JAKE’S TAKE: Fenton building for short-term, not long-term

MARSHALL – It’s no secret that Minnesota Wild General Manager Paul Fenton has been on the receiving end of a great deal of criticism since taking over for previous GM Paul Fletcher back in April of 2018.

The main source of frustration, aside from the team missing the playoffs for the first time in seven years, was the decision to move long-time Wild veteran Nino Niederreiter to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for Victor Rask. Following the trade Niederreiter flourished, while Rask was a liability to put it nicely.

A similar but not quite as disasterous scenario unfolded in another move made later in the season by Fenton in trading another fan-favorite, Charlie Coyle, to the Boston Bruins for up-and-coming talent Ryan Donato. To Fenton’s credit, the move did appear to be the right one towards the end of the regular season. Unfortunately, that all began to change when Coyle stepped up as one of the team’s leading goal-scorers in their Stanley Cup run finishing with nine in 24 games.

Now, looking to turn the page in his second full off-season, Fenton hasn’t let his past “failures” factor into his willingness to make bold moves in hopes of improving the team.

Most recently, Fenton added former Dallas Stars winger Mats Zuccarello to a five-year, $30-million contract. In doing so, Fenton has accomplished the mission of bolstering the roster for the upcoming season, but in the long run this move may only serve to hand-cuff the franchise to another less than desirable contract.

Zuccarello’s deal, which includes a full no-movement clause, will ultimately mean that he’s nearly guaranteed to remain with the team until his contract expires. At the age of 32, Zuccarello’s best days are behind him. Frankly, you’d be hard-pressed to find any player that peaks in their mid-30’s as opposed to steadily declining year to year.

From a short-term perspective, however, the move makes sense aside from not filling a need at center. Over the course of his career, Zuccarello has been a very consistent point-producer and is coming off of a 40-point regular season in only 48 games played.

The 5’7″ winger’s strengths lie in his ability to create plays with an innate passing ability. When it comes to scoring goals, he’s no slouch either. His best season in that department came in 2015-2016 when he buried 26 for the New York Rangers to finish second on the team behind Derick Brassard. Add in his ability to contribute on special teams with the power play and penalty kill and you’re looking at the kind of player you want on your team.

All things considered, there’s no question that Zuccarello will provide an immediate impact for the franchise in the upcoming season with a skillset that is desired league-wide. The problem lies in his age and the stipulations of the contract that could leave the Wild without an escape-route if things go south down the line.