The Twins hired a management team that has invested heavily in analytics and believes in collaboration. The Twins have the best record in baseball.
The Timberwolves fired the boss enamored of players unskilled at the three-pointer, hired a boss who believes in analytics and collaboration, and are likely to keep their like-minded young coach.
The Lynx believe in deep analytics and collaboration and have won four WNBA titles since 2011.
The Vikings have invested in organizational stability while deciding to try to win now, with a talented group of players in their prime. They have averaged 10 victories over the past four seasons.
The Wild is watching players it traded — Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter — play in the Eastern Conference final. The Wild recently fired key members of its analytics department and has yet to announce replacements.
The Wild’s new general manager is a proud old-schooler who likes “hockey trades” — simple, player-for-player deals in which he might have left value on the table. In Paul Fenton’s first season as GM, the Wild missed the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons and made a series of trades that range from awful to questionable.
The Twins, Wolves, Lynx and Vikings might not win big. Installing a modern-sounding plan doesn’t guarantee success. But it’s better than the alternative.
The Wild appears committed to the alternative.
The new GM forced mediocre players on coach Bruce Boudreau. Owner Craig Leipold insisted on keeping the coach, who would probably prefer to coach elsewhere. The general manager would probably prefer to have a coach of his own choosing in place.
Because Leipold and Boudreau are diplomatic, these working relationships are currently more odd than dysfunctional. Apply the pressure of another lousy season, and they could shift from the former to the latter.
Leipold hired Fenton last May, in part, because Fenton was a key decisionmaker for the Nashville Predators, who were known for making intelligent trades. Fenton’s first big moves have not inspired confidence that he was the man behind the Preds’ curtain.
In Nashville parlance, it looks like Fenton played rhythm guitar, not lead.
His trade of Coyle to the Bruins was the right kind of deal for a franchise that is trying to clear salary cap space and find young forwards who can score. Fenton acquired Ryan Donato and a fourth-round draft pick.
The question that must be asked about this deal is not whether Fenton got value — he will have done quite well if Donato becomes a reliable scorer — but why Coyle looks so much better surrounded by Bruins than by his Wild teammates. Does the Wild have trouble developing players?
Fenton’s trade of Mikael Granlund to Nashville for young, athletic forward Kevin Fiala sent up warning flares. “This was a hockey trade,” Fenton said at the time. “Both teams got better.”
Although he never developed into a reliable goal scorer, Granlund is a proven, quality, two-way player. Making a trade with his former franchise, Fenton should have benefited from insights to Fiala. In his first partial season with the Wild, Fiala was turnover-prone and erratic. Fenton should have gotten more for Granlund than just one prospect.
The deal that should have scared Wild fans the most was Niederreiter for Victor Rask, the center from Carolina. Niederreiter was a logical candidate to be traded. He had not justified his contract.
Fenton’s problem is that he traded a talented player and a quality person for someone who does not seem to have any value. Perhaps injuries hampered Rask this season, but even at his best he is a slow player who is not known for his defense and scored three goals in 49 games this season, a year after scoring 14 goals.
This was a disaster. And as in the Coyle deal, the former Wild player thrived when surrounded by new teammates.
You can justify calling any other major professional sports team in the Twin Cities — including Minnesota United — “promising.” Except for the Wild.
Fenton prides himself on keeping secrets, and he has excelled at obscuring from the public anything resembling a shrewd plan.