5 moves that will define Paul Fenton’s tenure as GM of Wild

Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold, left, poses with new general manager Paul Fenton during an introductory press conference. (Shari L. Gross/Star Tribune via AP)

The Minnesota Wild sent shockwaves through the hockey world Tuesday by firing general manager Paul Fenton after only 14 months on the job.

“After giving much thought to this difficult decision, I informed Paul today that he was not the right fit for our organization going forward,” said team owner Craig Leipold in a statement. “I believe we have a good hockey team, a team that will compete for a playoff spot this year, and I look forward to hiring a general manager that will help us win a Stanley Cup.”

So where did things go wrong?

Let’s take a look at some of Fenton’s most notable moves to find out.

July 25, 2018: Re-signed Jason Zucker to a five-year, $27.5-million contract

Zucker’s extension with the Wild was the second major contract Fenton handed out as GM ⁠— Mathew Dumba signed a five-year extension four days earlier ⁠— but it makes this list because of what happened afterwards.

In the summer of 2018, Zucker was coming off a career-year with 33 goals and 64 points. But months after signing his new contract, his name started popping up in trade rumours and a deal that would have reportedly sent him to the Calgary Flames fell through on deadline day.

After the season ended, Zucker’s name kept getting included trade rumours, including discussions of a deal for Phil Kessel, but he remains on the roster today. As part of his big extension, a modified no-trade clause kicked in on July 1, further limiting the Wild’s ability to move him.

“As far as I know, they don’t want me to leave and I don’t want to, but again, that’s kind of part of the business,” Zucker said in June. “But I will say, I do want to be somewhere I’m wanted.”

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Jan. 17, 2019: Traded Nino Niederreiter to Carolina Hurricanes for Victor Rask

Fenton’s first major trade came in January, when he traded Niederreiter for Rask, swapping 26-year-old forwards and gaining a little bit of cap flexibility.

At the time, both players were struggling and the idea was a change of scenery would benefit both sides. But while Niederreiter broke out with the Hurricanes, Rask continued to struggle in Minnesota.

In 46 games with the Wild last season, Niederreiter had nine goals and 23 points, but in 36 games with the Hurricanes, he had 14 goals and 30 points. Rask, on the other hand, had one goal and six points in 26 games for the Hurricanes, and only two goals and three points in 23 games for the Wild.

“We’re looking for consistency,” Fenton said when he made the trade. “For me, when you make a change like this, it shows players that nothing is forever and it gives them an alert that if they want to be here they’re going to have to play and play the way that we want them to play and be successful.”

This trade played a big part in the Hurricanes turning their season around and ultimately reaching the Eastern Conference Final. The Wild were tied for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference at the time of the deal, but by the end of the season, they missed the playoffs by seven points.

Feb. 25, 2019: Traded Charlie Coyle to Boston Bruins for Ryan Donato and a fourth-round pick

As the Feb. 25 trade deadline approached, Fenton made a couple moves to make his team younger. The first one was trading 26-year-old Charlie Coyle for 22-year-old Ryan Donato. And this trade still could end up benefiting both teams.

Donato struggled to stay in the lineup with the Bruins, but found a spot in the Wild’s top-six forward group. He posted 16 points in 22 games with Minnesota after only scoring nine points in 34 games before the trade. On July 16, Fenton signed Donato, who was a restricted free agent, to a two-year, $3.8-million contract.

Coyle slotted in on the Bruins’ third line and helped the team reach the Stanley Cup Final. While he struggled in the regular season (only scoring six points in 21 games) he added 16 points in 24 playoff games, including an overtime winner in Round 2 against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Feb. 25, 2019: Traded Mikael Granlund to Nashville Predators for Kevin Fiala

At the trade deadline, Fenton got pennies on the dollar by sending skilled forward Granlund to the Predators for the enigmatic youngster Fiala.

Granlund, 26, had 15 goals and 49 points at the time of the trade, consistent with his career average in seven seasons with the Wild. By comparison, Fiala, who is 23, had 32 points.

The biggest criticism of this trade was that Fenton couldn’t get more in return for Granlund. While Fiala is a respectable (and younger) player, he doesn’t bring the same offensive upside Granlund does.

According to Michael Russo of The Athletic, “the lingering fallout from a series of arguably bad trades and other personnel matters,” led to Fenton being fired by the Wild.

This trade could certainly fall under that description.

July 1, 2019: Signed free agent Mats Zuccarello to five-year, $30-million contract

Fenton’s final major move as GM of the Wild was a big splash in free agency when he signed Zuccarello to a five-year contract with a $6 million cap hit.

Zuccarello had 40 points in 48 games with the Rangers and Stars last season, but missed significant time with a broken arm. After clearing out younger players in trades during the season, committing big money to a 32-year-old winger raised some eyebrows.

“Mats is a very competitive, high-energy player,” Fenton said of the signing. “He brings a high level of skill and character to our lineup and we’re very excited to add him to our team.”

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