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Fenton fired as general manager of Wild

Minnesota failed to make playoffs in only season in position; no replacement named

by Jessi Pierce / Correspondent

Paul Fenton was fired as general manager of the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday, 14 months after he was hired.

Assistant GM Tom Kurvers will serve as acting GM until a new one is hired.

Wild owner Craig Leipold said he felt that "at the end of [our] season" Fenton was "not a good fit" for the organization.  

The Wild were 37-36-9 last season and missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in seven seasons, finishing seven points behind the Colorado Avalanche, who were the second wild card from the Western Conference. 

Leipold said Fenton's firing was not a result of moves he made but rather a buildup of smaller items.

"There was no final straw," Leipold said. "There really wasn't. This was just something I had been thinking about and thinking about and then began to pull the onion back a little bit within our organization and hockey ops. There was absolutely no main or big issue. It was just a lot of smaller issues and we just felt it was time to move.

"We're really not going to know for three years [how the players will pan out] because of the trades that occurred. They're Paul's responsibility and I will say we've got some young, talented players that we picked up on some of these trades. I'm excited about where they can go, and three years from now, we may look back and probably say these were the best moves made, hard to tell. But this move was not because of the trades. 

"There was a strategic direction we were going in. He understood it. He was executing it." 

Fenton was active in attempting to change the Wild's eventual fate. Last offseason, they signed forwards J.T. Brown, Eric Fehr and Matt Hendricks, and defensemen Brad Hunt and Anthony Bitetto. At the NHL Trade Deadline, the Wild moved core forwards Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter. Forward Kevin Fiala was acquired from the Nashville Predators for Granlund; forward Victor Rask came in the trade that sent Niederreiter to the Carolina Hurricanes; and forward Ryan Donato was acquired in the trade that sent Coyle to the Boston Bruins.

Fiala had seven points (three goals, four assists) and was minus-12 in 19 games with the Wild. Rask had three points (two goals, one assist) in 23 games, and Donato had 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) in 22 games. 

The Wild signed Donato to a two-year contract on July 16. Fiala is a restricted free agent, and Rask has four more years on his six-year contract. 

Fenton was hired May 21, 2018, to replace Chuck Fletcher, who was fired April 23. Fenton received a multiyear contract as the third GM in the history of the Wild, who are entering their 19th NHL season.

The 59-year-old spent the previous 20 seasons with the Predators, including the final 12 as assistant GM to David Poile, helping them qualify for the playoffs in 11 of 14 seasons and reach the Cup Final in 2017. He was part of the management that drafted defensemen Roman Josi, Ryan Suter (who now plays for the Wild) and Shea Weber, and goalie Pekka Rinne

"He was an assistant general manager really doing scouting. That was his role," Leipold said of Fenton. "And he was tremendous at that. It was the other portion of being a general manager, the organizational part, the strategic part, the management of people, the hiring and motivating of the departments. When I talk about not being a good fit, that's what I'm referring to." 

Leipold acknowledged that Fenton's firing comes at an interesting time, with training camp opening Sept. 12 and less than a month after forward Mats Zuccarello signed a five-year contract July 1. 

"Our organization and our culture were a little different than the way [Fenton] wanted to handle things," Leipold said. "We just felt this was the time to do it and we were going to move forward in a different direction."

Video: Russo on why Wild made GM change

Leipold said he will not rush to find a new general manager and is more focused on finding the right one. Leipold, Wild president Matt Majka, and Mike Modano, who was hired as executive adviser on May 24, will be involved in the hiring process. 

"Yes, experience may be more of a factor than it was a year ago," Leipold said. "In all honesty, I'm thinking I would really like to get an experienced general manager if the right fit is out there, but we're not going to rule out anybody at this point. I just think that an experienced person would be a good fit for us.

"We should be a playoff team. I look at it and I believe we are a playoff team. We have to get everybody believing that and moving in the same direction. We have to believe we're a playoff team and we're going to be there next year."

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