Paul Fenton deserves (some) credit for historic Wild season

Paul Fentonthe mandate of lasted only 14 months and was a disaster by many accounts. The Minnesota Wild fired him after failing to build relationships and grasp the essential facets of the job, leaving the organization reeling. Subsequently, owner Craig Leipold publicly admitted his mistake. Whether it was Fenton’s constant battle with leaks or analytics issues, it was clear the organization needed to make changes before damage derailed the future.

Almost three years later, the Minnesota Wild will enter the playoffs as a legitimate Stanley Cup threat next week. It’s the byproduct of a record-breaking season that surpassed several team and individual milestones. Bill Guerin continues to make the right choices and establish a culture that will ensure the Wild’s continued success. Guerin and Fenton are polar opposites, proving Fenton was unfit for the job.

The Wild’s success this season starts with the superstar Kirill Kaprizov, who became the first player in franchise history to reach 100 points. While the 25-year-old winger has completely transformed the trajectory of the franchise, there have been other impact players behind Minnesota’s success. Kevin Fiala, Mats Zuccarelloand ryan hartmann have career years this season. All three happen to be players acquired by Fenton.

Even though Fenton has made some bad decisions that GMs can’t afford to make — regardless of the learning curve that comes with the job — it’s clear the Wild wouldn’t be where they are this season without some of his risky moves.

Fenton made numerous one-on-one trades, a shortcoming that became apparent right away. They allowed the Wild to get a smaller package than they should have. Fenton’s abrupt and misguided decisions, such as trading Nino Niederreiter for Victor Rask, was a costly mistake. Worse still, none of the Minnesota scouts traveled to Carolina to assess Rask before the trade, according to the report from Athleticism.

Then there is the Charlie Coyle trade that brought back Ryan Donat. Looking back, it’s hard to blame Fenton for that trade because Coyle has been underwhelming in parts of his last two seasons at Minnesota. Fenton certainly didn’t max out Coyle’s value, but he could have done worse than getting Donato, a versatile young striker, in return.

While Fenton had his weaknesses, he had an eye for identifying talent. Fenton desperately wanted to find Fiala, whom he dubbed a “game breaker”. But he sent shockwaves through the hockey world when he traded Mikael Granlund to the Nashville Predators directly for the promising winger. Fiala has 79 and 186 points in 214 games since the trade. Granlund has 41 goals and 124 points in 209 games with the Preds.

Additionally, Fiala’s 2.68 points per 60 at 5-5 is the 17th-best rate since 2019-20. While Fiala’s future in Minnesota is uncertain beyond this season. However, the trade undoubtedly worked in the Wild’s favor despite the return being perceived as disappointing at the time.

Fenton also added significant plays through free agency when he signed Zuccarello and Hartman. Zuccarello’s signing isn’t just starting to look good; it’s a great contract that he is releasing this season. With two years left on the contract, it’s hard to believe the Wild will have their worst days. This season, the 34-year-old winger has a career-high 79 points with a mix of shooting prowess and stellar play.

Much like Zuccarello, Hartman isn’t just one year old; he’s a legitimate option as the Wild’s No. 1 center over the next three cap-strapped years. He has career highs for goals (34), assists (30) and points (64). The Kaprizov-Hartman-Zuccarello line was one of the best lines in hockey, with a 65% true goal share. The trio made the Wild a much deeper team.

do not forget Matt Boldy, Is. Fenton drafted him Cole Caufield, a more popular prospect at the time. Boldy, 21, has been all the Wild have needed since he was called up. Not only does he have a terrific rookie campaign, scoring 39 points in 46 games, but he fits right into the top six as a scoring threat. His arrival added another element to the lineup, and he also completed Fiala.

Fenton had two strong Minnesota drafts overall and added some good talent to the pipeline in addition to Boldy. Adam Beckman and Connor Dewar are the most notable players in his two drafts, and Wild fans got a glimpse of them this season.

Although Fenton was not vindicated for his disruptive tenure with the organization, he deserves some credit during the Wild’s record year. His execution was far from perfect. However, his ability to identify talent was revealed after his stay in Minnesota. Without several of his key additions, the Wild might not be where they are today.

All data via Evolution-Hockey, Natural Stat Tip, MoneyPuck and Hockey-Reference