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Fenton continues youth movement with deadline deal for Fiala

Wild GM: 'We were trying to get younger, faster, more skilled; the last couple of acquisitions have done that'

by Phil Ervin @mnwild /

ST. PAUL -- For the first time in weeks, Paul Fenton planned to enjoy a good night's sleep Monday.

The Wild's first-year general manager completed his inaugural trade deadline in charge by sending Mikael Granlund to Nashville in exchange for young, skilled playmaker Kevin Fiala. The move caps a six-week span in which the former Predators assistant GM has dealt for forwards Pontus Aberg, Victor Rask, Ryan Donato and Fiala and added blue line depth in the form of Brad Hunt. Gone are 2010 first-round draft picks Granlund, Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter. Into the spotlight are the likes of youngsters Jordan Greenway, Luke Kunin and Joel Eriksson Ek as the Wild looks to make its seventh straight Stanley Cup Playoffs appearance while morphing into a younger, faster team capable of deep runs once it qualifies for the postseason.

"We had all year determined that we were trying to get younger, faster, more skilled," said Fenton, who pointed out the Wild roster was the NHL's oldest at the time he inherited the general manager position. "The last couple of acquisitions have done that. I think that [Fiala] fits here for what we're doing in the future. You can say what you want, what is it, core players? I guess everybody determines what the core is [for themselves]. You all have your own opinions, I have my own opinion, but for me, I decided that the team going forward here, that's what I was brought here for was to make some changes, to make some changes to the culture.

"Today was another opportunity to do something about it."

Video: Welcome to Minnesota Kevin Fiala

But those decisions aren't easy, and have made for some sleepless nights lately. Even during Sunday's overtime victory over St. Louis, Fenton could be seen pacing around the Al Shaver Press Box at Xcel Energy Center with the deadline less than 24 hours away.

Saying goodbye to Granlund -- who played parts of seven seasons in a Wild sweater -- was particularly difficult. His 69- and 67-point seasons in 2016-17 and 2017-18 were one thing, but Fenton shared Monday afternoon the 26-year-old's wife was in labor with their first child.

"To have this happen makes it even more difficult to disrupt people's lives," Fenton said. "That's the unfortunate part of being in this industry. They all know that it's a business, so from the Wild we wish them nothing but the best, especially hopefully with a happy, healthy baby."

In return for Granlund, Fenton lands a young, now-healthy Fiala with whom he became quite familiar during their time in Nashville. Trade negotiations with Fenton's former boss David Poile brought Minnesota a youthful, energetic winger who scored 23 goals last season and served as a playoff hero in 2017, netting a pair of overtime goals before suffering a broken femur that sidelined him for the remainder of the Predators' Stanley Cup Final run.

The familiarity helps, said Fenton, who had a major hand in drafting Fiala 11th overall in 2014. So does saved $9.2 million saved in cap space and a "controllable asset" who will be a restricted free agent this offseason.

But Fenton had been discussing the possibility with Poile for months simply because Fiala fits the vision Fenton laid out to Wild owner Craig Leipold when he hired the first-time GM last spring.

"I know what the skill set of Kevin Fiala is. It has nothing to do with me knowing Nashville," Fenton said. "The new league, the way that it is, I'm looking to generate more skill and speed right off the rush, and it just so happens that we got younger. That's the nice thing ... It has to do with the talent level and where we are. We're still trying to make the playoffs this year."

The Wild will do so without the veteran leadership of Matt Hendricks, whom Fenton also traded Monday -- to Winnipeg for a seventh-round pick in 2020. Fenton said the 37-year-old forward, a healthy scratch many nights, simply wasn't receiving the playing time he might've somewhere else, so he traded him back to the Jets.

The Blaine native and locker-room favorite spent last season in Winnipeg.

"He came here, he had a great influence on our kids, I think that it was time," said Fenton. "He wasn't really getting the ice time that he probably could have had at certain times and for him, it just gives him an opportunity to go someplace he was familiar with."

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Minnesota did lock up a different veteran Monday, agreeing to terms with center Eric Staal on a two-year, $6.5 million contract extension. Fenton was in frequent communication with Staal's camp leading up to the deadline, and the sides were able to agree on re-signing Monday during final negotiations.

And so the new-look Wild will press forward, starting Tuesday night at Winnipeg. Heading into Monday night's games, the Wild clung to the Western Conference's final wild card spot with 19 games remaining. Then comes a potential playoff jaunt followed by the draft and free agency, where Minnesota stands to add more pieces with some of the space it's saved via recent moves.

It'll take weeks and likely years to ascertain the true value of the decisions Fenton made leading up to his first deadline as general manager. But the man who helped orchestrate bringing Ryan Johansen and P.K. Subban to the Music City via trades can't wait to see how his more youthful roster progresses in both the short and long term.

"From my viewpoint, the reason that I was hired is for me to put a touch on it that I feel is going to make us better," Fenton said. "I like the team that we're putting together and changing. I'm not done; none of us are done by any means. As you see, things happen all the way through, and our team can change all the way through to next season, but for right now we're in pretty good shape I think as far as where we are going forward."

Video: GM Paul Fenton talks Fiala trade


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