In the coming days, the Minnesota Wild will officially name Paul Fenton as the third general manager in franchise history. The now former Nashville Predator Assistant GM will finally get his first crack at managing his own franchise. The task at hand is not an easy one. This Wild team not only has high expectations, but lofty aspirations.
It was clear from Wild owner Craig Leipold that he wanted “tweaks” and not a full rebuild as he explained soon after he announced that Chuck Fletcher would not receive a contract extension. Fenton will have to hit the ground running to get his new team ready for September when they break open training camp.
On the Docket
Immediately, Fenton will have to get busy with re-shaping the Wild’s Front Office to his liking. Under David Poile’s tutelage, he was tasked with over-seeing of the entire amateur and professional scouts as well as player development. In many sports, new GMs come in with limited knowledge on the amateur players to be taken in the draft. This should not be a problem for Fenton as he takes control of the Wild’s draft boards for the first time. It will be interesting if Fenton can bring his highly-regarded European scout from the Preds along with him to Minnesota. Janne Kelalainen was credited with finding Pekka Rinne among other European players that dot the Predators line-up. The scouting department needs a shake-up, but those changes can happen over time.
Secondly, Fenton will have to address the player development. That means that a guy like Brad Bombardir may be on the way out. Nashville’s model was that everyone played at least some time in the AHL with the Milwaukee Admirals. Under Chuck Fletcher, the Houston Aeros/Iowa Wild have been barely competitive, especially since the franchise’s move to Des Moines up until this last year. However, a big majority of those players aren’t Wild drafted guys, but instead players that were signed as depth just can’t make it full time in the NHL like Pat Cannone, Kyle Rau, and Ryan Murphy. With the draft just a month away, he will need someone in place that can develop players the way he wants as soon as they get drafted and into prospect development camp.
If the draft in a month wasn’t quick enough to have people in their positions with even a minute to get prepared, then July 1st begins free agency. It also means that he will have to address the Wild’s current restricted free agents in Matt Dumba, Jason Zucker, Ryan Murphy, and Nick Seeler. He will need to figure out if those players are worth locking up long-term, or even if they are worthy of a qualifying offer. Now, Fenton is a brand new GM with little allegiance and stake held to any of these players. Negotiations will be interesting to watch unfold.
However, that’s only Wild players. Free Agency is a chance for Fenton to make an immediate impact on the club for the next couple seasons with whom he decides to sign, as well as what he negotiates for terms in those contracts. With a lot of the Unrestricted Free Agents carrying some age along with them, he will absolutely need to be smart about his signings. A guy like Paul Stastny perhaps 3-4 years ago would have been great, but now at 32 years old, it would be tough to secure his services for just a single year. But the Wild has been burned far too many times with long term contracts to 30-something year old players to think that any lengthy term would be deemed acceptable.
Finally, the tweaks that Leipold had been looking for will likely have to come through offseason trades. Maybe there’s a younger player out there that could be had with the right offering. Fenton has a lot of expectations and a relatively short time-line to get his team to be ready and competitive for next season. The Central Division, with which he is all too familiar, is just too deep and unforgiving that even the slightest step backwards could be the Wild missing out on the post-season. Many people might think that that kind of thing is necessary for progress, but will Leipold think that? Watching it all unfold is highly entertaining stuff.