Craig Leipold knew Paul Fenton, yet hired him.
Craig Leipold knows this Wild roster, yet likes it.
Craig Leipold knows how his last big hire went, yet will lead the effort to find Fenton’s replacement, prompting an important hockey question:
Can owners be drug-tested?
Whatever Leipold’s preference for mood-altering substances, he doesn’t seem to lean toward those that are performance-enhancing.
The problem with him firing Fenton as the team’s general “manager” on Tuesday is that Leipold’s fig leaf is gone. Now Leipold’s decision making, not Fenton’s, becomes the Wild’s biggest problem.
When Leipold owned the Nashville Predators, Fenton worked for him. After a little more than a year as his hand-picked general manager, Leipold fired Fenton, meaning Fenton will go down as one of the shortest-tenured personnel bosses in Minnesota history.
David Kahn, the Minnesota punchline, lasted four years. Tim Brewster, almost as funny, lasted 3½ seasons.
Tom Thibodeau alienated everyone in the Wolves organization and lasted three years. Bill Smith steered the Twins into a ditch and lasted four seasons.
To find a recent example of a personnel boss who didn’t have time to update his LinkedIn page before getting fired, you’d have to look to Fran Foley.
Remember Foley? Didn’t think so. Early in the Wilfs’ tenure as team owners, they hired Foley from the Chargers to become their personnel director, setting up the infamous “Triangle of Authority” with new coach Brad Childress and Vice President Rob Brzezinski.
Foley embellished his résumé — for good reason — and was fired after one draft and three months. After taking New Mexico center Ryan Cook in the second round, Foley bragged about his knowledge of “New Mexico football.”
Fenton displayed no such geographical strength, and only slightly more staying power. He proved to be a paranoid amateur, unable to follow even his own lead.
It’s hard to get fired after one year as a general manager, because getting the job requires laying out a coherent plan for the next three or five years, and owners love to buy into that kind of — what do they like to call it? — “vision.”
Getting fired after one year means you weren’t just bad at your job. It means you alienated lots of important people around you.
At a brief news conference Tuesday afternoon at the Wild headquarters, Leipold showed up in jeans and a sport coat, with no tie, and took full blame. He handled himself well, as usual. He comes across as honest and accountable, and he could receive credit for rectifying his mistake so quickly.
Go ahead, give The Everyman Owner his due. I’d rather take a hard look at the state of his franchise, which is almost as bad as Fenton’s new reputation.
Leipold brought in a trusted ally to rebuild on the fly, and together the old friends turned a frustrated contender into a lousy team with an uncertain future.
Even if Ryan Donato and Kevin Fiala become high-quality players, that won’t mean that Fenton made the best deals possible.
Worse than the actual deals — which included Nino Niederreiter for the impossibly invisible Victor Rask — was the lack of intelligence behind them.
Fenton made what he called “hockey trades,” meaning simple player-for-player transactions, when he should have been trying to win the deals. When he had a chance to move veteran center Eric Staal for value at the trading deadline, he signed the 34-year-old to a two-year extension, meaning that the 2019-20 Wild will be simultaneously too young and too old.
Remember Filip Johansson? Didn’t think so. Fenton spent a first-round draft pick on him, which we can hope was simply a case of mistaken identity.
Fenton may have been able to survive even those mistakes had he looked interested in learning on the job, or treating people well. He couldn’t even fake those leadership indicators.
Blame Fenton for a rare blend of incompetence and arrogance, but only after you blame the guy who knew him, and hired him anyway. May the next general manager’s name be drawn out of a large hat.