Paul Fenton has waited 25 years for this opportunity.
The first five years of his post-playing career were spent serving as a scout with the Anaheim Ducks. Fenton then spent 20 seasons with the Nashville Predators, including the past 12 as assistant general manager.
Maybe that’s why it took longer than expected for Wild owner Craig Leipold to hire the man he once employed when he owned the Predators. Fenton has seen what it takes to build a successful franchise and it’s very possible he told Leipold that his team needs far more than a tweak to become a legitimate contender each spring. Fenton is 58 years old and could be getting his one shot to do this his way.
That means Fenton is likely to make some significant moves this offseason and that Leipold and the Wild fan base are going to need to exercise patience. What will be interesting to see is how much patience Bruce Boudreau is going to have while working for a guy who did not hire him and how much patience Fenton, in turn, will have with Boudreau.
Boudreau did not sign a four-year contract for just under $3 million annually in May 2016 so he could participate in any sort of rebuilding or retooling process. Boudreau was hired by former GM Chuck Fletcher because he was expected to get out of this roster what Mike Yeo and his successor, interim coach John Torchetti, could not.
Boudreau was going to be the guy to lead the Wild to the playoffs — minus the midseason meltdowns that became a regular occurrence under Yeo — and then deep into the springtime. In his first two seasons, Boudreau has done an excellent job in the regular season. The Wild had a franchise-record 106 points in 2016-17 and then 101 points this past season, marking only the third and fourth times since the Wild began play in 2000-01 that they reached or exceeded that mark.
The problem, and what led to Fletcher’s ouster, was that the Wild’s lack of postseason success has continued. Last season, it was a first-round ouster in five games against Yeo and the Blues. This season the Wild were eliminated in five games by Winnipeg.
Boudreau’s job isn’t in immediate jeopardy and it shouldn’t be, but it could create an awkward situation with Fenton likely having one vision for where things should be headed and his coach having a different one. Boudreau is 63 years old and is used to pursuing division titles (eight in 11 NHL seasons).
How is Boudreau going to react if his new boss decides to make moves aimed at achieving future success? What type of patience is Fenton going to have considering his years around the NHL probably means he has his own list of potential coaching candidates? Does Boudreau’s style of play fits what Fenton wants from his team?
Fenton will be introduced as the third general manger in the Wild’s history at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday and you can count on him saying all the right things about this job and the coach he’s inheriting. Boudreau is about as candid as they come, but the expectation is he also will hit all the right notes and talk about his excitement about working for Fenton.
It’s likely both men will do their best to make this work, but the reality is that Boudreau was hired to put Fletcher’s team over the top. Fenton is likely to have a different vision for this organization, and if that eventually includes a new coach it will be difficult for anyone (including Boudreau) to blame him.