It’s been just over a week since Paul Fenton was fired from his position of General Manager of the Minnesota Wild. The decision set the hockey world abuzz, not just for the article by Michael Russo outlining some of Fenton’s more eyebrow-raising actions, but also for just how brief his tenure was in St. Paul. Fourteen months. That’s it. In the world of NHL front offices, that’s barely long enough to hang some art in the cubicle and find the coffee filters.
A lot of factors led to Fenton being let go, but some of the larger factors are ones that need to be remedied by the next GM or be traits that the new hire has in spades.
What’s first on that list? Negotiating the sticky wicket that is the 2019-20 salary cap, an aging roster, and an impending expansion draft in 2021. A key contract to work around is also the newest one — Mats Zuccarello. Fenton signed Zuccarello to long-term contract with a strict no-move and no-trade clause that lasts through the expansion draft and only becomes a modified no-trade clause for the final two of Zuccarello’s time with the Wild. Aside from the term (five years at $6 million per year), the next GM will need to work around the spot on the protected list that Zuccarello will now occupy due to his contract. It remains to be seen which veteran or rookie is left unprotected due to this, but the future GM will need to work some front office magic to ensure that the Wild don’t lose a future star due to Fenton’s questionable choices for the details of Zuccarello’s contract.
Apart from Zuccarello, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter’s contracts will also mean they will occupy two coveted spots on the protected list. Parise will be 37 years of age and Suter will be 36 by the time of the expansion draft in 2021. That’s not an ideal age for decided spots on the Wild roster. So whomever the Wild hire next to replace Fenton will need to A) begin drafting Parise and Suter’s replacements and B) build a roster that not only supports them as they regress, but also improves upon that regression.
Another area of experience that the next hire will absolutely need is drafting. Both Fletcher and Fenton treaded the line between “okay” and “why?” during the NHL drafts. Fletcher specifically traded away multiple draft picks, while Fenton only drafted the “safe” choice instead of standout prospects. We’ve already covered that Ron Hextall (formerly of the Philadelphia Flyers) has been shortlisted as a candidate for Fenton’s replacement. One thing that Hextall nailed like a puck into the back of the net is drafting.
Since 2014, Hextall has drafted Travis Konecny, Carter Hart, Nolan Patrick, and Ivan Provorov, to name just a few. All of those draft picks are current NHL players and often feature in NHL highlight reels. Because of his experience in smart drafting, Hextall has been at the forefront of conversation for who might best fit the role of GM in Minnesota. With that success on Hextall’s CV and with an aging roster in mind, owner Craig Leipold might have Hextall near or at the top of the pile of candidates.
And there are a lot of candidates. Don Waddell (the Carolina Hurricanes), Scott Mellanby (Montreal Canadiens), Peter Chiarelli (Edmonton Oilers), and Hextall are just a few of the names linked with the Minnesota vacancy. One name that hasn’t been as prominent in the discussion but should absolutely be considered is Dean Lombardi. He was General Manager for the San Jose Sharks for seven years and went on to the same position for the Los Angeles Kings during their triumphant Stanley Cup runs through 2014. Oh, and he was Assistant General Manager of the Minnesota North Stars before the franchise relocated to Dallas. So returning to the State of Hockey might be a draw for Lombardi, who has the most successful GM CV out of the options available.
We’ve spent the last week writing about the different angles of Fenton’s firing and what it means for Minnesota. We talked about the successes and failures of both Chuck Fletcher and Paul Fenton at the helm of the franchise, and we also put together a recap of Fenton’s tumultuous tenure and what traits the next GM should have because of that. With Vegas odds projecting Minnesota to only earn 85 points in the season, we wrote on why the Wild need a GM not afraid to make gutsy trades to get the team above the playoff bubble in the Central Division. And finally, we tackled the dreaded term “rebuild” and the case for why the Wild need a total rebuild (which the next GM should have experience in).
Through all of those articles, we’ve crafted a (hopefully) comprehensive list of what to look for in the next GM and why. Now it’s up to the Wild to make the best choice for the organization. But we hope that at least we’ve helped demystify the process of finding a new GM and just what goes into that search. And now, like our favorite witch and wizard, we wait.