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Wild trying to right a wayward ship

By Michael Russo , Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –

TORONTO — As the Minnesota Wild aired things out in a team meeting in hopes of easing tension that has infiltrated the sinking team, and as the Wild hit the ice at the Toronto Maple Leafs practice facility in hopes of ending a 10-game road winless streak Thursday against the Leafs . . . Chuck Fletcher was on the phone.

The Wild general manager was ducking behind signage, slipping into hallways, finding quiet spots in quiet areas — his Blackberry always at his ear.

With the Wild having lost 14 of 16 games and clinging to eighth in the West, Fletcher was busy trying to unearth ways to shake the struggling Wild out of a one-month funk that shows no sign of ending.

“I think I’m doing a disservice to our players if I’m not trying to give them the ammunition to make the playoffs,” Fletcher said. “But the way we’re going now, one player is not going to all of a sudden turn everything around, too. We need to get back to what we were, and we need to become the team that we were earlier in the sense of being a team.

“We’ll keep looking to upgrade the talent. We’ll move whatever we have to move if it makes sense. Not everybody’s untouchable. And certainly we have a lot of prospects we’re not going to move, but there’s assets we have that we can move to make our team better if we can find the right fit.”

The question is whether Fletcher can find that “right fit” and if it can happen before it’s too late. The Wild looks to be a fractured team, and frustration has set in (see Cal Clutterbuck’s four minor penalties Tuesday in Philadelphia).

Fletcher feels the pressure to do something quickly, but he also said he can’t force something out of desperation.

“You can’t wave a magic wand and have a deal pop up,” Fletcher said. “The scary thing is you can make big mistakes when you feel pressure to do something. … So you’ve got to be really smart and if something’s available, you try to do it.

“We’ll keep working the phones. I think teams are aware of what we’re trying to accomplish, and I think I’m pretty aware of what a lot of teams are trying to accomplish. I’ll just keep looking for fits.”

The trade deadline is Feb. 27. It seems most teams in the NHL are looking for top-six forwards, and that especially includes the Wild, which is missing injured Mikko Koivu, Guillaume Latendresse and Pierre-Marc Bouchard.

That means several teams are competing over the same players, and in a league where most teams are fighting for a playoff spot, that makes for only a few teams willing to part with impact players.

Fletcher added that teams feel they have leverage on him because of the Wild’s injury situation and plummet in the standings.

“That’s why if you try to force something or rush it, you end up making a mistake,” he said. “But we’re looking.”

The Anaheim Ducks have dangled top forward Bobby Ryan, whom Fletcher played a part in drafting. The Buffalo Sabres, having struggles similar to the Wild’s, are shopping Drew Stafford, Derek Roy and Brad Boyes. The Rangers are offering Wojtek Wolski and Erik Christensen. In terms of rentals available now, Columbus is willing to trade Vaclav Prospal, Edmonton Ales Hemsky and Carolina Tuomo Ruutu.

“We wanted to try to add an offensive player when we were healthy, so with the guys we have out, it creates a little more urgency,” Fletcher said. “We probably weren’t an elite offensive team to begin with, and now we’re asking players to play in roles they’re not normally going to play in.”

Referring to centers Matt Cullen and Kyle Brodziak and minor league callups Warren Peters, David McIntyre, Casey Wellman and injured Jarod Palmer, Fletcher said, “There’s been a lot of pressure on certain players to really step up, and our overall team game has slipped as a result.”

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