Five potential GM replacements for Wild

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It’s unusual for an NHL team to be in the middle of a general manager search this deep into the offseason but the Minnesota Wild decided that they needed to go in a new direction. The Wild, who fired GM Paul Fenton on Tuesday, can’t afford to whiff on this hire. But who’ll be available this late into the offseason?

The Wild have an aging core that is made up of veterans like Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Mikko Koivu. All three players are between 34 and 36 years old. This summer, Fenton signed 31-year-old Mats Zuccarello to a five-year deal and he re-signed 34-year-old Eric Staal to a two-year extension during the season. This is an old group that missed the playoffs last year. Whoever the next GM will have their work cut out for them.

The challenge for owner Craig Leipold and team president Matt Majka will be to convince other teams to make potential candidates available to them this late into the summer. As nice as it would be for another team’s employee to get a promotion to GM, where would that leave the team losing a member of its hockey operations department?

Some teams may allow their employees to interview for the job out of good faith, but there’s a risk that some others may block interview requests because they don’t want to search for a departing staff member’s replacement so close to the season.

Anyway, let’s take a look at who the Wild could bring in to be their next GM.

[MORE: Will Wild learn from the failed Fenton era?]

Ron Hextall: Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman was the first to report that the Wild have already made contact with the Flyers about their former GM. The details surrounding Hextall’s firing in Philadelphia are still a bit muddy but there’s no denying that under his watch the Flyers saw their prospect bank improve dramatically as he remained patient in the job. As we mentioned before, the Wild are an aging team that could use an influx of young talent as soon as possible. Bringing in an experienced GM like Hextall could be a terrific move for the organization.

Tom Fitzgerald, New Jersey Devils: Fitzgerald is currently serving as the Devils’ assistant GM. When the Wild were looking for a GM last year, the final two candidates were Fenton and Fitzgerald. If he was the runner up last year, there’s a good chance that he’ll be in the running again this time around. Devils GM Ray Shero and his staff have done a great job turning the team around in short order, so you can see why the Leipold was interested in Fitzgerald last year.

Bill Zito, Columbus Blue Jackets: Whenever there’s a GM opening, Zito’s name always seems to be mentioned as a potential candidate. The Blue Jackets assistant GM has been part of a staff that’s built a solid foundation in Columbus and it might be time for him to lead his own NHL team. Is this the opening that finally gets him out of Columbus?

• Mike Futa, Los Angeles Kings: Like Zito, Futa’s name always seems to come up anytime a team is in search of a new general manager. Futa has been with the Kings for over a decade. He’s served as the director of amateur scouting, the V.P. of hockey operations/director of player personnel, and now he’s the assistant general manager to Rob Blake. According to the Edmonton Journal, Futa was interviewed for the GM vacancy in Edmonton before Ken Holland got the job.

Peter Chiarelli: Yes, things didn’t start or end well for Chiarelli in Edmonton, but you know how much teams enjoy recycling coaches and GM. Chiarelli has a Stanley Cup ring as a GM with the Boston Bruins and his track record with Hockey Canada will impress a potential employer. If the Wild want their next general manager to have hands-on experience, Chiarelli could very well be the guy.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.