One of the Wild’s best players isn’t coming back, and it was the team that sent him away.
Unable to afford a new contract for winger Kevin Fiala, the financially strapped Wild traded the 30-scorer to Los Angeles on Wednesday in exchange for a first-round draft pick and Gophers defender Brock Faber.
Fiala is reportedly set to receive a seven-year deal from the Kings worth approximately $55 million.
“We have no cap space,” said general manager Bill Guerin, who knew during the season that the team would achieve this result with Fiala. “Frankly, to keep him we would have to swap three or two guys and exhaust your team more. The next year we’ll be even more into it.
“It just didn’t fit.”
This math has been evident for quite some time, making Fiala’s departure seem likely, if not inevitable.
Since the Wild bought out Zach Parise and Ryan Suter last year, there has been a serious cap crunch, with the cost of the buyouts escalating from about $4.7 million to nearly $13 million.
Add in the contracts already on the books, and the Wild has limited buying power – less than $7 million this summer to be exact. That kind of budget made it unrealistic to keep Fiala, especially given that the team is looking to re-sign goalkeeper Marc-Andre Fleury and defender Jake Middleton. De Wild would have had to pull out to keep Fiala, a decision Guerin noted would have left another hole on the roster.
Fiala, the core of the team, was the only player with an expiring deal and was still considered a restricted free agent after agreeing to a $5.1 million one-year contract prior to last season.
But the Wild still paid a heavy price for sending Fiala, and that’s what a dynamic attacker loses in his prime.
“Kevin has really become a special player at Minnesota over the past few years,” Guerin said.
After a slow start to the season, the 25-year-old winger set career highs in goals (33), assists (52) and points (85), filling a formidable line with rookie Matt Boldy and Frederick Gaudreau.
His 12-game points run was the longest in franchise history, with Fiala setting a team record with five assists in a game and four assists/points in a period. He also had the second most goals and points in the NHL from April 8 through the end of the regular season before providing three assists in six playoff games against St. Louis.
In total, Fiala scored 79 goals and 107 assists in 215 games with the Wild, good for 186 points. He has led the organization in all three categories since joining the team in February 2019 and sending Mikael Granlund to Nashville.
Asked how the Wild will replace Fiala’s attack, Guerin said: “We don’t know. We’ll have to play the games and see how guys produce. Maybe we can. We don’t know.”
Los Angeles showed an immediate interest in Fiala, Guerin said, and the Kings were serious in their pursuit.
Guerin did not feel the need to wait and believes he has secured the fair value of the deal. The Los Angeles first-rounder is number 19, with Guerin mentioning how hard it is for teams to give up high picks. Along with his own first at 24, the Wild has a total of eight rosters in the draft, which begins next Thursday in Montreal.
In Faber, de Wild adds an alum from the US National Team Development Program who won a gold medal with the US team at the 2021 World Junior Championships and was drafted in the second round (45th overall) by the Kings in 2020.
The Maple Grove native, who was named Gophers captain on Wednesday, finished last season as a sophomore with two goals and 12 assists in 32 games and played in the Olympics.
“He’s excited to play for his home team someday,” said Guerin, who sees Faber as a “high-end prospect” not far from the NHL.
Making choices that turn pros will allow the Wild to pass his salary restrictions, which will become even more stringent.
Fast forward another year and the Parise and Suter buyouts will gobble up nearly $15 million of the Wild’s cap space for two seasons.
Time will tell how the team handles that sniff, but Fiala has no future.
“We knew we just couldn’t do it,” Guerin said. “We knew that. They knew that. There’s no point in just trying… trying on this and that and giving them a cheap deal. It’s not going to work. We knew we had to move it.” †
Kevin Fiala spent just over three seasons with the Wild and came to Minnesota from the Nashville Predators during the 2018-19 season. The winger was the 11th overall pick in the 2014 NHL draft.
Season Games Goals Assists Points +/-
2018-19 19 3 4 7 -12
2019-20 64 23 31 54 -1
2020-21 50 20 20 40 -2
2021-22 82 33 52 85 23
Career 419 124 159 283 17