ST. PAUL — Think of it as a shot across the bow fired by first-year Wild general manager Bill Guerin, a sign of things to come, especially if things go sideways for Minnesota’s struggling NHL franchise over the next couple of weeks.
After trading winger Jason Zucker to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday night, it’s clear that Guerin still expects the Wild to be competitive the rest of the season.
And if they aren’t?
“If there is quit, there will be more trades,” he said Tuesday. “I wholeheartedly expect this team to compete for a playoff spot. We are right there. If there’s any signs of anybody taking their foot off the gas, that will be an indication (of what I have to do).”
In Guerin’s first big move as the man in charge, he flipped Zucker, a popular player who has spent the past nine seasons with the Wild, for 25-year-old winger Alex Galchenyuk, a 2020 first-round draft pick and top prospect Calen Addison in a trade that likely will send ripples throughout both franchises.
“You look at the trade from both sides of things,” Guerin said. “I think it’s pretty safe to say it’s a fair trade.”
Looking specifically at Zucker, the Penguins get a dynamic 28-year-old offensive threat who will slot immediately in next to superstar Sidney Crosby, filling the scoring role vacated by Hill-Murray alum Jake Guentzel, who is out for the rest of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery in late December.
Meanwhile, the Wild got a considerable haul in return: Galchenyuk will slide right into the lineup for Tuesday’s home game against the Vegas Golden Knights, the 2020 draft should help in the future, and Addison is a highly touted 19-year-old defenseman with plenty of upside.
“It’s important that we got somebody back that could help us right now,” Guerin said. “For the players in the locker room, to have another guy coming back to be able to put in the lineup, a guy that has a history of scoring, that can help us, I think it’s important for the camaraderie of the team and for their outlook.”
When Guerin says he seen this trade from both sides, he means it. He served as right-hand man for Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford just last season when they targeted Zucker.
“He’s a player that we had talked about last season and tried to acquire,” said Guerin, who became the Wild’s GM last August after spending the previous 10 years with the Penguins, two as a player and eight in the front office.
“There was still a desire there to get him, and I knew that, so Jim and I just worked through it together. We made it happen, and I think we’re both pretty comfortable with the way things turned out.”
Talking to some of Zucker’s former teammates before Tuesday’s game, it’s clear the move affected them on a personal level. Zucker was revered during his time in the Twin Cities.
“We have been sitting next to each other I don’t know how many years now,” captain Mikko Koivu said, looking over his right shoulder where Zucker’s locker used to be. “We created a relationship with the person, so it’s tough. I think at the same time we all know this is part of it, and he knows it, so I’m very excited for him and his future. He’s a professional on and off the ice, so he’ll do just fine, and I’m sure he’ll find his spot on that team quicker than expected.”
Personal relationships aside, the reality of the situation isn’t lost on the Wild locker room, especially considering the team currently is on the outside looking in on the Western Conference playoff standings.
There are a handful of players on the current roster that Stanley Cup contenders might covet, and how the team plays the next couple of weeks could go a long way in determining if Guerin is willing to part with some of those assets.
"I think we’re in that situation right now where we’ve got to win or there might be more of that happening,” veteran winger Zach Parise said.
Not that coach Bruce Boudreau is concerned about that part of it. He knows there isn’t much he can do to calm the nerves of players who might be feeling like they could be traded away, too.
“I can’t tuck them in at night and say, ‘Everything’s OK,’ ” Boudreau said. “We are all professionals. We just go out there and we do our jobs. The things we can control, we can control. The things we can’t control, we can’t control.”
As for whether Guerin is done making moves before the Feb. 24 NHL trade deadline, he was very up front, emphasizing that he is going to turn every stone, and if a deal makes sense, he won’t be afraid to make it happen.
Even if the players don’t necessarily like it.
“They have to be professionals,” Guerin said. “The players have been through this before. They understand this business and understand that this happens. They are expected to put their gear on and be ready to go.”