Well that was unexpected. Wild owner Craig Leipold severed ties with general manager Paul Fenton on Tuesday, July 30, after just 14 months on the job.
With the bulk of free agency and the NHL Draft already done with, it seems like a very odd time for ownership to let go of its general manager.
At a press conference Tuesday, Leipold provided a multitude of reasons why he decided to drop a hammer on Fenton, but the key word seemed to be "culture."
"The reason for the termination is not any one big issue," said Leipold, "But it was over time smaller issues just were building up and ultimately decided this was not a good fit. Our organization and our culture were a little different than the way Paul wanted to handle things and we just felt this was the time to do it and we were going to move forward in a different direction.”
When asked if there was a final straw that promoted the unexpected move, Leipold reiterated that it was time to move on.
"There was no final straw. There really wasn’t. This was something that I’ve been thinking about and began to pull the onion back a little bit within our organization and hockey operations. There was absolutely no main or big issue. It was just a lot of smaller issues and we just felt it was time to move."
However, the timing of this move comes just two days after Michael Russo of The Athletic reported (paywall) that Zach Parise was concerned about the state of organization and that sources told the outlet that Fenton was inquiring about trading the Minnesota native.
So it's definitely interesting that all of the sudden, said general manger is out of a job. Regardless, Leipold said that he still views the Wild as a playoff team, despite Minnesota missing the playoffs last season for the first time in seven years.
Here's what Fenton had to say about where he thinks the team is headed:
“We’re kind of an area of not knowing where we’re going to go. I really sense that we need to get recharged and we need to get refocused on who we are as a team and don’t let the outside elements distract us. I’m excited about our team. I like our defense, I like our goaltending. I like our offense. We should be a playoff team. I look at it, and I believe we are a playoff team. We got to get everyone believing that in the same direction."
The Wild's owner also said Fenton's trading of core players Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund didn't have to do with the firing and that he's excited to watch the players Fenton got in return – Victor Rask, Ryan Donato and Kevin Fiala – develop in years to come.
Earlier this month, Minnesota made a splash in free agency and signed Mats Zuccarello to a five-year, $30 million contract in hopes of bolstering an offense that finished 27th in goals per game last season.
So who's the next GM?
Leipold said a search committee has already formed to find the franchise's next general manager, and the committee includes himself, team president Matt Majka and Mike Modano.
Modano, the former Minnesota North Star and highest-scoring United States-born player of all time, was hired by the Wild as an executive advisor in May.
When asked if Modano has interest in the job, Leipold insisted that he does not and that the next person to fill Fenton's shoes will need have experience as a GM, which Modano does not.
"Yes, experience will be more of a factor than it was a year ago. And in all honestly, I would really like to get an experienced GM if the right fit is out there," said Leipold. "But we’re not going to rule out anybody at this point but I do think an experienced person would be a good fit for us right now."
What about Boudreau?
Head coach Bruce Boudreau is entering the final year of his four-year contract that he signed in the summer of 2016.
Although Fenton agreed to keep Boudreau after the 2018-19 season, he didn't exactly give him a vote of confidence.
Leipold said this termination had nothing to do with Boudreau's contract status and that the next GM will decide his fate.
With the news coming so late in the offseason, it seems a dark cloud will be hovering over the State of Hockey into the regular season, which starts Oct. 3 in Nashville.
It's very likely the Wild will have its new general manager by then, but hopefully this time around, ownership, players and coaches agree that the new sheriff in town fits the culture currently in place.