Just 14 months after hiring Paul Fenton to be his new general manager, Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold made the bold move to fire him in an announcement Tuesday afternoon.
In a statement, Leipold said, "After giving much thought to this difficult decision, I informed Paul today that he was not the right fit for our organization going forward. I believe we have a good hockey team, a team that will compete for a playoff spot this year, and I look forward to hiring a general manager that will help us win a Stanley Cup. I would like to thank Paul for his time with the Wild and wish him and his family the best in the future."
Leipold went on to meet with the assembled media Tuesday afternoon and disclosed that he felt the culture of both the front office and the hockey team needed to be changed immediately as the owner felt it was not up to his standards.
With just a month and a half until the Wild report for training camp, the front office is in upheaval once again. Assistant general manager Tom Kurvers will step in and provide interim duties while a search begins for a new permanent general manager, but in this instance, July 30 is not a time when general managers typically get axed. That comes towards the end or immediately after the season has concluded, so you can allow your new general manager to step in and go through the draft and free agency.
By making this move now, Leipold admitted the failure of hiring Fenton for a job he was not fit for. A failure he admitted himself when he stepped in front of the cameras on Tuesday afternoon. The Wild owner said the hire was on him, and now accepts he needs to make it right to bring back stability to the organization.
As for why now, just a mere 14 months into the Fenton era, Leipold said that it was the culture of the front office and the team that played into this decision. Fenton did not show leadership in running the front office, and it showed, as several employees reportedly came forward and complained about the now-former Wild general manager.
Players also acknowledged the dysfunction in the organization, as during exit interviews and meetings with the owner they admitted to not liking the direction the team was headed.
Zach Parise publicly expressed distrust in where the team was headed, and even contemplated a future elsewhere to try and win a Stanley Cup.
Jared Spurgeon has been hesitant to sign an extension to see how the offseason roster moves played out, but then was low-balled by Fenton in the first formal offer after July 1. Fenton waited too long to see what Spurgeon's demands were, not inquiring with agent Eustice King until the NHL Draft, typically a time when you want to know where you stand with prospective extension talks.
Ryan Suter also met with Leipold last week, presumably offering up his thoughts on the dysfunction around the team as well.
Then came the complete teardown of Minnesota's analytics department under Fenton's watch, as AC Thomas and Alexandra Mandrycky were either not retained or left for greener pastures. Both were considered some of the best in the industry, and it has left the Wild on the wrong side of the analytics trend that is growing in the league.
It's one thing to not fully trust analytics, but to dismiss it this day in age as a general manager of a National Hockey League club is another. Not wanting to have all information available to do your job well was a misstep on Fenton's part.
Clearly, this hire was a disaster from the moment it was decided. And we haven't even hit on any of the actual roster moves Fenton made in his 14 months yet.
The Wild roster went from playoff-caliber to non-playoff team on Fenton's watch. Nino Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle were shuffled out the door for less than favorable returns, leaving serious holes in the roster and now the team faces a severe lack of scoring.
Jason Zucker was nearly traded three times under Fenton, and all were very publicly reported. Zucker has said many times he wants to remain in Minnesota, but Fenton made it very clear he wanted to move on from the speedy left-winger.
Zucker never was actually moved, and perhaps the next general manager can think more highly of the former 33 goal scorer.
As the attention turns to the next general manager of the Minnesota Wild, Leipold will have to be more willing to accept the opinions of those he interviews, if he wants to get the best candidate for the job. Strong-arming candidates into making the Wild a playoff team will do Leipold and the Wild no good, as referenced by the hiring and immediate firing of Fenton.
Leipold is in no condition now to force this on candidates, as his leverage in negotiations has simply gone out the door by the firing of Fenton after 14 months. The Wild are in a state of dysfunction, and the whole league can see it. Nobody will be fooled otherwise.
All-around failures by the owner and now former general manager have put the Wild in a state of dysfunction and far down the pecking order of professional Minnesota sports teams. An organization that was once well thought of with an owner that was deemed as one of the most trusting in the league now is an afterthought.
The pressure now rests on Leipold and CEO Matt Majka to make the next hire correct. If not, the Wild will be even further set back, pushing that Stanley Cup even further from sight. And you might already think it's pretty far off to begin with.
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