In the aftermath of yet another disappointing demise, change seemed destined to sweep through the Wild this summer.
That tone was set by owner Craig Leipold’s assessment of the team on the heels of its five-game exit from the playoffs, the third straight season and fourth time in six years the Wild hasn’t escaped the first round, and reinforced by his decision to not renew Chuck Fletcher’s contract as general manager.
More tweaks, particularly to the roster, appeared inevitable to fulfill Leipold’s vision of turning the Wild into a Stanley Cup contender. How much the team will evolve from previous versions remains to be seen, but it’s now clear who the architect of this redesign will be.
Exactly four weeks after the search for Fletcher’s replacement began, the Wild appointed Predators executive Paul Fenton to the post Monday as the third GM in franchise history. He will be introduced Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center.
“Paul is uniquely suited for this job having played 10 years of professional hockey and holding 25 years of management experience in the NHL,” Leipold said in a statement released by the team. “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.”
Fenton spent the past 20 seasons with the Predators, including the past 12 as assistant general manager. During that time, he helped develop a dynamic core for Nashville through effective drafting, shrewd trades and key free-agent signings. The Predators advanced to the Stanley Cup Final last year and finished atop the NHL this season before getting eliminated in the second round.
With Nashville, Fenton oversaw amateur player development, managed the pro and amateur scouting staffs and advised GM David Poile on player personnel decisions. From 2003 to 2008, he coordinated the team’s draft efforts — with defensemen Ryan Suter, Shea Weber and Roman Josi and goaltender Pekka Rinne among those picks. He also was the GM for the Predators’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals.
The 58-year-old previously crossed paths with Leipold when he owned the Predators from 1998 to 2007; he also interviewed for the Wild GM job in 2009 when Fletcher was hired.
This go-round, Leipold and team president Matt Majka conducted interviews to find a new GM who would bring a fresh outlook to the team without orchestrating a massive overhaul. Assistant GMs Bill Zito (Blue Jackets) and Tom Fitzgerald (Devils) also interviewed for the position, a source said, with the search appearing to come down to Fenton and Fitzgerald. Fenton also will take on the role of alternate governor after signing a multiyear contract and will oversee the Wild’s hockey operations department, including player personnel, the coaching staff, scouting department and minor league operations.
A native of Springfield, Mass., Fenton played college hockey at Boston University before a 10-season professional career that included 100 goals in 411 NHL games. The left winger’s best campaign came when he scored 32 goals for the Jets in 1989-90.
“From everything I’ve ever heard about him, he’s not only a good person but a great judge of talent,” coach Bruce Boudreau said.
And that’s the challenge that awaits Fenton, evaluating the Wild to figure out how to capitalize on the potential that’s tangible yet elusive. The usual tools will be at his disposal — the draft, trades and free agency — and with offseason maneuvering tending to kick off during the week of the draft, Fenton has about a month to devise a strategy.
Winger Jason Zucker and defenseman Matt Dumba are the only regulars poised to become restricted free agents.
Much of the roster is under contract for next season — including forward Charlie Coyle, who underwent surgery Friday to repair a tear in each of his wrists after they were bothering him the last half of the season. Coyle will be fully healed in four weeks.
With so many players like Coyle already on the books, additions and subtractions look to be mostly discretionary — decisions that will shape the start of Fenton’s tenure with the Wild.