Before we get to the potential replacements for Chuck Fletcher as Minnesota Wild general manager, a few words about the executive whose nine-year run ended Monday when the team announced he wouldn't be offered a new contract.
The defining moment of Fletcher's tenure came on July 4, 2012, when he spent $196 million of Wild owner Craig Leipold's money on identical 13-year contracts for forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter. The Wild had missed the playoffs for four consecutive seasons. For reasons both monetary and geographic, the two most prized NHL free agents that summer both chose to sign in Minnesota. "We shot for the moon. We tried our best. And fortune smiled upon us," said Fletcher at the time.
If you wanted to repurpose that statement as an epitaph for Fletcher's tenure, then two out of three ain't bad.
He tried his best? Sure. The Wild spent the next six seasons in the playoffs, although they advanced past the first round only twice. Did they shoot for the moon? Debatable. Parise and Suter were by far the most significant, impactful moves Fletcher made -- on the ice and for business. He could never land the big-ticket center his lineup lacked until Eric Staal found the fountain of youth this season in Minneapolis. Some of Fletcher's trades were terrific (Cal Clutterbuck for Nino Niederreiter!), some of them were atrocious (Marco Scandella and Jason Pominville for Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno) and some of them were well-intended disappointments (who knew Brent Burns would leave Minnesota and become the defenseman he has become with the San Jose Sharks?). They whiffed on some draft picks, and others just didn't develop as intended.
But fortune didn't smile upon the Wild and Chuck Fletcher. They were a middling team without the A-list talent found on other Western Conference contenders. When the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets lapped them while the Wild were still taking incremental steps to contention -- with young players, rather than Minnesota's 33-and-over core -- you knew changes were coming.
So who are the GM candidates who might go Wild? Here are a few options, starting with the clubhouse leader: A name to watch out for in the Minnesota Wild GM search: Paul Fenton, the longtime assistant GM of the Nashville Predators. Fenton is considered one of the best GM-ready candidates in the league. Remember: Wild owner Craig Leipold previously owned the Preds. You have to wonder if another man with Nashville ties could be linked there should the coaching position become open as well: current Capitals coach Barry Trotz.
A name to watch out for in the Minnesota Wild GM search: Paul Fenton, the longtime assistant GM of the Nashville Predators. Fenton is considered one of the best GM-ready candidates in the league. Remember: Wild owner Craig Leipold previously owned the Preds. You have to wonder if another man with Nashville ties could be linked there should the coaching position become open as well: current Capitals coach Barry Trotz.
Paul Fenton. As Emily Kaplan noted, Leipold and Fenton go way back, to a time when Leipold owned the Predators. Fenton was Nashville's director of player personnel for eight seasons and has been its assistant general manager since 2006. If there's a GM job open, Fenton has been mentioned for it. But he has patiently waited, happy with a plum gig in Nashville and having his pick of opportunities. Perhaps the Wild will be the combination of team and comfort level he has sought.
Tom Fitzgerald. The New Jersey Devils' assistant general manager ticks a couple of boxes for the Wild. He is familiar to Leipold, having played for the Predators from 1998-2002. He also served as director of player personnel for GM Ray Shero with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Another Shero disciple? Chuck Fletcher.
Bill Guerin. Currently an assistant general manager with the Penguins and the general manager of their AHL affiliate, the former NHL player interviewed with the Buffalo Sabres and is considered a rising star in the managerial ranks. Will the Penguins seek to keep him around for themselves?
Bill Zito. Recently named general manager of the 2018 U.S. men's national team, Zito is a former player agent who has worked with the Columbus Blue Jackets since 2013. He is the GM of their AHL affiliate in Cleveland Monsters. He might not be the short-term fixer the Wild want, but Zito is certainly someone who could offer a unique take on the Minnesota roster.
Kelly McCrimmon. While it's hard to imagine McCrimmon leaving the Vegas Golden Knights after this dream of an inaugural season, it's also hard to imagine someone like the Wild not at least kicking the tires on one of the executives behind a record-shattering expansion team. McCrimmon is no newbie -- he was with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League for 28 seasons as a general manager and coach.
Brent Flahr. The Wild's senior vice president of hockey operations is the team's acting general manager now that Fletcher's contract wasn't renewed. Flair has been the assistant general manager since 2009. That's worthy of a mention, because if the Washington Capitals have taught us anything it is that the solution might come from within the front office. But Leipold's declaration that the roster needs "a new set of eyes" probably doesn't bode well for Flahr.
Dean Lombardi. The former Los Angeles Kings general manager has two Stanley Cups on his ledger, which is a heck of a calling card when Leipold has been adamant that this move was made to bring in "someone new" to win a Cup with the group they have. He's currently working in the Philadelphia Flyers' organization under Ron Hextall.
Pierre McGuire. Don't laugh. He came very close to getting the Penguins GM job in 2014. If the Wild job comes down to selling Leipold on the idea that the candidate has all the answers, Pierre will be the first to tell you he's the smartest guy in the room.