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Leipold seeks alignment in culture in making GM change

'We need to get re-focused, re-charged on who we are as a team,' owner says

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe / Wild.com

ST. PAUL -- Eager for a renewed direction and unwilling to wait any longer to see it happen, the Wild and owner Craig Leipold announced on Tuesday that the team had relieved GM Paul Fenton of his duties after just 14 months on the job.

Hired last May as the third general manager in franchise history, Fenton's tenure lasted one season. But Leipold said that one season was enough to get him thinking about whether he approved of the way his franchise was headed.

"I think we're in an area of not really knowing where we're gonna go," Leipold said. "We need to get re-charged, re-focused on who we are as a team and don't let the outside elements distract us."

Leipold said he believes the Wild remains a playoff contender after missing the postseason for the first time in seven years last spring. Despite that, there were a number of issues that cropped up over the course of the past several months that left Leipold feeling uneasy about the future. 

"The reason for the termination is not any one big issue," Leipold said. "But it was over a time, smaller issues were building up. And ultimately, we decided it just wasn't a good fit. 

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

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the timing of Tuesday's news.

With just two days remaining until August, 39 days until the start of the Traverse City Prospects Tournament and 44 days until the start of training camp, much of the offseason's business has already been completed. 

Fenton oversaw the team's draft in Vancouver last month and also signed a pair of free agents on July 1, including forward Mats Zuccarello, whom Fenton inked to a five-year, $30 million contract.

Video: Craig Leipold on GM change

"The timing is a little interesting," Leipold said. "There was no final straw. This is something I've been thinking about and thinking about and began to pull the onion back within our organization and in hockey ops. There was absolutely no main or big issue, it was just a lot of smaller issues and we felt it was time to move."

What Fenton's tenure as GM lacked in time it certainly didn't in activity.

In the one year and two months since his hire, Fenton re-shaped the look of the Wild's dressing room, trading veterans Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter, all three of whom were viewed as "core" players by previous management.

In addition to acquiring Kevin Fiala, Ryan Donato and Victor Rask in those deals, Fenton inked Zuccarello and Ryan Hartman to multi-year contracts earlier this month. 

During last season, the Wild re-signed forward Eric Staal to a two-year contract extension that will keep him in Minnesota through the 2020-21 season. Goaltender Alex Stalock also earned a three-year contract extension.

Last summer, Fenton re-signed defenseman Matt Dumba and forward Jason Zucker to five-year contracts and also signed defenseman Greg Pateryn to a three-year contract and forward J.T. Brown to a two-year deal; both players are expected to be a part of the team this fall when training camp commences in St. Paul on Sept. 13.

In addition to the current club, Fenton helped shape the future of the franchise by presiding over a pair of drafts, selecting first-round picks Filip Johansson in 2018 and Matt Boldy last month. 

In all, 16 players were selected in the two drafts since Fenton's hire last May.

"We're really not going to know for three years [how some of these moves will turn out]," Leipold said. "Paul's responsibility, and I will say, we got some young talented players that we picked up in these trades, I'm excited about where they can go. This move was not because of the trades."

The Wild will begin a search for Fenton's permanent replacement immediately, with Tom Kurvers serving as Acting General Manager in the meantime. 

Leipold said the process for choosing a new GM will include Executive Advisor Mike Modano, in addition to team president and alternate governor Matt Majka.

"Experience may be more of a factor than it was a year ago," Leipold said. "In all honesty, I am thinking I would 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."

The final month of the offseason could be a busy one for the club. In addition to hiring a new GM, the Wild has two remaining restricted free agents to get under contract in Fiala and Joel Eriksson Ek. 

Jared Spurgeon is also entering the final year of a four-year, $20.75 million contract he signed in 2015. The 29-year-old defenseman is one of the NHL's most underrated players and is a favorite of Wild coach Bruce Boudreau. 

Leipold said he chatted by phone on Tuesday morning with Spurgeon and will meet with him in person when he arrives in the Twin Cities in a couple weeks.

Leipold also reiterated that nothing will change in the short term with Boudreau, who himself enters the final season of a four-year contract this fall. 

"I think Paul was committed to winning a Stanley Cup just like all of us [are]," Leipold said. "I think maybe we just had different ways that we would do it. So when I say, 'the fit,' it's almost an all-encompassing issue. There was not one thing, it was just a combination of a lot of factors that brought me to this decision."


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Wild relieves GM Paul Fenton of his duties

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