The WILD; from the post season to the future and beyond

Marc Elliott

2019 WILD First Round pick Matthew  Boldy selected at #12, with Owner Craig Leipold  and GM Paul Fenton.
2019 WILD First Round pick Matthew Boldy selected at #12, with Owner Craig Leipold and GM Paul Fenton.

LITTLE MARAIS… Last week I began to broach the topic of the Minnesota Wilds prior season, (a flat-out dud) their near future prospects for success, (not too good either) and didn’t offer up any thought on the beyond 5-year marker. But I have done some digging, have searched my memory banks and overall level of karmic hockey vibe for the club and well, I’m just not feeling a lot of Wild love at the moment. When I tried emphasizing this on a public forum very recently, I was told that I was a Paul Fenton hater (2nd year Wild GM) and that quite a few fans thought just like me and that we were all a bunch of country bumpkins when it came to hockey. (not in those terms) Well ok. I don’t personally dislike Fenton, heck I don’t know the fellow. He has hockey pedigree, was with a sterling organization for several years (NASH Preds) and was the right-hand man for one of the most respected GM’s in the game today, and a guy I really like in David Poile. 

Perhaps it’s not a stretch to say that if Fenton’s first year at the dashboard of the Wild wasn’t that good, maybe it was just the settling in factor. Maybe it was first full-bore GM job jitters. It’s a non-stop position for the most part, demands quite a bit from you 24/7/365 and can pick you up on some days and drop you down on quite a few others. But Paulie has been around the block. He’s been to the circus. He knows the ropes. So, if I personally feel that the best grade I could give him for his first season on the job is a ‘C’, maybe that’s not to be unexpected. But it’s sports, winning is the only report card, only Championships matter, and well, for the 18th season of an 18-season existence, the Wild didn’t win one. Not even close. And if I lean way back in my recliner and close my eyes and meditate, I don’t see one nearby or even in the longer term. 

I’ll expound; the current roster of the Big club, the Wild, is not in a position to win a Cup for the 2019-20 season, or perhaps not for the next 5-8 seasons. I don’t see it. The Iowa Wild team, roster-wise is thin at this point. Based on what I see there, in the pipeline and on-the-way, they won’t be a top AHL contender, nor do they possess a player or two that could turn the Wild’s fortunes around. The prospects and futures pipeline? Mid-level on most ranked charts. I haven’t performed any coin flips on this, and I haven’t even consulted my Magic Eight Ball (yes, I do have one, and it gets asked some serious questions from time to time) but my overall feeling on the future of the organization is not bullish at the moment. And to be honest here, when I think of the team and where it is and where it is going, there is not any excitement flowing as in, hey man, this team is going to be lighting it up and soon! You better look out for my club; they are coming to a town near you soon and they will be kicking some…

I wish I could say differently, but those are the realities of the Wild right now. One of the things my online antagonist said to me was that I didn’t understand the Fenton “vision” nor did other fans that weren’t on his bandwagon. I’d have to KNOW his vision before I could develop any understanding of it one way or the other. At the end of the day, it’s nothing personal. I don’t like or dislike Fenton. I just haven’t developed the feeling that he has a firm grip on this club yet. It took me until about 10 years ago to learn to separate emotion from business when it came to sports. Prior to that a great many of my thoughts and feelings about players or teams were emotion based. It still occurs, but I think that I’ve minimized it. I believe that Fenton is likely still in the process of creating his Wild roadmap. I can’t say that there is a new philosophy, like it’s strictly a draft and develop team now. Or it will be a combo of that with free agent and trade fillers. If Fenton has a clear vision for himself, he’s holding it close to the vest. And to be fair, his predecessor didn’t leave him a clean kitchen. But that’s then, this is now.

I felt that Fenton’s first draft last June was marginal. I am having a tough time seeing the teams 1st rounder ever making it into the league. His trades last year, most were negligible, they were just simply movement. The big trades he made, Coyle, Neidereitter and Granlund, IMO he didn’t drive hard enough bargains for these players and the return was lacking for me. The teams post trades performance went straight downhill. The quest for a playoff position was left in the hands of the remaining vets, (whole other story) newcomers, and very young and inexperienced players. The final stretch of the season was hockey futility with an 11-21 record covering Feb, Mar and April. Why don’t I have much hope?

Most of last seasons roster is due back. Matt Dumba and Mikko Koivu will return from serious injuries. In my estimation, when camp starts there might only be 2-4 jobs “open”. Who will take those? Can any player in the pipeline at this time earn one of those spots? Trades? The twice defeated potential trades of Jason Zucker has Fenton in a holding position with him. But there is a clock ticking on that, on July 1st his 10-team modified trade clause kicks in. For the first time in recent memory the team has some cap space to work with. Do you pursue free agents? Free agents are likely not looking at the Wild as a destination. Anyone with upper end talent and their game together wants to win now. Without the foundation in place to take advantage of those players talents and desire to win, it’s pointless. With the current positioning of the team, most wouldn’t look to end up here. And as I’ve said here ad nauseum, the teams draft positioning has been poor to the point that the draft hasn’t yielded any franchise changers, and not many serviceable NHL players.

That could change slightly though. The highest ranked prospect in the pipe, Kirill Kaprizov could come over to play for the 2020-2021 season. Last years picks, centers Khovanov and Dewar will play at Iowa next year and in last Fridays draft the club got what many say was one of the best players available in Matthew Boldy, a LW who can slide over to center. So, hope or no hope? Still thinking that over… PEACE