The Wild aren't locked into a postseason berth by any means and they are a long shot to catch Colorado in the Central Division, but they are comfortably in control of their destiny in terms of nailing down one of the two wild-card spots in the Western Conference. That would then mean a date with Anaheim, Chicago or St. Louis (i.e., one of the top two teams in the conference). But can the Wild keep pace with a goaltending tandem of Darcy Kuemper and Niklas Backstrom? Kuemper has been terrific since taking over the starting job, with Josh Harding dealing with medical issues that appear no closer to being resolved. Backstrom has not been up to the task physically or technically, so that leaves GM Chuck Fletcher with a big decision. Does he try to upgrade his goaltending, at least for the short term, and maybe get on a roll and knock off one of the big boys?
There's no guarantee that if Fletcher added a Ryan Miller or Martin Brodeur, or even Justin Peters or Cam Ward, that the Wild would be able to get through even the first round. But there is lots of pressure on the Wild to be more than one-and-done for the second straight season, and the status quo might not be the right answer for a team that on some nights looks like it could be a playoff dark horse.
Tim Murray, who took over midseason for longtime Sabres GM Darcy Regier, has lots of work ahead. The team has actually played pretty well for coach Ted Nolan, and now Murray must maximize the return on assets Ryan Miller and Matt Moulson and possibly Steve Ott. There is a market for all, and Murray could always circle back to Ott in the offseason and repatriate the current Sabres captain, who is perfectly suited for the kind of rebuild about to be undertaken in Buffalo. The trick for Murray will be in making sure he doesn't price himself out of the market, especially with Miller, because it's always tough to deal a top-end goalie at the deadline (just ask Vancouver's Mike Gillis, who never got around to dealing Roberto Luongo).
The Sabres are going to be chock-a-block with top draft picks thanks to the earlier deal that saw Thomas Vanek go to Long Island, and Moulson has the potential to yield another first-round pick, given his value as a scorer. These are the kinds of weeks that have the potential to shape a team's future for years, so the spotlight will be on Murray in his first trade-deadline frenzy.
New York Rangers
In some ways, the Rangers are the poster boys for the new NHL landscape. In the old days, good teams wouldn't bat an eye at having players with expiring contracts in their lineup. In fact, teams such as the Rangers often brought on lots of those players because they could always offer them big contracts in the offseason to get them to stay, or find someone else on whom to lavish big-money deals. Today, the pendulum has swung so that teams are loath to entertain even the possibility that top players could walk away in the offseason without some sort of asset in return. And to be sure, teams such as New Jersey, Nashville and Florida have seen their development in recent years stunted after losing players such as Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Dan Hamhuis and Jay Bouwmeester without getting anything back.