When the Wild hired general manager Paul Fenton as Chuck Fletcher’s replacement three months ago, there was an assumption that significant roster moves would follow this offseason.
While Fenton’s initial news conference brought several assurances that the Wild just needed to make minor adjustments to its roster instead of overhauling it, it also brought these words from Fenton: “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.”
For the last two months, though — starting with the late June draft and continuing through free agency — the narrative started to take shape in a different way. Fenton didn’t swing any big moves at the draft, and the outside free agents brought in were more about depth than splash.
“If we go into the season like that with the acquisitions and the character-type signings we’ve made, then I’m OK with it,” Fenton said after a flurry of those signings in early July, pledging at the time to keep looking at bigger moves.
After Matt Dumba and Jason Zucker re-signed in late July, Fenton said, “Right now, I’m very comfortable with the lineup we have.”
But what Fenton hadn’t offered until Wednesday was much of an explanation as to why he hadn’t struck any major deals.
During a “Town Hall” from Xcel Energy Center that was also shown on Fox Sports North, Fenton was asked by FSN’s Anthony LaPanta about the trade market and the expectations of fans going into the offseason.
After a somewhat convoluted analogy that included two separate card games (poker and war), Fenton got to the point: he hasn’t made any trades because there haven’t been any good deals to make.
More specifically: Other teams have been trying to take advantage of the Wild and rip the team off during a time of transition.
“(Other GMs) know that we don’t know our team as well as we want to yet, so they’re trying to steal things is what they’re trying to do,” Fenton said. “I guess I don’t blame them, but they’re not going to get anything.”
It was an interesting and honest reply, and one that indicated the Wild hasn’t even really come close to a trade this offseason. (Full video of that segment is here).
Standing pat under those circumstances is understandable and prudent, but it’s dangerous — if we can continue the card game analogy — to overplay that hand.
Most people who have observed the Wild closely or even from a distance seem to agree that the roster needs more than the “tweaks” suggested by both Fenton and owner Craig Leipold at Fenton’s introductory news conference. Many of the same players have been a part of six consecutive playoff berths, none of which went further than the second round.
Most people would also agree, though, that the regular season hasn’t been the problem for the Wild. Minnesota has posted back-to-back 100-point seasons under Bruce Boudreau, only to get dumped in five games in the first round both times.
Fenton’s best chance for a blockbuster trade might come in February as the trade deadline approaches — after he’s had a chance to better evaluate the roster and contracts he inherited, and when other teams might be the ones who look desperate.
Fletcher’s playoff-bolstering moves often left a lot to be desired. If Fenton can prove to be the better GM — and poker player — in that situation, maybe he’ll still get the last laugh.