As had been reported in recent days, the Minnesota Wild have decided who will be their next General Manager. That’s Paul Fenton, who was officially announced as GM and Alternate Governor today with a press release from owner Craig Leipold:
It is my distinct pleasure to welcome Paul Fenton as the General Manager of the Minnesota Wild. Paul is uniquely suited for this job having played 10 years of professional hockey and holding 25 years of management experience in the NHL. His gift of evaluating talent is obvious in Nashville’s roster and recent success. My relationship with Paul goes back to my early days in Nashville and I know that Wild hockey fans are going to love Paul’s infectious passion for the game and unsurpassed work ethic. He’s the right person to deliver a Stanley Cup to the State of Hockey.
It was just one month ago that the Wild relieved Chuck Fletcher of his duties as GM, after the team’s sixth consecutive early exit from the playoffs. Minnesota was knocked out in the first round by the Winnipeg Jets, and are expected to make significant changes to the organization before next season. That starts with Fenton, who will be joining the team after two decades in Nashville where he first worked under Leipold, who owned the Predators from 1998-2008.
Fenton is regarded as an exceptional judge of talent and has been integral in the development and building of the Predators’ Presidents Trophy-winning club. He has been considered for various front office roles around the league seemingly every year, but will now take over an NHL team for the first time. It’s not clear yet who will replace him in Nashville as AGM and GM of the Milwaukee Admirals.
Minnesota has struggled for years with a level of mediocrity that has frustrated Leipold, and the owner even made comments last summer about regretting a certain trade deadline transaction. Obviously not content with just making the playoffs, the Wild will entrust Fenton to take them to the next level and really contend for the Stanley Cup.
How he’s going to do that is far from public knowledge, but in his first offseason he’ll have plenty of opportunity to effect change in the team’s roster construction. Several key players including Jason Zucker and Mathew Dumba are restricted free agents, and could demand big raises and long-term deals coming off career seasons. There are only one or two years remaining on key veteran contracts like Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund, Eric Staal, Charlie Coyle and Jared Spurgeon. Many of those players might not be back in the coming years, as the team tries to rebuild itself around some different stars.
Unfortunately, Fenton also inherits a team with two albatross contracts on the books. Though Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are still effective players, their contracts—identical 13-year $98MM deals signed in 2012—form a salary base that’s tough to work around. Both players are currently 33 years old, and have seven years remaining at a cap hit of $7.54MM. The deals also include full no-movement clauses, and would cause potential cap recapture penalties if either were to retire early.
If there is a silver lining the deals, front-loaded as they are, were (along with others like them) part of the reason for the last NHL work stoppage. With a salary of just $1MM in the final two seasons, there could be a way that Fenton and the Wild front office get out from under them while providing some help to teams struggling to reach the cap floor. We’re still a long way away from either one needing to be shipped out of town, but the new GM has to know what he’s getting into.
The Wild are a good team already, and they’ve now hired one of the best GM candidates around the league. If Fenton will try to turn them into a contender right away, this summer should be a very interesting on for Minnesota fans.