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ISLAND VIEW… It was abrupt as could be and final at that. Last Tuesday July 30th Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold terminated GM Paul Fenton from his position, and it sent the State of Hockey reeling. How many fans awoke that day thinking that this was going to be the hockey story of the week? The Fenton tenure lasted 435 days give or take a few hours and to say that it was hard to get a read on what Fenton was doing short or long term would be an understatement. To his credit Leipold assessed accountability for the situation upon himself, and while I’m glad to hear that, I am left to wonder if he fully realizes his full role and responsibility for the clubs current positioning. I’m not sure he does.
The Fenton deficiencies were laid bare for all to see in various articles and reports and in assessing all this information I can only wonder why Leipold hired him in the first place for this critical position. Say what you will about former GM Chuck Fletcher, he built a roster that made the playoffs 6 straight seasons which is no small feat in this league. The clubs lack of ability to do anything within those opportunities was disheartening but was a ray of sunshine compared to the darkness the team finds itself in at this moment. As a fan I can only ask where this organization goes from here. As a somewhat naturally cynical and analytical person, I can look at it and perhaps see a way out. But make no mistake, Fenton has left a mess on West 7th Street.
Leipold was likely correct to let Fletcher go when he did. He had painted himself into a hockey corner by working from a “win now” modus operandi and paid for that with draft choices and future picks that likely upset the balance needed of players coming in and out of your system as well as developing players who you hope would make it on to your big roster at some point. As I have pointed out before, a good deal of this was probably forced upon him by Leipold. At the same time, I felt that Chuck had taken the team as far as he could, and fresh perspective was much needed. What wasn’t fully evident to us at the time of his dismissal was that Leipold was just looking for a new accomplice to massage his self-theory that this club was so close to contending for a Stanley Cup that all they needed were “tweaks” to the roster and they would be on their way.
That was a huge red flag to me in the aftermath of the Fletcher dismissal and the search for a new GM. Leipold was just about the only guy in the show that believed this club was a few personnel moves away from ice glory. No experts or NHL insiders shared this theory. Then Leipold went public with those thoughts and stated that he would not be interested in bringing a new GM aboard that would place the team into a rebuild mode, when in fact, that is exactly what’s needed, and the Fenton debacle has just set that back by an additional and totally unnecessary season or more.
There is little point in reviewing Fenton’s faults now that he’s gone, but in 14 months he alienated the bulk of the Front Office staff, totally blew one draft year, (the team did fare better at the 2019 draft though) blew off the clubs scouts advice a great deal of the time, for the most part got taken in deals that saw him trade away three of the teams more important and popular players, and at one point was away from the team for three weeks at a critical juncture of the season. And believe me, this is just the short list of what I have found out. Leipold was quoted last week as saying that while there was no single major faux pas leading to his decision, there was a long list of “small matters” that when compiled could only lead to one decision; Fenton had to go. So now the shock is past, the future must carefully be navigated, but Leipold still has on the Captains hat.
He restated last week that the team is just a few moves from Cup contention and that has left me wondering if there is a 12 Step program for wayward pro sports team owners somewhere. I’d surely sign Leo up as soon as I could. This is a man so deeply in fear of the ‘R’ word that all rational thought has vacated him. He has a handful of aging star players on board, that except for one, were never true “Superstar” level guys. Fenton gutted the “middle” of the roster with his misguided maneuvers last season and the bottom of the club’s roster is filled with guys who aren’t quite ready to take a team anywhere near a Cup unless they were up at the Hockey Hall of Fame for a visit. In addition, the looming UFA status of Jared Spurgeon will upset the applecart for the better part of this upcoming season contemplating whether he will desire to stay or not. Why would he re-sign on to this mess?
Zach Parise has recently stated he would love at least one more shot at a Cup before his career ends. That isn’t going to happen here. No word on Ryan Suters feelings on the topic. But if I’m the new guy in town, my first matter of business is to call Leo in for a mob style “sit-down” where the future needs to be mapped out for him and if he wants a winner he signs on, if not we continue to go at it his way, which is only delaying a chance at building a real and consistent winner. Allow the Staal and Koivu contracts to play out and move on. They aren’t the future. Trade Spurgeon for as many and as high draft picks as you can get. Go to Parise and Suter and guarantee them you will get them on to as high level of a Cup contender as you can and get as much as you can get for them if they will agree to be moved. Assess other players values too, load up on picks, inform the fans that you are going into a draft and develop model for the big roster, draft guys, send them to the ‘A’ for a minimum of two seasons, unless they are so good they make it into the show right away and get on with it.
Get a new GM that will NOT tell you want you want to hear, but one that will tell you what you NEED to hear. Embrace it Leo. Within the “rebuild” word lies your salvation. Quit putting it off Craig… PEACE PRO WRESTLING STAR Harley Race passed away last week, more to come, Over & Out!