The Wild’s general manager post has been vacant for nearly three weeks, but the search for Chuck Fletcher’s successor has progressed to the point where the team is vetting finalists, a source said.
That next wave of talks would appear to include assistant GMs Paul Fenton (Predators) and Tom Fitzgerald (Devils). Both have interviewed for the position, a source said, along with Blue Jackets assistant GM Bill Zito.
It’s likely a hire is made before the end of the month.
Fenton recently concluded his 20th season, and 12th as assistant GM, with Nashville, which was eliminated in the second round of the playoffs Thursday by Winnipeg. In that time, the 58-year-old former player has been involved in the team’s draft strategy, trade decisions and free-agent maneuvering while also overseeing amateur player development and managing the pro and amateur scouting staffs.
He’s also a familiar face to Wild owner Craig Leipold; not only did Fenton interview for the Wild GM job in 2009, but he was with Nashville when Leipold owned the team from 1998 to 2007.
Fitzgerald has also crossed paths with Leipold before; he captained the Predators during their first four seasons in the league.
A first-round draft pick in 1986, Fitzgerald went on to play 1,097 games in the NHL before retiring in 2006. After working with the Penguins in player development, as an assistant coach and in the team’s front office, a tenure that included Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup win in 2009, Fitzgerald became an assistant GM with the Devils in 2015. The 49-year-old has also been GM of New Jersey’s American Hockey League affiliate for the past three seasons.
As for Zito, he has been assistant GM of the Blue Jackets since 2013. In that role, he’s been immersed in contract negotiations, scouting and player evaluation and managing the salary cap and budget. He, too, doubles as GM for the organization’s AHL affiliate. The 53-year-old has been praised for his scouting ability; he previously founded hockey agency Acme World Sports.
Leipold and team President Matt Majka have been interviewing candidates after the team announced April 23 it wouldn’t renew Fletcher’s contract, a decision that came on the heels of the Wild being knocked out of the playoffs in five games for a second straight year.
After the Maple Leafs promoted Kyle Dubas on Friday, the Wild was the only team in the NHL without a GM.