The Wild’s search for a general manager to replace Chuck Fletcher after the 2018 season was headed by owner Craig Leipold and team president Matt Majka. If that seemed flawed — not having an actual hockey person involved — that was confirmed on Tuesday when Leipold announced he had fired Paul Fenton after one season.
That is why Leipold said Tuesday that “we will change the procedure” and that recently added executive advisor Mike Modano will be part of the process to find the new general manager. “We plan to add Mike Modano to this and give us more of a hockey feedback, hockey sense,” Leipold said during a press conference to discuss Fenton’s dismissal. “I spoke to Mike today, he’s really willing to be a part of the process. The process will be Matt and I and Mike Modano.”
Modano began his Hall of Fame career with the Minnesota North Stars before becoming the best player in franchise history while playing the majority of his career in Dallas.
Leipold said that Modano has no interest in the general manager’s job and his lack of experience might be an issue for a team that just fired a first-time GM who was in over his head. Leipold confirmed he does have a list of candidates in mind, a result of the fact he realized Fenton might have been the wrong hire at the end of last season.
The Wild’s search to replace Fletcher included interviews with New Jersey Devils assistant general manager Tom Fitzgerald; Anaeim Ducks assistant GM Dave Nonis; Pittsburgh Penguins assistant GM Bill Guerin; Boston Bruins executive director of player personnel John Ferguson Jr.; and ex-agent Bill Zito.
As Michael Russo of The Athletic pointed out the available list of candidates with experience at the GM position include former Philadelphia Flyers general manager Ron Hextall; former Edmonton Oilers and Boston Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli; former San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi; and former New York Islanders GM Garth Snow. Lombardi was an assistant to former North Stars GM Jack Ferreira in the late 1980s. Ferreira had served as Fenton’s senior advisor and remains on the Wild staff, for now.
“Experience may be more of a factor than it was a year ago,” Leipold said. “In all honesty, I’m thinking I would really like to get an experienced general manager if the right fit is out there but we’re not going to rule out anybody at this point. I just think that an experienced person would be a good fit for us.”
The Wild begin training camp in September, so there is a definite urgency to hire a new GM, but Leipold he has no timeline to make a hire. “We want to get it done as soon possible,” he said. “But we aren’t going to rush this.” Fenton’s assistant GM, Tom Kurvers, will serve as the Wild’s interim general manager.
Leipold, who bought the Wild in January 2008 after selling the Nashville Predators, said there wasn’t one thing that led to him firing Fenton and the owner took responsibility that things did not work. The Wild missed the playoffs last season for the first time in seven years, despite the fact Leipold had said the roster only needed “tweaks” after firing Fletcher.
“The reason for the termination is not any one big issue, but it was over a time smaller issues just were building up and ultimately decided that this was not a good fit,” Leipold said. “Our organization and our culture were a little different than the way Paul wanted to handle things. We just felt this was the time to do it and we were going to move forward in a different direction. … I missed it, and this is on me. I don’t like the fact that it didn’t work out. Paul is a really strong, strategic scout, identifies talent, understands development, all of that, but there were parts of his role that just wasn’t working out to my satisfaction.”
While Leipold was right to take responsibility, hearing how little he actually knew about Fenton was surprising. Fenton had been an assistant GM in Nashville before taking the Wild job, and Leipold owned the team for a portion of that time.
“I knew him in a different way,” Leipold said. “He was an assistant general manager really doing scouting. That was his role. And he was tremendous at that. It was the other portion of being a general manager, the organizational part, the strategic part, the management of people, the hiring and motivating of the departments. When I talk about not being a good fit that’s what I’m referring to.”