In a wonderful development for the Wild, Ryan Suter on Tuesday let owner Craig Leipold introduce the new general manager.
Maybe Suter’s crutches kept him from climbing the podium. Maybe he just felt he had contributed enough to the search.
The above is a blatant cheap shot based on Suter’s close relationship with Leipold, new General Manager Paul Fenton’s former relationship with Suter, and Suter’s knack for getting what he wants.
Truly, Suter didn’t hire Fenton. We don’t think. At least, we can’t prove it. Yet.
Yes, that was another cheap shot, but the fact that you could find a few hundred thousand Wild fans who would believe it makes Fenton’s hiring more fascinating than it would otherwise be.
Fenton is highly qualified. His résumé is as strong as a candidate’s can be without having already won big as a general manager. He was a key part of a strong front office in Nashville that made a small-market team a winner while moving aggressively on the trade market.
Fenton might prove to be ideal for the Wild’s situation. He’s going to have to be creative and probably ruthless in remaking the roster of a team that hasn’t advanced to the conference finals since Pascal Dupuis was a pup.
The only way Fenton could have been more credible as a candidate would have been if nobody liked him.
Leipold admitted that Fenton started as his top candidate, and remained No. 1 no matter how many others Leipold and COO Matt Majka vetted.
Fenton’s status throughout the search can be justified, but there is one aspect of his hiring worth pondering:
Leipold said after firing Chuck Fletcher that he wanted to bring “fresh eyes” into the organization.
Fenton’s eyes might be fresh, but his relationships are familiar. He might have little choice but to wear the preloaded VR goggles Leipold just strapped to his head.
“It really was the two of us,” Leipold said of he and Majka making the hiring decision. “Yeah, I’d say that the reason I had Matt in there was to keep me honest on everything. Going into this, I would say Paul was No. 1 on my list and as we gathered our list and the list kept growing and we kept interviewing people, he just stayed No. 1.”
Leipold didn’t seek contrarian viewpoints. He worked with a trusted lieutenant and hired the candidate he knew best.
“He probably felt some comfort with me,” Fenton said.
Leipold, who employed Fenton when he owned the Predators, wanted to hear that he had a good team capable of winning a championship in the near future. Sometimes, we hear what we want to hear. Sometimes, if you’re in a position of power, you hire people who will tell us what we want to hear.
Regardless of motive, Fenton faces a difficult task — propelling a team with fading, expensive veterans and not-as-good-as-they-were-supposed-to-be youngsters to a title.
That’s the bar Leipold set. He expects Fenton to win a Stanley Cup for the Wild. Which would sound crazy if the Vegas Golden Tickets weren’t busy proving that sports are inscrutable and team building doesn’t have to conform to logic.
Vegas is winning with players other teams didn’t want, is winning with coaching, grit, effort, teamwork, goaltending and hunger. Vegas is rendering the Wild’s excuses moot.
“There is no formula,” Fenton said, offering the smartest philosophy any general manager can conjure.
Fenton might not have been hired for exactly the right reason. He might not have an ideal roster with which to work. His owner’s expectations might be unrealistic.
But for all of the angst about the Wild’s roster problems, if Fenton makes good decisions, this team might have a chance. If Chuck Fletcher hadn’t traded for Martin Hanzal and Ryan White two Februaries ago, the Wild might not have choked in the playoffs.
Insightful roster decisions can improve a team in a moment and for years. In hockey’s new landscape, Fenton will have to bring Nashville knowledge and Vegas voodoo into play in The State of So-So Hockey.