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Wild General Manager Paul Fenton doing well by avoiding big mistakes

November 14, 2018

Sometimes sports are at their best when they make no sense.

Last spring, Wild owner Craig Leipold fired General Manager Chuck Fletcher because the franchise had fallen into a predictable if relatively productive funk.

Fletchers roster had stagnated after he staked his reputation on the progression of young players whose growth proved erratic. Leipold replaced him with Paul Fenton, who helped build Nashville into a powerhouse by aggressively pursuing trades.

A franchise stuck in second gear. A good-not-great roster. A new general manager intent on making changes.

So what happens?

The general manager sits on his hands and 18 games into his first season the team sits near the top of the standings.

Fenton could have traded any one of his best young players this summer, and apparently came close to dealing Nino Niederreiter, then decided it might behoove him to watch them play.

As he watched, the Wild produced more points in the first 17 games of a season than ever before in franchise history, and Mikael Granlund at least temporarily became the scorer he was always expected to be, and the roster won with depth rather than because Fenton decided to act like the new sheriff in town.

Give Bruce Boudreau depth, and he can do damage. Hes rolling four quality lines that might not have existed had Fenton made a splashy deal in July.

Tuesday, the Washington Capitals made the Wild look sleepy if not in REM cycle, winning 5-2 and benefiting from recidivist Tom Wilson crashing into Devan Dubnyk after chipping in a goal.

Teams returning from long road trips often look somnambulant in their first game back home. There are errands to run, loved ones to catch up with, and perhaps a false sense of comfort.

Its not alarming, Boudreau said. But it is disappointing.

One loss doesnt obscure this teams temporary accomplishment: The Wild is far better than most of its fans expected.

One reason for its success has nothing to do with management philosophy or depth. Zach Parise leads the Wild in goals and plus-minus rating. The franchise forward is healthy and playing the two-way game that made him all that money.

Fenton is bound to make a deal at some point in the next year and, if he is to improve on Fletcher, he will have to prove he can make a deadline deal that doesnt damage both future drafts and current chemistry.

Right now, Fenton has done so little hes an early favorite for Executive of the Year. His Nike T-shirt reads: Just Dont Do It.

John Wooden used to say: Dont mistake activity for achievement. The Wild is winning because Fenton practiced patience.

Imagine the Minnesota sports scene if that had happened more often.

Imagine the 2000s Twins had they not released David Ortiz (assuming he would have become a star had he stayed.)

Imagine the Timberwolves had they kept Kevin Garnett. They may not have won titles, but they wouldnt have become laughingstocks.

Imagine the Capitals had they given up on Alex Ovechkin. He looked like the next superstar to go his whole career without winning a title until he won a title.

Ovechkin and his teammates showed up everywhere but your backyard, drinking beer out of the Cup, turning The District into a remake of Jersey Shore.

Imagine the Timberwolves if they hadnt traded for Jimmy Butler.

This is the most pertinent parallel. The Wild and Wolves both changed general managers looking to produce a playoff run. The Wolves gave personnel authority to coach Tom Thibodeau, who traded great young talent for Butler, then watched him ruin his plans.

We dont know much about Fentons ability as a GM yet. All we know is that he has avoided the big mistake.

Thats a pretty good start, for a Minnesota general manager. Just dont do it. Or: First, do no harm.

Jim Souhans podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. jsouhan@startribune.com

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