Saturday: TVA Sports’ Renaud Lavoie reports that Minnesota has asked permission to interview Canadiens assistant GM Scott Mellanby. He has served in that role with Montreal for the past five years after spending two seasons as their Director of Player Personnel.
Friday: The firing of GM Paul Fenton by the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday certainly came as a surprise to many, but not those within the organization, writes The Athletic’s Michael Russo. Fenton was dismissed after little more than a year on the job after a tenure that Russo describes as “death by a thousand cuts.” There was no one thing that caused Fenton to lose his job, but rather mounting evidence that he was a poor fit in the organization. Sources within the team stated that Fenton’s dysfunctional style of running the club caused a negative shift in the culture, both in the locker room and in the front office, and an overall drop-off in morale. Owner Craig Leipold and company were left cleaning up after Fenton’s messes as a lack of trust and communication permeated the entire organization. Whether it was Fenton’s dismissal of analytics, his disrespect for incumbent Wild executives, his mismanagement of the coaching staff, or his failure to maximize trade assets, the GM was constantly at odds with everyone around him, including his owner. As such, many Wild staffers were not shocked that Fenton was fired, even at a strange time in the middle of the off-season, as Russo writes that Leipold has been distressed about the situation “for months” and action became inevitable.
So, now in early August and following a draft and free agent frenzy run by Fenton, the Wild are in search for a new leader for their organization. Given the struggles under Fenton, a first-time GM, Minnesota is understandably seeking someone with experience on the job. Among the early candidates to emerge were former GM’s John Ferguson Jr., now with the Boston Bruins, and Dave Nonis, now with the Anaheim Ducks, and experienced assistants Bill Zito of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Tom Fitzgerald of the New Jersey Devils. However, Russo reports that the team has chosen two free agent former GM’s as the first to interview for the position. Peter Chiarelli and Ron Hextall, both of whom were fired themselves during this past season, have already met with Leipold, president Matt Majka, and executive adviser Mike Modano about the opening, per Russo.
Chiarelli, fired by the Edmonton Oilers in January, has a Stanley Cup title on his resume with the Boston Bruins, but struggled greatly during his time with the Oilers. Chiarelli has also ended up on the wrong side of major trades and long-term contracts too often during his time in both Boston and Edmonton. There is no doubt that Chiarelli is an intelligent hockey mind, but there is some question as to whether he should be rushed right back into a top decision-making role. The Wild saw too many poor trade returns under Fenton, as well as a questionable free agent contract handed out to aging forward Mats Zuccarello, to put someone in control who they can’t trust not to continue that trend, so Chiarelli will have to convince the team that he has changed his approach.
As for Hextall, fired in November by the Philadelphia Flyers, some felt the former star goalie deserved a longer leash as GM. On paper, he left the team in good shape – ironically for replacement Chuck Fletcher, who preceded Fenton as Minnesota’s GM – but received criticism for his slow approach. Hextall may be a fine option in terms of hockey knowledge and ability as a GM, but Russo notes that, like Fenton, he has gained the reputation of being difficult to work with. An “intense” and “hard” boss, the fragile morale in Minnesota may not be ready for Hextall unless the team trusts that he will handle himself differently.
Russo points out that the Wild expect this to be a long, meticulous process and he does not believe that Chiarelli and Hextall interviewing first necessarily makes them the front-runners. In fact, it could very well have to do with the fact that neither has an affiliation with another NHL team at this moment. In addition to the other aforementioned names, Russo adds Dean Lombardi, Garth Snow, Bill Guerin, Chris Drury, Mark Hunter, Brian Lawton, Mike Gillis, and even reigning GM of the Year candidate Don Waddell, whose contract with the Carolina Hurricanes has yet to be renewed, as possible candidates. It is a long list of options with many different backgrounds and experience levels and it will take some time for Minnesota to sort it all out. For now, Chiarelli and Hextall are the only names to interview, but that group will expand as the summer wears on before the team makes a decision possibly months from now.