The Wild’s general manager chair hasn’t been empty for long, with owner Craig Leipold firing Paul Fenton just two days ago after an uneven 14-month stint, but the organization is already working toward identifying a replacement.
A source said that the Wild has received permission to talk to former Philadelphia Flyers GM Ron Hextall, who is still under contract after his midseason firing last Nov. 26. That seems to position Hextall as a front-runner for the job.
That Hextall has emerged as a bona fide candidate isn’t surprising.
Leipold said Fenton’s firing was spurred on by the accumulation of smaller issues that revealed Fenton as someone who didn’t meet expectations when it came to strategy, staff management and “the hiring and motivating of the departments.” Leipold made it clear he felt an experienced successor would be the right fit for the Wild.
This was Fenton’s first GM job after spending the previous 12 seasons as an assistant GM with the Nashville Predators.
“Paul is a really strong, strategic scout, identifies talent, understands development, all of that,” Leipold said. “But there were parts of his role that just wasn’t working out to my satisfaction.”
Hextall, 55, has been a scout and worked in player development, but he’s also a former GM, leading the Flyers for four-plus seasons before getting fired. His eventual replacement was Chuck Fletcher, whose departure from the Wild after 2017-18 (the team opted not to renew his contract after nine seasons as GM) opened the door for Fenton’s hiring.
During Hextall’s time at the helm of the Flyers, Philadelphia advanced to the playoffs twice before fizzling in the first round. His draft record was solid, scooping up eight first-rounders in five years. That contingent included NHLers Nolan Patrick, Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny and prized prospect Morgan Frost. Goalie Carter Hart, who’s ascended the Flyers’ depth chart, was also a Hextall pick.
He signed core pieces in defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere and center Sean Couturier to long-term contracts, decisions that reinforced a vision to rebuild the organization with youth.
But a patient commitment to this process, ultimately, cost Hextall his job. Philosophical differences regarding the direction of the team were cited for his dismissal. Many of Hextall’s trades didn’t bring in immediate help, and the free-agent signings of Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth didn’t end up stabilizing the goalie position.
A former Vezina Trophy and Conn Smythe winner, Hextall spent the bulk of his goaltending career in the 1980s and 1990s with the Flyers as a third-generation NHLer.
Once he retired, Hextall joined the Flyers’ staff. He went on to become an assistant general manager with the Los Angeles Kings, a tenure that included winning the 2012 Stanley Cup, before returning to Philadelphia. Hextall spent one season as the Flyers’ assistant GM before being promoted in 2014.