Wild owner Craig Leipold and new General Manager Paul Fenton talked at length Tuesday about how Fenton wasn’t going to come in and completely overhaul the Wild’s roster. The word of the day was “tweak.”
There is some irony to be found there, because perhaps no front office has made more stunning and headline-grabbing trades that reshaped the landscape of its roster and the NHL the past few years more than Fenton’s former employer, the Nashville Predators.
It was Fenton, an assistant GM in Nashville, and GM David Poile who turned heads in 2016 when they traded Seth Jones, then a promising young defenseman who became an All-Star, to the Blue Jackets for Ryan Johansen, a top-line center the Predators badly needed at the time.
Then the Predators one-upped themselves, trading an elite aging defenseman in Shea Weber to the Canadiens for an elite younger defenseman in P.K. Subban.
Those two moves were hardly “tweaks,” but they did present opportunities for the Predators to upgrade their roster — and they were the kind of moves Fenton said he will seek to make as GM of the Wild.
“I like to think outside the box,” Fenton said. “I like our people who think outside the box. When you look at the moves we made there, we made hockey trades. We were able to make hockey trades and a lot of times in this new [salary] cap world that we have, you’re not able to do that. But we have a creative set of people that looked at the situation, tried to evaluate it and then make the right call.”
That they were. Both trades propelled the Predators to the Stanley Cup Finals last season and the Presidents’ Trophy (best record) this season.
“I love when people try to see you need this or you need that. It isn’t as easy as it seems,” Fenton said. “There’s a lot of manipulating, a lot of analysis and a lot of things that have to happen correctly. The Subban for Weber trade — it was a vision, it started with a thought and we went in that direction. Same with Jones for Ryan Johansen.”
Creative thinking — and willingness to pull the trigger on big trades — could be needed to get the Wild out of its current malaise. That’s what Nashville was before those trades — a decent team that made the playoffs but didn’t threaten for a Cup. The only players on the Wild who have full no movement clauses are winger Zach Parise, defenseman Ryan Suter and center Mikko Koivu. Fenton’s arrival means that everyone else on the roster is fair game.
Fenton said analytics will play a role in every move he makes. There was certainly analytical research done before the Subban and Johansen moves. Johansen has posted possession numbers the last two seasons that were better than his days with the Blue Jackets, while Subban is now a finalist for the Norris Trophy.
“I don’t believe that any decisions are going to primarily be made by analytics, but it will support everything we do with our eyes,” Fenton said. “That’s the most important thing. I will use every resource that we have.”
That includes using every player he can as potential trade bait.