The Minnesota Wild made some rather surprising news today as they have moved on from general manager Paul Fenton after just one season. Michael Russo of The Athletic was the first to break the news. The move comes just 14 months after owner Craig Leipold named Fenton the third general manager in team history.
A Combination of Bad Decisions Led to Firing
It is very odd to let a general manager run the draft and navigate the free-agent market before letting him go. Russo reports that the relationship between Leipold and Fenton began to sour after last February’s trade deadline.
No one incident caused the ousting, but the lingering fallout from a series of arguably bad trades and other personnel matters, along with internal issues that, sources said, created low morale throughout the hockey operations department and dressing room forced Leipold to make the move before Fenton could even manage his second season with the Wild.
From “Sources: Paul Fenton out as Wild GM after one rocky season,” The Athletic – 7/30/19
Fenton had a previous relationship with Leipold when they were both part of the Nashville Predators organization. He was hired in May 2018 to replace Chuck Fletcher, who was fired after never getting past the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs despite plenty of high-profile moves during his tenure.
In his first offseason with the Wild, Fenton brought in defenseman Greg Pateryn and forwards Eric Fehr, Matt Hendricks and J.T. Brown. These moves were made to add depth to a team that was already aging. The Wild finished dead-last in the Central Division and missed the postseason for the second consecutive season.
A Poor Trade Deadline Dooms Fenton
When it was apparent that the Wild were not going to be a contender, Fenton had a very busy trade season. There were plenty of moves that made pundits and fans scratch their heads and ultimately led to today’s firing.
In January, he traded Nino Niederreiter to the Carolina Hurricanes for Victor Rask. Niederreiter put up 30 points in 36 games for the Hurricanes and helped them reach the Eastern Conference Final. Meanwhile, Rask had just two goals and an assist in 23 games for the Wild and was a healthy scratch multiple times down the stretch. The Wild are still on the hook for three more seasons of Rask and his $4 million salary cap hit.
Before the trade deadline, he also traded away fan favorites Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund for Ryan Donato and Kevin Fiala. He also signed 34-year-old center Eric Staal to a two-year contract extension when there was a rumored deal for him with the Boston Bruins on the table.
The handling of Jason Zucker is another big reason why Fenton finds himself in the unemployment line today. It is no secret that the Wild have been wanting to move Zucker for some time in order to create some salary cap relief.
He could not pull off a deal with the Calgary Flames at the deadline and then things got worse in June. Word got out that Fenton had a deal to send Zucker to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Phil Kessel until Kessel refused to waive his no-trade clause to come to the Wild.
In addition to all the unpopular personnel moves, Russo also reports that Fenton did not have a very good relationship with many of the front office employees.
Per the team, assistant general manager Tom Kurvers will serve as acting general manager until a permanent replacement is found. Leipold put himself in a pretty tough spot as this is not the time of year to be looking for a new general manager. He can decide to try and hire away a young up-and-coming executive from another franchise or go with a retread like Peter Chiarelli, Ron Hextall or Dean Lombardi.
Greg Boysen has been writing about the Chicago Blackhawks since 2010 and has been a site manager for both FanSided and SB Nation. He has been published in The Hockey News and was fully credentialed for the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. Among his various roles with The Hockey Writers are covering the Blackhawks, the AHL, writing the daily “Today in Hockey History” column, serving as a copy editor, and appearing and hosting multiple YouTube shows, including Blackhawks Banter. He is credentialed with the Chicago Wolves, Rockford IceHogs, and Milwaukee Admirals, while also being a regional scout for the NAHL. And, just because his plate isn’t full enough, Greg hosts trivia in the Chicago area two nights a week. For interview requests or to provide topic suggestions, follow Greg on Twitter and reach out.