Can someone be both of those things? I think so.
As Giles Ferrell wrote about on Tuesday after the trade deadline, Paul Fenton is hitching his wagon to Kevin Fiala in a big way. Not getting anything besides Fiala in return for Granlund, the team’s biggest point producer for the past two seasons, is bold. Bold can mean something bad or something good in this case, as many folks, myself included, would’ve liked to see something coming back to Minnesota with Fiala besides some cap space and a heaping helping of risk.
If Fiala reaches his potential, great! Wild fans will be treated to a more lethal version of Granlund, and one that may come at a steep discount for a few more years, depending on what happens with his upcoming RFA status this summer. Fiala very well could be the type of player to take the Wild to the next level. Fiala is a shoot-first player, and he’s replacing someone who perhaps was the most frustrating to see not shoot the puck.
However, if Fiala continues to disappoint as he had in Nashville this season, there’s nothing else redeeming about the trade aside from the cap space. The Wild have no Coyle to offset the failures of Zach Phillips and Devin Setoguchi. Instead they just get one Cam Barker. This is the risk of one-for-one trades, and Fenton should have had enough leverage with Fiala’s disappointing season to ask for more. At least a conditional pick, since those are all the rage these days.
Meanwhile, Donato seems to be worth every bit of Coyle so far, adding two more points in Tuesday night’s game in Winnipeg, for a total of six points in his first four games. But while Fenton did receive a fifth-round pick, Donato is the big piece of Coyle leaving town. And if one wants to be a sadist and trace things, Donato and the fifth are the last remnants of the Brent Burns trade. There’s much skepticism of Donato exceeding Coyle peak — 57 points, for the record — but at least that trade had the illusion of balance.
The Nino trade was something I don’t think we need to touch on too in-depth here, as it was flat-out awful, and panned as such from the minute it happened. That trade, again, assumed a fair amount of risk for the Wild, assuming Rask could return to form despite lacking the skills necessary to do so.
But it also illustrates the need to get more than a one-for-one swap on important pieces of your team. Nino has proven since the trade that he is, in fact, a good hockey player, and that only receiving Rask in return was a mistake. I’m in no way suggesting Granlund was slumping as hard as Nino, or that Fiala will be as bad as Rask, but the situation is similar, perhaps just a little better off.
Luckily, Fenton may have smoothed over some perceived mistakes with a few other moves Monday. First, he gave away press box regular Matt Hendricks for a seventh-round pick, which is may not get anyone excited, but is also essentially free. The same day, in perhaps his biggest coup yet, Fenton got Eric Staal to agree to a two-year, $6.5 million extension, putting to bed a question that had raged in the minds of Wild fans for over a year now, and also explaining the lack of a deadline deal involving Staal earlier in the day.
Getting Staal as a still productive stopgap while Fenton conjures up the centers of the future is a big win, as that position is incredibly hard to fill, especially considering Mikko Koivu will be playing the final year of his contract, and possibly his career, after returning from ACL surgery next season.
At the very least, the Wild got younger with these trades along with saving cap space, and they’ve improved their stock in the NHL’s youth movement. Per Sportradar’s John Tuvey, the Wild have gone from 30th in the league in points from players age 22 and younger before the All-Star break, to 11th in the same metric since then. While Donato has definitely contributed recently, the emergence of Joel Eriksson Ek and Luke Kunin has carried that load, which is definitely a positive, but from Fletcher-era products.
So after the proverbial dust has settled, following up on my article from before the deadline — can Wild fans trust Fenton yet? I think the answer is still no, for now. While Donato has worked out extremely well, Rask very much hasn’t, and while the Staal extension is a great bargain, the return for Granlund raises some questions.
It’s this kind of swirling positivity and negativity that makes this a confusing time to be a Wild fan, and waiting for the future to unfold to figure out how one may feel. Fenton is just as much of an unknown as some of his acquisitions, a rookie GM trying to find his way through the minefield of the NHL while his team’s fans try to figure out if they like him or not. Fenton may get fans to feel one way or another about him eventually, but for right now, he’s not making it easy.
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