In Hindsight, Were Paul Fenton’s Moves as Wild GM Really That Bad?

In the 69 games the Minnesota Wild did play in 2019-2020, they had a 35-27-7 record and would miss the playoffs by a single point in the Western Conference should the NHL decide to resume the season without playing the remainder of the regular season. One of the main reasons for the Wild’s surge was Paul Fenton acquisition, Kevin Fiala. Fiala was having a career year in 2019-2020, with 23 goals and 31 assists through 64 games this season, including 15 points in his last 10 games before the NHL season was paused. Fiala’s rise got us thinking about the other moves Paul Fenton made in his one year, two month, eight-day stint as Wild GM, and we decided to review them in this article.


Before we start, we’d like to say we are aware of the way Fenton conducted himself with his employees and how people in the organization felt under his leadership. We do not condone any of that, and the purpose of this article is to analyze the signings, trades, and draft picks he made during his tenure. That being said, his notable contracts signed during his time in Minnesota include Matt Dumba $30m/5yrs, Mats Zuccarello $30m/5yrs, Jason Zucker $27.5m/5yrs, Eric Staal $6.5m/2yrs, Ryan Hartman $3.8m/2yrs, and Ryan Donato $3.8m/2yrs. Of these six players, four of them have positive Career-AB scores (Zucker +2.43, Hartman +1.93, Donato +1.78, Zuccarello +1.51), while Dumba and Staal both have slightly negative career scores (Dumba -0.41 (7yr span), Staal -0.14 (13yr span)). Excluding Jason Zucker because of his trade to Pittsburgh, the five remaining Fenton signings combined scored 63 goals, 88 assists, and 151 points in 2019-2020, and combined contributed +0.04 AB to the Wild as a unit. Overall, none of these signings appear to be horrible in hindsight and weren’t even labeled as such the time of signing either.


Now we get to the trades. We decided to look at the three most important trades Fenton made in his tenure starting with the Kevin Fiala for Mikael Granlund trade. At the time of the trade, Mikael Granlund had a $5.75 cap hit which Fenton was able to move without retaining any of it to Nashville for Kevin Fiala. Fenton played a role in the Predators drafting Fiala 11th overall in the 2014 NHL draft, as he was David Poile’s assistant GM in Nashville from 2006-2018 and was Nashville’s Director of Player Personnel from 1998-2006. Since the trade Fiala has scored eight more goals, registered eighteen more assists, and has twenty-six more points in four more games played than Granlund while making around $5 million less. In terms of AB, Fiala’s AB score in 2019-2020 was -0.07, while Granlund’s was -1.33. We see this trade as a win for Fenton for those reasons.


The Charlie Coyle for Ryan Donato and a 4th round pick trade was also an interesting one for Fenton. Even though Charlie Coyle has been a great AB player for a long time (+3.49 career score), Donato registered one of the highest AB scores on the Wild this season with a +3.44 score, 1.49 points worse than Coyle’s +4.93 score in Boston this year. Point production has been similar since the trade, as each player has scored 18 goals, with Coyle registering four more assists in seven more games played. It is also worth noting that Fenton cleared $3.2 million in this deal as well. Boston extended Coyle for six years at $5.25 million per year on November 27th,2019.


The last trade we are looking at is the Nino Niederreiter for Victor Rask trade. The point production since the trade is not close, with the advantage going to Niederreiter. In Carolina, Nino Niederreiter has scored 18 more goals, registered 25 more assists, and has played in 37 more games than Rask has since the trade. However, in terms of AB, Victor Rask’s AB score in Minnesota was a +3.92 compared to Niederreiter’s -1.71 score in Carolina. Niederreiter has the edge Career-AB wise with a +0.64 score to Rask’s -0.08. Fenton also cleared $1.25 million in cap space in this trade as well. In the three trades Fenton made, he was able to clear $9.45 million in salary without having to retain picks or move draft picks in the process or take any really significant AB loss.


In his one NHL draft, he selected Matthew Boldy 12th overall. At Boston College this season, Boldy scored nine goals and registered seventeen assists for twenty-six points in thirty-four games. In his draft year with the U.S. National U18 team, Boldy scored seventeen goals and registered twenty-six assists for forty-three points in twenty-eight games. TSN’s Craig Button had Boldy ranked as the 5th best player in his draft class, while TSN’s Bob McKenzie had him at 11th. He is considered to be the Wild’s 2nd best prospect after Russian Krill Kaprizov, who should be in the NHL in 2020-2021.


To conclude, after looking at the contracts Paul Fenton gave out, one could argue that there really isn’t a terrible deal amongst the group that will hurt the Wild’s cap situation for years to come. One could argue he won at least 2/3 trades he made (maybe even all 3), and there is no doubt that Matthew Boldy will be a contributor at some point down the road for the Wild. Looking back, these moves appear to have resulted in a solid framework for new Wild GM Bill Guerin to work with, and that Fenton’s fingerprints will remain all over this team for the foreseeable future, despite his brief tenure.


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