One of the Wild’s best players won’t be back, and it was the team that sent him away.
The financially strapped Wild couldn’t afford a new contract for winger Kevin Fiala and traded the 30-goal scorer to Los Angeles on Wednesday in exchange for a first-round draft pick and Gophers defenseman Brock Faber.
Fiala will reportedly receive a seven-year deal from the Kings worth approximately $55 million.
“We don’t have cap space,” said General Manager Bill Guerin, who knew during the season the team would reach this outcome with Fiala. “Honestly, to keep him, we’d have to trade three guys or two guys and deplete your team more. Then the following year, we’re in it even more.
“It just didn’t fit.”
This math has been apparent for quite some time, making Fiala’s departure seem likely if not inevitable.
A severe cap crunch was brewing ever since the Wild bought out Zach Parise and Ryan Suter last year, with the cost of the buyouts escalating from roughly $4.7 million to nearly $13 million.
Add in the contracts already on the books, and the Wild has limited spending power — less than $7 million this summer, to be exact. That type of budget made keeping Fiala unrealistic, especially considering the team wants to re-sign goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and defenseman Jake Middleton. The Wild would have needed to subtract to hang onto Fiala, a decision that Guerin pointed out would have led to a different hole on the roster.
Of the team’s core, Fiala was the only player on an expiring deal and was still considered a restricted free agent after agreeing to a one-year, $5.1 million contract ahead of last season.
But the Wild still paid a steep price for shipping out Fiala, and that’s losing a dynamic forward in his prime.
“Kevin has really turned into a special player in the last couple of years with Minnesota,” 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) while filling out a formidable line with rookie Matt Boldy and Frederick Gaudreau.
His 12-game point streak tied for the longest in franchise history, and Fiala established 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 to the end of the regular season before chipping in three assists in six playoff games against St. Louis.
Overall, in 215 games with the Wild, Fiala racked up 79 goals and 107 assists for 186 points. He led the organization in all three categories since joining the team in a February 2019 trade that sent Mikael Granlund to Nashville.
Asked how the Wild will replace Fiala’s offense, Guerin said, “We don’t know. We’ll have to play the games and see how guys produce. We might be able to. We don’t know.”
Los Angeles expressed immediate interest in Fiala, Guerin said, and the Kings were serious in their pursuit.
Guerin didn’t feel the need to wait and believes he secured fair value in the deal. The first-rounder from Los Angeles is No. 19, with Guerin mentioning how tough it is for teams to give up high picks. Along with its own first at 24, the Wild has eight total selections in the draft, which begins next Thursday in Montreal.
In Faber, the Wild is adding an alum of the U.S. National Team Development Program who won a gold medal with the U.S. team at the 2021 World Junior Championship and was drafted in the second round (45th overall) in 2020 by the Kings.
Named a Gophers captain on Wednesday, the Maple Grove native finished with two goals and 12 assists in 32 games last season as a sophomore and played at the Olympics.
“He’s excited about at some point in time being able to play for his hometown team,” said Guerin, who considers Faber a “high-end prospect” who isn’t far off from the NHL.
Having picks become pros will help the Wild weather its salary restrictions, which will get even stiffer.
Fast forward another year and the Parise and Suter buyouts will eat up almost $15 million of the Wild’s cap space for two seasons.
Time will tell how the team deals with that pinch, but its future no longer includes Fiala.
“We knew we just were not going to be able to do it,” Guerin said. “We knew that. They knew that. There’s no sense in just trying … to fit this and fit that and give them a low-ball deal. It’s not going to work. We knew we were going to have to move him.”