Just when we thought the Minnesota Wild were bound to fade into insignificance in 2023-24, the State of Hockey is showing some signs of life. An absolutely abysmal start to the campaign saw the Wild lose 11 of 13 from late October to late November, naturally begging the question as to whether this team would have any chance to stick around in the Central Division playoff hunt.

At one point 5-10-4, Minnesota has stemmed the bleeding — for now — by winning two straight games against the St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators, respectively. The most encouraging takeaways from those two wins were the just two goals the club allowed. After a ghastly stretch, it looks like starting goaltender Filip Gustavsson could be coming around. He's saved 49 of the last 51 shots fired against him, and will need to continue that type of play going forward to keep the Wild competitive.

Despite slow start, Wild still alive in Central Division

Minnesota Wild breakout candidates Marco Rossi and Matt Boldy at the Xcel Energy Center.

Besides the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars, the Central is wide open in 2023-24. For that reason, the Wild are still very much in the hunt despite one of the most forgettable months of November in the history of the franchise. General manager Bill Guerin had the very difficult task of firing head coach Dean Evason last week, but he's a great coach and likely won't be out of work for long. And this team could have a new identity under John Hynes, who has significant NHL experience himself.

The Wild are strapped tight to the salary cap, and likely would not be able to bring in any players without moving one out, or giving up valuable draft capital. But if the goal is still the postseason next April, it could make sense for Guerin to pick up the phone. Minnesota has a few underperforming forwards who will likely course correct as the season comes along; most notably, Kirill Kaprizov and Matthew Boldy. Ryan Hartman is also still looking for the form he showed in his breakout campaign a few years ago.

Although the Wild are scoring 3.1 goals per game, good enough for 19th in the NHL, that is not the case when it comes to keeping pucks out of their net. Minnesota has allowed more goals per game than every other team except two, and there will be no playoff run if 3.67 tallies per game are going behind Gustavsson and Marc-Andre Fleury.

The Wild should be looking for defensive help immediately, and the suitor is right there waiting for them: the Calgary Flames.

Chris Tanev or Noah Hanifin would vastly improve D-core

Flames, Noah Hanifin, Noah Hanifin trade, Flames rumors, NHL rumors

Captain Jared Spurgeon returning from injury has been absolutely massive for this team, but the D-core still leaves something to be desired after the free agency departure of Matt Dumba this summer. And the firesale is imminent in Calgary, with Nikita Zadorov already shipped to the Vancouver Canucks earlier this week.

It's very likely that Chris Tanev and Noah Hanifin will shortly follow, and there's no list of suitors for either player. Hanifin is the No. 1 player on The Athletic's first trade board of the season, and Chris Tanev is just below his teammate Elias Lindholm at No. 3. Both blueliners will likely not be playing hockey in Alberta for much longer.

Here's what insider Chris Johnston had to say about Hanifin this week:

“A 6-foot-3 defenseman who ticks multiple boxes, Hanifin is a strong skater who can be trusted to log 20-plus minutes per night and contribute at both ends of the ice. And he’s in the absolute prime of his career. Hanifin is also playing out the final year of a cap-friendly contract that will appeal to contenders trying to limbo under the cap ceiling. Hanifin came close to signing an eight-year deal with Calgary in October before both sides decided to shelve negotiations. All indications now are that he’ll be moved by the deadline.”

And this about defensive stalwart Tanev:

“Considered a team-first warrior who still profiles as an effective shutdown defender, Tanev will be in demand among those looking to upgrade their blue lines. He has some say in his next destination courtesy of a 10-team no-trade list. A right shot with penalty-killing chops, he’s garnered a reputation of playing the game the right way over 12 NHL seasons. That means finishing checks, blocking shots or keeping opponents to the outside — whatever it takes to give his team the best chance at success.”

Bill Guerin should undoubtably be picking up the phone and discussing the price for either Hanifin or Tanev. Although Spurgeon remains solid despite his injury troubles, and Brock Faber is mature beyond his years, it's clear the defense in Minnesota needs to improve.

The next few weeks will go a long way in determining whether the Wild have what it takes to climb out of the rut, or if this squad is destined to miss the postseason for the first time since 2019. If Minnesota can replicate the short-term success it's seen in the last two games for a longer stretch, it could be enough to earn the roster a great defensive defenseman as the fight for a playoff berth continues.