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Updated: March 5th, 2014 7:21pm
Zulgad: Wild's trades mean that pressure on Mike Yeo has increased

Zulgad: Wild's trades mean that pressure on Mike Yeo has increased

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

The pressure is now on Mike Yeo. In a big way.

That became clear Wednesday afternoon when for the second time in as many days, and with the NHL trade deadline approaching, Minnesota Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher made a move to improve his team.

On Tuesday, Fletcher acquired veteran goalie Ilya Bryzgalov">Ilya Bryzgalov from the Edmonton Oilers for a fourth-round draft pick, giving the Wild a much-needed backup goalie to Darcy Kuemper.

On Wednesday, Fletcher beat the 2 p.m. deadline by sending disgruntled fourth-line winger Torrey Mitchell and two draft picks to the Buffalo Sabres for left winger Matt Moulson and tough-guy center Cody McCormick.

The acquisition of Moulson might be the most interesting move made by Fletcher because it means that Wild executives have no intention of simply getting into the playoffs and then patting each other on the back.

Moulson scored 30 or more goals for three consecutive seasons with the New York Islanders and will be a top-six forward for the Wild. He's also in the last season of his contract, meaning the 30-year-old qualifies as a rental player.

Don't get what we're saying. Fletcher cleared up any potential confusion.

"This is a move to win now," he told reporters.

Those words weren't just said for the benefit of the players.

Yeo has dodged a few bullets the past two years.

Last season, he likely saved his job when the Wild managed to avoid a complete meltdown and qualified for the playoffs by beating Colorado in their final regular-season game.

A six-game losing streak to end December this season had many wondering if Yeo would be around much longer, but the Wild won seven of their next 10 games to stabilize things.

Things have only gotten better.

A 3-2 victory over Calgary on Monday at Xcel Energy Center extended the Wild's winning streak to five games. That includes three wins in a row since the Olympic break ended.

Yeo's team is sitting in fourth place in the Central Division with 75 points, putting them atop the wild-card standings in the Western Conference and seven points clear of Dallas, which holds the final playoff spot.

There are 20 games left in the regular season for the Wild and then, if all goes according to plan, a second consecutive playoff appearance. Unless something changes in the coming weeks, Yeo's contract is set to expire at the end of the season.

This is where it's going to get interesting -- and where Fletcher's moves the past two days might have altered matters when it comes to Yeo's future. The key question: What are the expectations for Yeo and the Wild after these trades?

The acquisition of the 33-year-old Bryzgalov was absolutely necessary given that Niklas Backstrom (abdominal injury) has been shut down for the remainder of the season, and it's looking more and more as if Josh Harding won't play again in 2013-14 as he battles complications from the medication he is taking for multiple sclerosis.

Kuemper, a 23-year-old rookie, has been fantastic since taking over as the Wild's top goalie on Jan. 7. He has posted an 11-2-2 record with a 2.02 goals-against average and .930 save percentage and given up only six goals in winning five consecutive games.

But Kuemper can't play every game and it's clear the Wild doesn't trust any of its goalies in the minor leagues to step in and start.

Moulson, however, isn't a guy the Wild had to get. But he is a guy who should definitely make this team better. Look for him to debut on Saturday in Dallas playing on the second line with Mikko Koivu and Charlie Coyle.

Moulson, 30, also has proven to be dangerous on the power play and tied for seventh in the NHL last season by scoring eight goals while his team had a man advantage. His 17 goals with the Islanders and Sabres this season place him third on the Wild behind first-liners Jason Pominville (22 goals) and Zach Parise (21).

McCormick isn't much of a scorer - he has only one goal this season - but he is a hard-nosed guy. He has 503 penalty minutes in 358 career games, qualifying him as the type of player who can protect his more-skilled teammates during a playoff run.

Odds are McCormick wouldn't stand by and watch Dustin Brown put an elbow into Pominville's head without responding.

Put all of this together and it looks as if Fletcher, and Wild owner Craig Leipold, might be expecting to bring in significant revenue during the playoffs.

Yeo has been given the talent, it's now his job to make the right moves behind the bench well into May. If that fails to happen, Fletcher's next move might be looking for a coach.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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