best combination of desirable to another team and redundant on the Wild right now. Pouliot could be a case of the "needs a new environment to flourish". Again, I have nothing against the kid, but his ascent in the Wild's system has not exactly been meteoric.
DR has indicated that he's loathe to part with a first-round pick, and I appreciate that. This is supposedly a deep draft so holding onto that first rounder seems to be a smart thing to do. He cites last year's insanity at the deadline - wherein none of the teams that made the biggest splashes (Islanders, Thrashers, Predators) even got out of the first round - and that having divested themselves of significant chunks of The Future in the form of young players and draft picks. However, would an aversion to including our first round pick in this year's draft be a non-starter in discussions with the Hossa, Sundin, etc camps?
That leaves one guy: Forsberg. As a UFA, you're not giving up picks or players to sign him. The problems are A) our previously discussed dubious claim to the "contender" moniker and B) everyone else is aware of this and the bidding could get pretty frothy, pretty quickly for Foppa. (Plus, there's the not insignificant risk that you sign him and his foot falls off after three games.)
So does this all mean Wild fans should not expect a big name trade before February 26th? Not necessarily. With so many UFAs and RFAs after this season, the "window of opportunity" for the current team is closing. IF - big if - the brass decides this team is one guy away from actually making a run at the Cup, then why not?
But, with so many teams still very much alive in the playoff race, it's going to be tough to make that decision.
**UPDATE** Well, no sooner do I put this up, but Mike Russo goes and reports the following in his blog:
"...I’ve been told by a source close to this team that if the price was right and Peter Forsberg was interested in the Wild, the Wild would be interested in him.
Of course, this isn’t the most gripping news because first Forsberg would have to want to come here and second the Wild would have to outbid a ton of other suitors, including teams like Philadelphia, where it sounds like Forsberg’s interested in going back to.
Anyways, assistant GM Tom Lynn was sitting in the stands this morning for several minutes with agent Don Baizley, who has some of the league’s top players, including Mikko Koivu, and yes, Forsberg.
Lynn wouldn’t comment on the nature of their talk, but quite honestly, it could have been an informal chat considering the Wild has a terrific relationship with Baizley."
Obviously he's qualifying his remarks, and Russo is known to go out of his way not to report anything that he doesn't actually believe in.