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Wild’s new GM faces tough task in finding ‘finishing touches’

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If you look at NHL GM gigs like flipping a home, then some jobs call for a massive renovation, and it must be fun to deal with a “fixer-upper.” But what about when someone wants you to turn an already-expensive house into a mansion?

That’s essentially what’s being asked of longtime Nashville Predators assistant GM Paul Fenton as he takes over the Minnesota Wild job from Chuck Fletcher.

Wild owner (and former Predators owner) Craig Leipold at least had a sense of humor about his demands during the press conference that introduced Fenton as GM.

“Our goal is to bring a Stanley Cup to the State of Hockey. But, no pressure, Paul,” Leipold said, via The Athletic’s Michael Russo.

For those who are waiting to interject with a comment along the lines of “Yes, but every team talks about winning the Stanley Cup in these situations” … well, that’s true. Sometimes you can root out some semi-useful information in reading between the lines during these moments, though.

Take, for instance, the video clip below. On one hand, Fenton wants to “move the puck” and play an uptempo style that virtually every team discusses (aside from a relative outlier here or there, like Peter Chiarelli wanting “heavy and hard hockey”). On the other hand, there are some interesting kernels to consider. Fenton at least seems open-minded to making things work with head coach Bruce Boudreau, which is certainly a fair question since he wasn’t a bench boss handpicked by Fenton. Multiple comments also indicate that the Wild hope to ascend to the level of contender rather than going into a rebuild, as “finishing touches” indicate.

If anyone’s ready for a GM job, it’s Fenton. He’s been rising up the Predators organization since 1998, earning glowing reviews from Nashville GM David Poile. There’s a reason he’s been on plenty of GM candidate lists for years.

Minnesota could especially benefit if Fenton observed how Nashville flourished after making courageous trades such as the P.K. SubbanShea Weber swap. Not everyone has the stomach for such risks, but those gambles often separate contenders from pretenders.

There are a number of reasons why Fenton might fail, or at least could struggle. Let’s dive in.

Jumping right into the deep end

The 2018 Stanley Cup Final is nearly upon us. The draft isn’t far away on June 22, and free agency is right afterward. Wild fans have to hope that Fenton’s experience in scouting and his familiarity with the Central Division will come in handy, as this next stretch is a true “trial by fire.”

Fletcher left quite a mess of long-term contracts, most obviously in challenging deals for Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, so the Wild aren’t exactly bursting with cap space.

[A deep dive on the mess Fletcher left behind. It’s a mixed bag at best.]

It’s up to Fenton to try to land pending RFAs Jason Zucker and Mathew Dumba to team-friendly deals after each player enjoyed easily the best seasons of their NHL careers. Over the years, the Predators have piled up some really nice contracts for players they developed, most notably Viktor Arvidsson, Roman Josi, and Ryan Ellis. Bargain extensions often come down to timing, however, as you can see in Ryan Johansen getting a Getzlaf-like deal. Fenton faces two challenges in getting Zucker and Dumba signed to affordable contracts, whether that means going short-term or trying to bring the annual price down by handing out more term.

If “finishing touches” boil down to small tweaks and savvy shopping in the discount aisle, that’s fine.

Something more drastic could be highly difficult to pull off …

Central issue

… Because the Wild are in a true meat grinder of a Central Division.

Consider this: Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck was being comically hasty in discussing his team becoming a “dynasty.”

That said, when you consider how young and talented that core is, you never know. At minimum, the Jets are structured in a way where they’ll be on-paper favorites against the Wild for the foreseeable future.

Fenton will need to make beautiful music to get his Wild to outmatch his old boss in Nashville, while it’s possible that the Blues and Stars are the ones who are “finishing touches” away from legitimate contention. You can’t totally count out the Blackhawks either (what if Corey Crawford was healthy all season?) and the Avalanche seem like they’re onto something.

One could envision Fenton making the right moves and the Wild still stalling in this first-round limbo. The Central Division is that tough, and there’s a genuine fear that Minnesota simply doesn’t have a high enough ceiling to break through.

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There’s a school of thought that the Wild might be better off rebuilding, or if that’s too extreme, maybe a brief “reload.”

Minnesota definitely has some talent, and the Wild can look like a contender on better nights. Still, that series against the Jets felt telling; you wonder if they’re doomed to be stuck at good when they need to be great.

MORE:
• Conference Finals schedule, TV info
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Which NHL teams will make a coaching change after the season?

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The 2017-18 NHL season will come to an end this weekend and barring some last-minute decision, no head coach will have been fired; that’s something that hasn’t happened since the league expanded in 1967.

It’s a rarity that no coach has been canned, despite the calls for management to take action in a handful of markets. But general managers have decided to use a little patience and ride out the full 82-game schedule without seeking a new voice behind their bench.

Patience can swing in different ways, however. Remember when Philadelphia Flyers fans were calling for Dave Hakstol’s head as the team went through a long losing streak earlier this season? GM Ron Hextall wasn’t having any of it, and now they’re on the verge of a playoff berth. Then there are places like Calgary, Dallas, New York and Carolina where head coaches stayed put and left fans wondering if their seasons would have gone in an opposite direction had a change been made.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

The NHL has seen 34 in-season coaching changes over the last nine years, and since we’re likely to see zero this regular season, what does that mean for next week once those teams who’ve missed out on the Stanley Cup Playoffs reassess their futures?

Darren Dreger was on the NBCSN pre-game show Wednesday night and listed 10 NHL head coaches whose seats are feeling pretty warm these days.

Glen Gulutzan, Calgary Flames – In a conversation with Eric Francis of the Calgary Sun, GM Brad Treliving wasn’t going to speculate on the future of his head coach after a season that saw the Flames tumble out of a playoff spot in the second half.

“That’s an easy thing in sports to do — the first thing is to look at the coach. I think we’ve got a good coach,” Treliving said. “We’ve got some good players, but we’re all subject to scrutiny when a season goes like this.”

Gulutzan has an 81-67-14 record in two seasons in Calgary. He only got two when he was in Dallas. Will Treliving give him a little more rope?

Bill Peters, Carolina Hurricanes – New owner Tom Dundon has already started making his mark on his team, moving Ron Francis from the GM’s chair to president of hockey operations. A search for a new GM is under way, but will Dundon wait until that position is filled before making a decision on Peters? Peters has one year left on his contract and reportedly has an “out” in his deal. It’s hard to believe he’d walk away from what’s believe to be a $1.6 million salary, but the new boss can’t be happy with the team’s lack of progress the last few seasons.

Ken Hitchcock, Dallas StarsAnother disappointing season in Dallas will lead with questions about the future of the head coach and GM Jim Nill. Since his first tenure with the Stars ended in 2002, Hitch has had a bit of a shelf life as he moved on to three other organizations before returning last summer. Is he a one-and-done? The Stars were expected to be improved this season but a second half collapse could change owner Tom Gaglardi’s plans.

Jeff Blashill, Detroit Red Wings – Three Detroit outlets reported last week that not only will GM Ken Holland be back next season, but so will Blashill, who has a 104-104-36 record and one playoff appearance in three seasons with the Red Wings. The franchise is in a bit of a transition phase right now and letting Blashill ride out his contract — he has one year remaining — might be the way to go.

Todd McLellan, Edmonton Oilers – Is it McLellan’s fault that Connor McDavid‘s all-world season is being wasted because of the lack of talent surrounding him? Nope. That blame falls on one person’s shoulders only.

Doug Weight, New York Islanders – Time after time, loss after loss, you can see the frustration in Weight’s face during his post-game media scrums. The Islanders can score at will, but can’t keep the puck out of their own net. There will be no playoffs for the second straight season and summer looms with John Tavares eligible to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and a question of whether owners Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky will bring GM Garth Snow back.

Alain Vigneault, New York Rangers – The Rangers threw in the towel in February to let the kids get experience for the future. But with Henrik Lundqvist still under contract for three more seasons, now is not the time for a tear-it-all-down rebuild. With plenty of cap space to fill this summer, Vigneault could be given time to coach into next season, but possibly on a short leash.

Guy Boucher, Ottawa Senators – The Erik Karlsson decision is first and foremost for the Senators. Will he stay or does he want to go? Is he OK with Boucher returning as head coach? What is GM Pierre Dorion’s vision for the future and does it include being aggressive in free agency and the trade market this summer? There are many questions to be answered in Ottawa.

Barry Trotz, Washington Capitals – GM Brian MacLellan was quietly given an extension last month, but Trotz is still without one with an expiring deal after the season. What will keep him safe? Will reaching the conference finals be enough?

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Sean Leahy is a writer forPro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT Morning Skate: Why Mike Green wasn’t traded; A deeper look at Triple Gold Club

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Check out the highlights from last night’s game between the Canadiens and Flyers. (Top)

Mike Green‘s injury is the reason he wasn’t traded on Monday. (MLive.com)

Ryan McDonagh wasn’t surprised about being traded to the Lightning. (Tampa Times)

• Even though there’s a lot going on in Ottawa right now, Matt Duchene insists he wants to be part of it. (Ottawa Citizen)

• Marc Bergervin made a couple of small deals at the deadline, but he didn’t make a splash to get fans excited about the team’s future. (Sportsnet)

• The Vancouver Canucks should have added some draft picks on deadline day, but they didn’t. (Vancourier)

• Did the Blues do the right thing by trading away Paul Stastny when they still have a chance to make the playoffs? (St. Louis Game Time)

• The San Jose Sharks stepped outside their comfort zone when they acquired Evander Kane. (NBC Sports Bay Area)

• Speaking of Kane, he’s pretty excited for this opportunity to play for the Sharks. (Buffalo News)

• There’s been a lot of mystery surrounding Corey Crawford‘s injury, but GM Stan Bowman says there’s no doubt he’ll play hockey again. (Chicago Tribune)

• Even if you don’t like the moves Vegas made, it’s hard not to give GM George McPhee the benefit of the doubt. (Sinbin.Vegas)

• Bruins general manager Don Sweeney was pretty active leading up the trade deadline. (Bruins Daily)

John Tavares admits he isn’t opposed to re-signing with the Islanders during the season. (Newsday)

• The Islanders didn’t really do much on deadline day. (The Sports Daily)

• It made plenty of sense for the Devils to extend head coach John Hynes. (Fan Rag Sports)

• The trade between Toronto and Montreal involving Tomas Plekanec benefits both teams. (Faceoffcircle.ca)

• After playing for Canada at the Olympics, Chris Kelly signed a one-year deal with Anaheim. (NHL.com/Ducks)

• Puck Junk takes an in-depth look at the triple gold club. (Puck Junk)

• Did the Anaheim Ducks approach the trade deadline the right way? (Anaheim Calling)

Dion Phaneuf has adapted to his new surrounding in Los Angeles really quickly. (LA Kings Insider)

Kyle Clifford has been an underrated asset for the Kings throughout his career. (Mayor’s Manor)

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.

Trades fantasy hockey owners should root for

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

Trades can really liven things up for a sport, so here’s hoping that the intriguing Michael Grabner to Devils move is the catalyst for a memorable stretch of swaps.

While there’s always the risk that a player will struggle to get acclimated to a new city and new teammates, trades can also provide a boost in fantasy hockey. As we wait for more deals to trickle in, it might be fun to picture changes of scenery. Here are some moves fantasy owners should root for.

[More on the Grabner trade.]

Elephants trotting around the room

Look, asking the Senators to trade Erik Karlsson is asking a lot.

It could be quite a late-season boon for owners who’ve been burned a bit by a season that’s not up to his honestly ridiculous standards. Complaining about a defenseman generating 42 points in 55 games is silly, but considering that Karlsson often goes in the first or second round, and fantasy sports are kind of silly by nature, well …

Anyway, a move to a contender could really help him. Maybe he’d enjoy short-term puck luck (his shooting percentage this season is 3.4 percent, half of his career average of 6.8). Considering his puck dispersal skills, setting up teammates who are likely more skilled and more motivated at this point in the season could really be electric.

Max Pacioretty also stands as interesting.

With a 7.7 shooting percentage, “Patches” is also lacking when it comes to lucky bounces. More than that, it has to be a drain on him to lose so often, particularly in a hockey-obsessed market like Montreal. Being “one of the guys” on a contender could really do him good.

Also, it’s been noted, yet it must be said: Pacioretty’s really never played with a great center. Imagine what he could accomplish with a legitimate No. 1? With his contract expiring after 2018-19, the motivation should be there, too.

Some others worth noting in this category:

  • Evander Kane has dealt with injuries and the frustrating knowledge that he’s never suited up in a playoff game in his career. With an expiring contract at age 26, you could argue that Kane has the most on the line of just about any of the most realistic trade targets in the NHL.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, yet with comparable sniping skills, you have Rick Nash. Much like Pacioretty, Nash is getting his goals now after a prolonged slump. While Kane has never tasted playoff play, Nash surely would like to show that he’s more “clutch” than his critics believe.
  • Mike Green got roasted a bit in this PHT roundtable, but that’s based on real-life play. From a fantasy perspective, Green could be fascinating. That said, he plays a huge role in Detroit, and might actually see a downgrade if traded. So maybe he’s a coin flip?
  • Ryan McDonagh and Oliver Ekman-Larsson are both defensemen who will likely be affected by what happens with Karlsson, as they do too see contracts expire after 2018-19. McDonagh seems more likely to move than OEL, yet both could really thrive on better/more driven teams down the stretch.

[Dion Phaneuf: better in fantasy than reality.]

Lightning round

OK, now onto a handful of names that might not come up much/at all, but would be a lot of fun.

  • Goalies with more fuel in the tank: Sorry, Antti Niemi, but there are better options out there for goalie rentals, even with Petr Mrazek off the market. The Coyotes might want to keep Antti Raanta around, but it would be intriguing to see what he could do for, say, the Hurricanes. Raanta’s save percentage is up to .922 this season. Since 2014-15, Raanta is tied with Carey Price and Corey Crawford for the NHL’s best save percentage at .923.

Raanta would be the gem in my eyes. Still, there are some other interesting considerations. Would the Sabres trade sneaky-good Robin Lehner? Could Jaroslav Halak help someone if the Islanders decided they’ve had enough?

  • I’ve stated that the Coyotes would likely lose if they traded Max Domi. Domi’s fantasy owners and new team could enjoy modest-to-significant gains, however.
  • This is more tangential: Jeff Carter might be nearing a return. With that in mind, the Kings might actually be a more beneficial landing pad for a player than maybe they’d seem. It sounds like they’re happy to get Tobias Rieder, though.
  • As always, root for the Oilers to trade skilled players (note: they’re saying they are leaning toward tweaks this time, for what it’s worth). You may very well see that player burn them for making such a move, possibly right away.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Canadiens’ Shea Weber to undergo foot surgery, miss rest of season

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

The Montreal Canadiens won’t be participating in the playoffs, so on Thursday it was announced that Shea Weber is set to undergo surgery to repair a tear in a tendon in his left foot, ending his season.

˝Following the diagnosis of Shea Weber’s injury, it was our belief that after a comprehensive rehabilitation protocol under the guidance of our medical team, Shea would be able to return to play this season,” said the team’s orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Paul Martineau in a statement. “Unfortunately, after extensive efforts to heal Shea’s injury, progress has not been made as expected. After further exams, and a consultation on Wednesday in Green Bay, Wisconsin with specialist Dr. Robert Anderson, and with Shea’s approval, it has been determined that he should undergo surgery and will be out for the reminder of the season.

“Our medical group will work with Shea to ensure he is pursuing the best course of treatment moving forward, and we expect him to make a full recovery and be ready for the start of training camp next season. The length of his recovery will be determined following surgery, which will be performed by Dr. Anderson.”

The 32-year-old Weber has not played a game since the Dec. 16 outdoor game in Ottawa. Last week, Canadiens head coach Claude Julien said the defenseman’s foot still wasn’t comfortable in his skate and was going get it evaluated to determine a path to recovery. Surgery is now the only way back.

Weber only played 26 games this season, scoring six goals and recording 16 points. It’s the most time he’s missed since 2007-08 when he suffered a pair of leg injuries while with the Nashville Predators. The Habs’ season is long gone, so there’s no reason to put the blue liner, who still has six more seasons left on his contract, at risk.

Now when do the Chicago Blackhawks do the same with Corey Crawford?

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.