ST. PAUL, Minn. – After working a quarter-century in the NHL, including two decades in management, Paul Fenton finally has the opportunity to run a team.
The new general manager of the Minnesota Wild has been tasked with retooling a roster that has produced a consistent regular season winner but, more importantly, scant success in the playoffs.
“I’m confident we have a very good team in Minnesota and believe Paul shares that same belief. The goal remains to bring a Stanley Cup to the state of hockey,” owner Craig Leipold said. “No pressure, Paul, but that is where it starts.”
The 58-year-old Fenton was introduced on Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center, where the Wild have reached the postseason six straight times to match the longest streak in the Western Conference with the Anaheim Ducks. The problem is they’ve won only two series during that run, both in the first round. That’s why Leipold dismissed Chuck Fletcher after nine seasons and, after a month of interviewing and considering candidates, turned to Fenton for a fresh perspective .
“As we went through the process, we kept hearing good things about our team,” Leipold said. “We kept feeling better and better, and it really reinforced what we thought. This is not a rebuild. It’s a tweaking.”
Existing contracts essentially make a teardown impossible. Center Mikko Koivu, left wing Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter accounted for almost 30 percent of the Wild’s salary cap in 2017-18. Koivu’s two-year extension kicks in this summer. Parise and Suter are signed for seven more seasons. All three players attended the news conference, as did coach Bruce Boudreau and several holdover hockey operations staffers.
“It obviously doesn’t need to be overhauled,” Fenton said. “We have a lot of really good veteran pieces, young guys that are coming, and I’m just looking forward to trying to put on some finishing touches to help us win.”
Even without no-trade clauses, the Koivu-Parise-Suter core would be difficult to move with their current deals. There are plenty of other valuable players that Fenton could use as assets in trades, though, and there’s precedent for him doing just that.
During his 12-year tenure as assistant general manager of the Nashville Predators, Fenton teamed with general manager David Poile to pull off several bold moves. They shipped Shea Weber to the Montreal Canadiens for P.K. Subban in a swap of standout defensemen two summers ago after sending defenseman Seth Jones to the Columbus Blue Jackets for center Ryan Johansen about six months earlier, deals that set the stage for the Predators to reach the Stanley Cup finals in 2017. They had the best record in the league in the 2017-18 regular season.
Fenton declined to make any evaluations or proclamations about the Wild during his session with reporters, but he did give a definitive answer to a question about whether he’d keep the aggressive approach to trading.
“I like to think outside the box,” he said, later adding: “I’ll look at small trades. I’ll look at big trades. Whatever is going to improve this organization going forward to give us a chance to win the Stanley Cup, we’re going to look.”
As for feeling limited by the Koivu-Parise-Suter contract situation he inherited, well, if he was daunted by it he wouldn’t have been hired.
“Everybody has the same problem,” Fenton said. “We’re all cap driven.”
Fenton was accompanied by his wife, Nona, who was once his high school sweetheart in Massachusetts, and his two adult sons, P.J. and Owen, and daughter-in-law Stefanie. There’s a granddaughter in the family as well.
Suter was a familiar face to Fenton in the crowd, too. The Predators drafted him in the first round in 2003 while Fenton was director of player personnel. Leipold owned the Predators then, too.
“We have mutual friends that say good things about each other, so I don’t think it’s going to be a difficult transition at all,” said Boudreau, who will enter his third season with the Wild. “We’re hockey guys, and when we’re getting together we’re going to be talking hockey all the time. That’s what we love to do. He spent a lot of years looking at the minors. I’ve been a lot of years in the minors. I think it should end up being a really good relationship.”
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