Fresh off a third consecutive first round loss in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold decided it was time for a change, firing General Manager Chuck Fletcher after nine years at the helm of the team, and on May 21, 2018, Paul Fenton was hired as the new GM of the Minnesota Wild.
Right away Fenton was touted as an excellent talent evaluator, as he ran the Nashville Predators draft table as the Assistant under GM David Poile. The Predators have had a long history of drafting well, with guys like Ryan Suter, Ryan Ellis, Shea Weber and Roman Josi along with late round finds Patric Hornqvist and Viktor Arvidsson. Anybody that follows the Wild even remotely closely knows that drafting and developing has been something Minnesota has struggled with for a long time, and it is a key part in building a good team.
That isn’t even mentioning the many bold trades and other moves the Predators have made over the years to turn themselves into a contender. So Wild fans (myself included) were very optimistic that it was a good hire and that Fenton could help to finally get this Wild team over the hump.
Now fast-forward to July 2019, just after Fenton’s first full season as General Manager, and many people do not have near that same level of confidence in Fenton as they did a year ago.
That frustration and mistrust is not unwarranted and unreasonable, as the Wild missed the playoffs for the first time since 2012, while also making several questionable trades, with the Nino Niederreiter for Victor Rask trade being the consensus worst move by Fenton in his first season. While people’s frustrations or gripes against Fenton are understandable, it seems as if Wild fans, and hockey fans all around the league are going a tad overboard with their constant criticism of the first-year GM’s every move and word.
Let’s be real, this would be a tough job for any General Manager to do with this current Minnesota Wild team that is dealing with old and aging stars, young but unproven talent, and large practically unmovable contracts. So to expect immediate results a year in would seem a bit outlandish.
If we take look back at the significant moves Fenton made in his first season, it really isn’t nearly as bad as some fans, and other people in the hockey world make it out to be. The Wild got a couple of young and skilled players in Ryan Donato and Kevin Fiala in exchange for longtime Wild players Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund. The only real black mark on these trades is the Nino Niederreiter for Victor Rask trade, which was not good at all and it doesn’t really even need an explanation again. The overall point is that the vast majority of his moves have not hurt the team, and we will not know for years how much those moves help the Wild, so it is not fair in the least to start calling for his head after one single year.
Another huge component in all of this, which is something that does not get talked about nearly enough, is the amount of pressure on Fenton from ownership to “win now.” The team owner, Craig Leipold, has made it clear he does not want a full rebuild and that he would like to make the playoffs once again. This influence shows in the recent free agent signings of Mats Zuccarello and Ryan Hartman, and while Fenton himself may have liked those players or even tried to sign them regardless, it is clear the Wild were going to be aggressive in trying to sign somebody in free agency to improve their team. There is nothing there that Fenton can really do — Leipold is his boss, and he owns the team, it is his team, and he can do what he wants with it. If Fenton were to evade from this and go against Leipold’s wishes, guess what? He would be fired on the spot, almost undoubtedly. That is a very, very tough spot for General Manager to be in, and he is pretty much helpless in that regard.
To get back to the overall point here, one year is not nearly enough for a GM to build and execute his plans for the team, so it just does not make any sense at all why everyone is acting as if Paul Fenton is this insane madman that has no idea what he is doing.
Everyone should just sit back, relax, and watch how the 2019-20 Minnesota Wild season unfolds, and if by one year from now things aren’t looking great and the team has failed to make any progress, than fine, we can start questioning whether Paul Fenton is the right GM for the Wild. But for now, Fenton is one year through his career as an NHL General Manager, and he must be given time.
As the old saying goes “Time is money,” and if Fenton is given barely any of it, how are we supposed to know whether or not he is capable of bringing the Stanley Cup to the State of Hockey?