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Operation renovation: Fenton looks to add 'finishing touches' for Wild

'Whirlwind' summer awaits new GM as he seeks to build Stanley Cup contender

by Phil Ervin /

ST. PAUL -- New face, same objective. Fresh eyes, same vision.

"The goal remains," Wild owner Craig Leipold said Tuesday in introducing Paul Fenton as the Wild's new general manager, "to bring a Stanley Cup to the State of Hockey.

"No pressure, Paul."

The tweak-not-rebuild narrative laid out by Leipold rings as true today as it did a month ago when he announced a change in leadership of Minnesota's hockey operations department. It was echoed verbatim by the new man in charge, the one who topped his new boss' candidate list from the get-go, thanks to their days together in Nashville and Fenton's experience helping transform the Predators from a perennial playoff team to a Stanley Cup contender last season.

Tweet from @mnwild: Paul Fenton discusses his approach to becoming the General Manager of #mnwild.

"Our team is not very far," said Fenton, seated next to Leipold outside Gate 1 at Xcel Energy Center as dozens of media, players, coaches and staff looked on. "Certainly, you always have to make tweaks and changes to rosters and to come here to a team that has been in the playoffs six times (in a row), it obviously doesn't need to be overhauled. We have a lot of really good veteran pieces, young guys that are coming. I'm looking forward to just putting some finishing touches to help us win."

Fenton inherits a roster that includes a leadership core of defenseman Ryan Suter -- whom Fenton helped draft in 2003 in Nashville -- and forwards Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu. The Springfield, Massachusetts native grew up watching the Bruins and said Minnesota's nucleus -- including goalie Devan Dubnyk -- reminded Fenton of Boston's legendary trio of Phil Esposito, Bobby Orr and Gerry Cheevers.

Eric Staal is coming off a resurgent season in which he scored 42 goals, tying a franchise record. Jason Zucker had his first 30-goal season. Jared Spurgeon is regarded as one of the most consistent, albeit understated, defensemen in the NHL.

"We'll have to build onto [our core]," Fenton said, "but at least it's a good building block down the middle."

The need for further renovation comes from the lack of a deep playoff run since 2003, when the Wild reached the Western Conference Finals. Leipold expects more. So do fans in the State of Hockey.

And so does Fenton.

"I've been brought here to try and tweak this process and try and get us to win a Stanley Cup," he said. "That's what our goal is going to be from Day 1."

With Leipold spending close to the salary cap in an effort to construct a winner, Fenton will likely need to lean on creativity. "I like to think outside the box," he said. He did in Nashville, helping accomplish transactions such as P.K. Subban for Shea Weber and Ryan Johansen for Seth Jones: decisions that would ultimately complement the Predators' draft-and-develop model.

Video: Fenton discusses vision for Wild

Fenton said he doesn't anticipate making a big splash during his first month on the job. Instead, step No. 1 involves meeting with his new staff of scouts, analysts and assistants and getting a feel for their opinions, personalities and plans.

"It's a getting-to-know process right now," Fenton said.

It started Monday as soon as Fenton's plane touched down in St. Paul. Tuesday morning, Fenton met at the Wild offices with those now in his charge for the first time. Then came an introduction to Suter, Koivu, Parise, Staal and Luke Kunin amid the group's offseason workouts. After his late-morning press briefing and dozens of interviews, Fenton attended a reception with Wild business staff before a couple more media obligations. Then, dinner with Leipold and Boudreau -- who given his own hockey background and IQ -- would appear to be somewhat of a kindred spirit with his new general manager.

Next week, it's off to Buffalo for the NHL Scouting Combine May 27-June 2. Then come amateur and professional meetings during which Fenton will get fully up to speed on the roster and system he's inherited. The NHL Entry Draft is June 22-23, followed by free agency and development camp in July.

All while trying to get his family settled, ideally somewhere in St. Paul. Luckily, Fenton said, he has his wife of nearly 35 years, Nona -- "the rock of everything we do" -- to help with that piece of the puzzle.

"I don't think I'm going to sleep the next month," Fenton joked. "It'll be a whirlwind, but it's a fun whirlwind."

It's one the former NHL player and son of a police chief will share with his wife and two sons. P.J. Fenton serves as an Edmonton Oilers amateur scout and has a daughter named Emerie with his wife Stefanie. Owen Fenton is a postdoctoral scholar after receiving his doctorate in chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Nona, P.J., Owen and Stefanie were by their husband, father and father-in-law's side for every step Tuesday.

"I'm very family orientated," Paul Fenton said. "This organization has a very good substance to it, and I want to bring (a) family atmosphere here. I want to have us all be together as a family. When you work as a family, and you have the right intentions, I believe that you're going to be able to win here. That's the biggest thing that I'm going to bring here is inclusiveness and passionate people that want to go that extra mile to help us win."

And it's that values system that helped sell Leipold after he and Wild President Matt Majka interviewed "numerous qualified candidates," as Leipold put it. Leipold owned the Predators from 1997-2007 -- the first half of Fenton's tenure with the club.

The built-in trust that comes with a longstanding relationship certainly didn't hurt.

"We're a (darn) good team," Leipold said. "We just need to maybe get to the next level, the next step. What does that take? Hopefully Paul is going to get to that point. I think of the interviews that we had, Paul was the one that we felt was best experienced, most experienced. The people I spoke with about Paul could not in any greater terms describe a person that wanted to win more than Paul wants to win and that will work harder to do it. As we went through the process, we heard a lot of good things about our team. We kept feeling better and better and that really reinforced what we thought, that this is not a rebuild. It's a tweaking."

But before stepping forward, a step back. Fenton had interviewed for numerous GM jobs in the past. At age 58, he finally secured the chance to oversee his own operation.

And even amid the chaos of starting a new era, Fenton began Tuesday's press conference with these words to a fan base that's as passionate as it is knowledgeable, as hungry for a championship as the men charged with bringing it one.

"I've been waiting for this moment for a while, and I'm thrilled to be here in the State of Hockey. Coming from Massachusetts, boy, we thought this was a good hockey [hotbed]. I don't think there's anything like this in the country and I'm really looking forward to being here."

Video: New GM Paul Fenton's introductory press conference

Video: Wild excited with Fenton hiring


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