Last season, winger Kevin Fiala put up career-best numbers in goals (33) and points (85) for the Minnesota Wild. In what was to some a questionable move, the salary-cap-strapped Wild decided that Fiala – who was scheduled to be a restricted free agent last summer – was too expensive a component to be retained. Minny GM Bill Guerin traded Fiala to the Los Angeles Kings for a first-round draft pick and prospect defenseman Brock Faber.
Lo and behold, the 26-year-old Fiala is showing that last season was no aberration. On a Kings team that has the NHL’s eighth-best offense, Fiala is far and away their most productive player, leading the group in assists (20) and points (28) in 26 games – and he’s doing it in only 17:16 minutes per night.
Meanwhile, the Wild have seen their goals-for average plummet from 3.72 goals per game in 2021-22 to 3.00 goals this season.
This is not coincidental with the departure of Fiala. Minnesota’s secondary scoring has taken a huge hit, and L.A.’s offense has improved from 2.87 last season to 3.42 this year. The addition of Fiala has elevated the Kings’ overall attack, and his $7.85-million annual salary is money well spent by Los Angeles GM Rob Blake.
This is why it was so baffling to see Guerin part ways with Fiala.
Certainly, his earlier decision to buy out the contracts of veteran stars Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in July 2021 exacerbated the Wild’s cap problems, but so did his acquisition of, and subsequent contract extension for veteran netminder Marc-Andre Fleury.
It’s not easy to land a young winger who can drive play the way Fiala does, and to full the chute on him, not just after his best NHL season but in the prime of his career, didn’t make a lot of sense at the time. It makes even less sense now.
Yes, Blake and L.A. paid a significant price for Fiala, but as things stand, they got the best asset in that deal. The Kings also still have their first-rounders in each of the next three seasons, so they haven’t sacrificed their entire future for Fiala, but they’ve assured themselves of a first-line talent for the foreseeable future.
There aren’t many trades that go down these days with that kind of long-term benefit, but Blake has hit a home run with this one.
Last year, the Wild looked like a team that was on the upswing. But it’s incredible how quickly progress can evaporate, with just a few changes to a lineup.
Minnesota isn’t nearly as creative or potent with the puck without Fiala. And they have only $2.3 million in cap space. That number rises (as per Cap Friendly) to $10.48 million by the league’s March 3 trade deadline, but the odds are slim they can bring in a talent who can contribute on offense the way Fiala can.
This is how NHL GMs can entangle themselves in quandaries of their own making. Guerin gambled with the buyouts of Suter and Parise and didn’t wind up with a legitimate Stanley Cup frontrunner. Rather, he created a team that is likely to be first-round playoff fodder – if they qualify for the playoffs at all.
The Kings aren’t yet a legit Cup threat, either. But Blake built a group that now can grow into something special.
Fiala, fellow forwards Trevor Moore and Viktor Arvidsson and defenseman Sean Durzi all were acquired via trades. Blake hasn’t swung and missed many trades, but the Fiala trade may be his best one yet.
The Wild, on the other hand, are not nearly as good as the Kings have been, trade-wise. There has to be some regret in letting go of Fiala. If there isn’t, Minnesota may have bigger problems.
- Why Los Angeles Won the Kevin Fiala Trade with Minnesota
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