New Wild GM Paul Fenton has a blueprint to get team over the hump
ST. PAUL — If Paul Fenton wasn't already aware of his task as new general manager of the Wild, owner Craig Leipold sat next to him and made it clear during an introductory new conference Tuesday morning, May 22, at Xcel Energy Center.
In front of dozens of people that included players such as Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, and Ryan Suter, Leipold took the mic to introduce Fenton, who on Monday afternoon was named the third general manager in franchise history.
"The goal remains to bring a Stanley Cup to the State Of Hockey," Leipold said, smiling as he looked to his left. "No pressure, Paul."
In nine seasons under Chuck Fletcher, the Wild advanced past the first round of the playoffs twice and won only two second-round games. In the wake of a third straight first-round playoff loss last month, Leipold declined to bring Fletcher back. It's clear, however, that he doesn't consider this a gut job.
"We are a damn good team; we just need to get to the next level," Leipold said. "What does that take? Hopefully Paul is going to help us to get to that point."
Leipold feels confident that Fenton is the right person for the challenge. He and team president Matt Majka interviewed a handful of candidates over the past month, and it was Fenton who stood out.
Fenton, 58, has been waiting for this moment. He has served as the assistant general manager with the Nashville Predators for the past 12 years and admitted that getting passed over for certain job openings over the past decade started to take a toll.
"Anyone that tries to get to the next level, sometimes they get frustrated," he said. "You're looking at it like, 'Is my time ever going to come?'"
He credited his father, Paul Fenton Sr., with instilling a never-give-up mentality in his childhood.
"He's the reason that I'm here," Fenton said. "I will never give up. That's the biggest thing. I'll do everything that I can to make this organization successful."
As for how he actually plans to do that, Fenton declined to show his hand, emphasizing that he first must meet with the front office, the coaching staff and the players before making any decisions about how to revamp a team that has made the postseason in six straight seasons but lost 16 of its past 20 playoff games.
Fenton appears on the same page as Leipold, though, saying it will only take tweaks to get the team on the right track.
His past experiences have given him that confidence, especially considering that before the Predators emerged as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender as of late, they weren't much different than the Wild are right now. In fact, before advancing to the Stanley Cup Final last season, the Predators had never even made it out of the second round in their 20-plus seasons of existence.
Fenton pointed to the NHL entry draft as the biggest factor in the Predators' progress. Smart, timely trades also helped the Predators take the next step.
"There's no formula," Fenton said. "We have to look at the pieces and go from there. I love when people try to say, 'You need this' or 'You need that.' It isn't as easy as it seems."
Fenton will be in Buffalo, N.Y., next week for the NHL Draft Combine and return to the Twin Cities after that to host a handful of meetings before heading to Dallas for the June 22-23 draft.
"Then it's back here for free agency (on July 1), and then development camp (in mid-July), and then next season is right around the corner," he said with a smile. "I don't really see too much time that I'm not going to be spending here."
"Our team is not very far," Fenton added. "I've been brought here to help us win a Stanley Cup, and that's what our goal is going to be from Day 1."