Paul Fenton

Wild aren’t firing Boudreau, and they aren’t rebuilding

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The Minnesota Wild’s Tuesday press conference was notable for a number of things, but chiefly, one thing the Wild is doing (keeping Bruce Boudreau), and one thing they’ve decided against (not doing a rebuild).

Wild GM Paul Fenton made it clear that he’s not firing Boudreau — you know, at least through the 2019-20 season, which not so coincidentally represents the last year of Boudreau’s current contract. Tellingly, he didn’t really explore the question of a contract extension.

“Bruce is my coach next year. I have total confidence in him,” Fenton said. “If you look at his track record, it’s amazing … he’s going to be the guy that’s going to lead us back to where we want to go.”

If you’re the type to read too much into body language, you might enjoy watching the full press conference, which kicks in around the seven-minute mark of the video above. Considering the rumblings about Boudreau being Wild owner Craig Leipold’s “guy,” and Leipold not wanting to pay Boudreau to not coach the Wild next season, you may enjoy trying to read if Fenton’s truly happy about this path, or kind of stuck. Also, if you’re like me, you’ll giggle at the upside down Wild lapel pin.

Also of note in what could be a dysfunctional relationship:

(There were some chances to the staff, however, including the departure of Andrew Brunette.)

The presser was also notable because Fenton provided this update: the Wild are deciding to “do this on the fly, without having a rebuild.”

Fenton emphasized a few things in that regard.

  • Getting younger. In a somewhat amusing moment, Fenton noted that the Wild entered the 2018-19 season as the oldest team in the NHL, and now are somewhere around “25th.” That’s really not a bad improvement, but it still seems like a modest-enough gain to also be pretty funny.
  • People have criticized plenty of the Wild’s moves, which include transitioning from Nino Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund, and Charlie Coyle to Victor Rask, Kevin Fiala, and Ryan Donato in trades. Fenton defended his moves, stating that he believes the Wild would be in this position, even if the trades weren’t made.
  • Fenton emphasized injuries as a factor, bringing up Matt Dumba multiple times, along with players like Mikko Koivu.
  • He also noted that the Wild should have a lot of cap space entering the off-season, and that’s indeed an interesting point. Via Cap Friendly, the Wild have a bit less than $62.5 million devoted to 14 players, and not a ton of must-pay free agents, beyond someone who might not be too expensive in Fiala. With the cap ceiling projected at $83M, Minnesota could indeed make some splashes, though Fenton himself warned against spending just to spend.

Is this really the right path?

An optimist can find a lot to like here.

Boudreau is, by just about any fair measure, a fantastic coach. While his playoff lows have been stated – and often overblown – Boudreau’s been a success basically everywhere he’s been. From the high-flying Capitals to the grind-it-out Wild, he’s been a versatile coach, rather than a one-trick pony. Boudreau isn’t far behind Jon Cooper (.644) and Scotty Bowman (.657) when it comes to his .641 points percentage as a coach.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

If you’re goal is to win as much as possible, in the short term, then Boudreau’s your guy. I’d argue that he got every ounce of usefulness out of Minnesota’s limited roster this season.

But maybe that’s the point: there might not be much jelly left in this donut. There can be a curse disguised as a blessing by having a really good coach: Boudreau might just delay the inevitable rebuild, or even maximize results to the point that the team might be misled into believing that a rebuild isn’t necessary.

It’s not that this Wild roster is outright putrid. The truth is likely more confusing for someone trying to run the team: the overall talents ranks somewhere in between good and bad. With that, you risk getting stuck in purgatory.

Dangerous half measures?

The Wild are going with a plan to “rebuild on the fly,” basically hoping to eat their cake and have it too. They want to get younger and compete, which requires quite a juggling act from their GM. Can you plan for the future and the present, without spreading yourself too thin and hurting yourself in both regards?

This “a little from Column A, a little from Column B” plan seems like it can work out if the goal is to be respectable, or a hockey answer to Minnesota Nice. But if the goal is to aim higher than making or barely missing the playoffs each season, to actually win division titles and Stanley Cups, then the Wild might be wiser to hit the reset button, at least as much as they can.

(To be fair to Fenton, former GM Chuck Fletcher left behind issues, such as the contracts of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, that Fenton is almost certainly stuck with — whether he wants them or not.)

***

Ultimately, Fenton seems like he might be poised to echo the team he’s running: having to grind things out, with the risk of minimal gains. In the case of the 2018-19 season, it sure felt like the Wild were simply a team with a low ceiling, and not a high-enough floor.

The question is: can Fenton succeed where his team failed? For better or worse, that seems like the Wild’s plan.

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.

Fenton ramps up roster revamp as Wild still chase playoffs

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The patience Minnesota Wild general manager Paul Fenton exercised last summer during his first offseason in charge has yielded to a more aggressive approach.

Fenton’s conclusion about the roster he inherited has become clear: The Wild needed to change their core of forwards before making some long-awaited advances down the Stanley Cup championship contending track.

Over the last six weeks, Fenton has dealt Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund leading up to the NHL trade deadline that passed Monday and served notice that the reshaping process will likely resume once the season is over.
Reaching the playoffs six straight times to match Anaheim for the longest active streak in the Western Conference has only produced two series wins, and Coyle and Granlund were on all six of those teams. Niederreiter was on all but one.

“That’s what I was brought here for, to make some changes,” Fenton said, later adding: “It has nothing to do with cap space or anything. It has to do with the talent level and where we are.”

Niederreiter, Coyle and Granlund, all of whom were drafted in the first round in 2010, were each shipped off at age 26, just entering their prime years, but they each fetched a forward in his early 20s. By average age at the start of the season, no team in the league was older than the Wild.

“We were trying to get younger, faster and more skilled,” Fenton said, “and the last couple of acquisitions have done that.”

Here’s the twist: The Wild are still in control of a postseason spot. They’re tied with Colorado for eighth place with 19 games remaining for each team, taking a three-game winning streak to Winnipeg for a matchup Tuesday with the Central Division leader.

“I think that this team has the potential to make the playoffs,” Fenton said, “and if you make the playoffs, you never know.”

Niederreiter was sent to Carolina on Jan. 17 for Victor Rask (age 25), who had only one goal and one assist in 10 games after the trade until suffering a lower-body injury that has kept him out of the last six games. Niederreiter, meanwhile, has nine goals and six assists in 16 games for the Hurricanes.

But on Wednesday, Coyle was swapped for Boston’s Ryan Donato (age 22), who has one goal and three assists in three games. Fenton said he noticed a “different energy” since that deal. Granlund went to Nashville for Kevin Fiala (age 22). The trades, plus the season-ending knee injury to captain Mikko Koivu , have elevated the roles of youngsters Joel Eriksson Ek, Jordan Greenway and Luke Kunin.

Predators coach Peter Laviolette moved Fiala, who has 32 points in 64 games, up one line the past two games to play with Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen. Fiala had two overtime goals in the playoffs before turning 21 and scored five times in his first 18 playoff games, but he broke his leg in a second-round game against St. Louis in 2017 when Nashville reached the Stanley Cup finals. Fiala followed up with a career-best season in 2017-18 with 23 goals, 48 points, 13 power-play points and 80 games, but the 11th overall pick in the 2014 draft is a dismal minus-11 this season with only 10 goals.

Fenton drafted him as the assistant general manager for the Predators, however, and remained sold on his potential to provide the unique skill and speed on the rush that the Wild have been lacking.

“He’s got an electric stick. His vision is unique,” Fenton told reporters Monday at team headquarters. “He’s got this ability to find people in really close quarters.”

Fenton, who also reached a deal with center Eric Staal on a two-year extension after deciding not to trade him and his expiring contract, apologized for the timing of the Granlund deal. His fiancée went into labor Monday, expecting their first child. Granlund also had his 27th birthday Tuesday.

“We wish them nothing but the best, especially, hopefully, with a happy, healthy baby,” Fenton said.

Granlund, who was second on the Wild with 49 points, but like Niederreiter and Coyle never quite fulfilled the potential he came with, spoke optimistically after the Wild’s overtime win over St. Louis on Sunday about keeping the team intact.

“It’s a whole new feeling in the locker room. It’s much more fun,” he said. “We’ll just try to keep it up.”

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More AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Report: Bruins have reached out to Jeff Gorton for GM role

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According to the Boston Herald, the Bruins have contacted the New York Rangers for permission to speak with Jeff Gorton regarding the club’s vacant GM position.

Gorton was the Bruins’ assistant GM when the club drafted Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand.

He served as the Bruins’ interim GM for three months in 2006 signing free agents Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard. Gorton was also responsible for the Bruins’ acquisition of goaltender Tuukka Rask from the Toronto Maple Leafs for Andrew Raycroft prior to being replaced by Peter Chiarelli.

On Saturday Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that the Bruins would interview Ray Shero and Paul Fenton over the next week.

Shero was the GM of the Pittsburgh Penguins from 2006-14. Fenton is currently the assistant GM of the Nashville Predators.

Related: (Report) Toronto approached Chiarelli before he took Oilers job

HOF columnist says Botterill tops Pens GM candidate list

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The Pittsburgh Penguins search for a new general manager continues on and while the list of candidates is pretty well known at this point, but figuring out who has the edge for the job is tricky.

There’s not a lot of talk coming out of Pittsburgh about the direction things are headed as Penguins brass including Mario Lemieux, Joe Burkel, and David Morehouse are keeping mum.

All that means is there’s plenty of speculation to go around. Hall of Fame writer Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has about as much credibility as anyone regarding the team and he ranked the top five candidates for the position.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Penguins assistant GM Jason Botterill was his top choice.

“Sometimes, the best answer is the most obvious one, and that might well be the case here. Botterill was Shero’s assistant and has handled every conceivable duty, from negotiating contracts to evaluating free agents, during five seasons in that role. He is regarded as one of the top young front-office talents in the league, and it’s a given that he will be a general manager sometime soon. There appears to be no good reason that it shouldn’t happen now. Here.”

As for the rest of his top five, Lightning assistant GM Julien BriseBois came in second, Predators assistant GM Paul Fenton was third, NBC Sports’ Pierre McGuire fourth, and fellow Pens assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald fifth.

The common thread with that group is none of them have been in the top GM position before. All five are or have been assistant GMs. Pittsburgh looking for some new blood at the executive ranks may seem like a curious move, but a fresh set of eyes can do a lot of good.

Have the Capitals already zeroed in on their next GM?

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The Washington Capitals reportedly are close to locking down former Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz as their new bench boss, but the team still doesn’t have a new general manager.

As these types of situations go, hiring a new coach before a new GM is in place would be a rare move, but as Elliotte Friedman of CBC points out, the Capitals and owner Ted Leonsis have their field narrowed down and may have their man right under their nose.

The Capitals have talked to or interviewed around 10 people for the position including former GMs Craig Button, Jay Feaster, and Darcy Regier as well as Preds assistant GM Paul Fenton and Bruins assistant GM Don Sweeney.

The most curious one is Capitals assistant GM Brian MacLellan and he’s the guy Friedman hints could be the top choice.

“According to several sources, the current assistant GM was involved in the Trotz interviews and helped show him around the U.S. capital. It is unlikely someone on the way out would be so heavily involved. When this process started, his hiring would be a surprise. Not anymore.”

Promoting MacLellan, who was former GM George McPhee’s assistant, would be a curious move. After 17 years with the Caps, McPhee was fired along with coach Adam Oates on April 26. One advantage MacLellan has going for him right away, as Chuck Gormley of CSNWashington.com points out, is he has history with Trotz.

After names like Ray Shero and Mike Gillis have also popped up in the discussion, keeping the hiring in-house like this would raise some questions as to what kind of change will come about  in trying to make the Caps a Stanley Cup contender. With a big hiring like this, the Caps can’t afford a misstep.