We had to talk about this eventually. As we get deeper into the Minnesota Wild’s offseason, day by day, it seems more and more likely that Kevin Fiala will not be on this roster at the start of next season and he will be enjoying the sport of hockey somewhere else for some other team and some other fan base.
The reasons why have already been repeated ad nauseam, but if you need a reminder, the Wild simply do not have enough cap space because of the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter buyouts to re-sign Fiala to an extension as a restricted free agent and just one year before he hits unrestricted free agency. Now, after he played all 82 games and had a career year scoring 33 goals and 85 points, seems like the right time to cash in on his rights and get something that will last longer and something that can actually be on this team under the salary cap.
It is just an unfortunate but necessary hole Minnesota put themselves in that will now cost a very good 25-year-old winger. I guess that’s the price you pay to put a new leadership group in place that welcomes everyone into the locker room.
But what could this hypothetical trade look like? Let’s look at some past examples of players and teams in similar positions before we get down into specifics.
Similar Trades from the Past
When it comes to trades that have the context of happening recently in the modern trade market and with players young enough to be a good comparison to Fiala, there are really only two that come to mind.
Sam Reinhart to the Panthers
First, it’s the one that is most similar. Both Fiala and Reinhart — at the time of potential trades — are just one year away from unrestricted free agency, are current restricted free agents and have honestly similar offensive production. In their first six NHL seasons, Fiala has 0.68 points per game, while Reinhart sat at 0.66. Interesting.
The Florida Panthers sent their 2022 first-round pick and hot goaltending prospect Devon Levi over to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Reinhart last summer. That pick could end up at 32nd overall, if the Panthers are crowned champions in a month, so really, it’s not a whole lot to give up for someone that can bolster your offense and provide a sizeable boost down the lineup.
Levi has become the best goaltender in college hockey this season for Northeastern, but at the time, he was a seventh-round pick in the previous year’s draft and his only hockey was at the World Junior Championship. He is something special, but it’s also a young goaltender.
Artturi Lehkonen to the Avalanche
A trade that happened just at this year’s trade deadline, the Colorado Avalanche acquired winger Artturi Lehkonen from the Montreal Canadiens, for a 2024 second-round pick and a solid defenseman prospect Justin Barron. Not as sexy as any move that any Wild fan has been thinking about, and Lehkonen is certainly a step down from Fiala, but was also seen as a risky move by some more traditional managers.
Lehkonen is set to be a restricted free agent this summer, but just like Fiala, is set to hit unrestricted status in 2023. This is really the opposite end of what Minnesota would want to see for their trade piece — a second-rounder two years away and a defenseman prospect that might become your fourth-best blueliner.
But what about the teams that are actually looking at Fiala? Maybe they are more willing to give up something juicy because they are desperate for his scoring touch and want to move into the next stage of their competitive cycle. Acquiring Kevin can certainly be that final piece for some teams around the league to be done with the draft lottery and wanting to stay playing hockey deep into the spring.
So who has been reportedly interested?
The Senators are the team to watch out for, apparently. Their pesky nature has landed them as the quirky team that will be the next-up organization and led by Brady Tkachuk and his band of similarly-aged high-potential players, they might just need to get pushed into wanting to compete for a playoff spot next year.
According to some team reporters, their upcoming seventh-overall selection at the 2022 NHL Draft should be involved for acquiring a player of Fiala’s ilk. And also in that post by The Athletic’s Ian Mendes, he asked local lad Michael Russo if that pick would be enough and the man himself said “no,” and that he “believes Minnesota would be looking for another element to complete the deal.” So, with that in mind, would something involving a young center be possible? To try and bolster a position where they currently have a lack of scoring and potential outside of Marco Rossi?
Shane Pinto could be an interesting name. The American center will be turning 22 years old in November and has only gotten 17 games in the NHL so far after having shoulder surgery back in October of this season. While Pinto could certainly be in the Senators’ plans for next season, having Fiala on the team is a significant upgrade and could be one for a very long time playing on the top line with players like Josh Norris and Tkachuk.
Maybe if that’s too rich, a loveable winger like Egor Sokolov could be an option, since he is considered less of a prospect and the same age as Pinto.
Or — as Mendes mentions in his article — goaltender Filip Gustavsson could be acquired by Minnesota in a kill two birds with one stone scenario. The team would get another decent prospect back for Fiala — Gustavsson posted similar numbers to Jesper Wallstedt in Sweden and at 23 years of age is on his way up — that would also fill-in as a backup for whatever netminder they decide to keep out of Marc-Andre Fleury and Cam Talbot. Plus, he would still be on his entry-level contract and the team wouldn’t need to shell out millions of dollars just to get the same production from a veteran backup.
There are many possibilities, and getting the seventh-overall pick to nab another Very Good prospect to bolster the prospect pool even further, might be tempting enough.
The Devils have been already reported as a team that has interest in acquiring Fiala, so of course they will be included, and they lay under the same category as the Sens, as simply a team that is kind of done with being involved in the draft lottery and want to give a boost on their roster in addition to the horde of prospects they have gathered after years of sucking.
While it would have been an interesting thought process if the Devils did not happen to win the draft lottery and move up to the second overall pick, there is no way that they are moving on from that pick for any reason. Not even just because how rare it is for a team in this league to move a top-five selection, but some kids like Juraj Slafkovsky look pretty damn cool.
So what else can they realistically offer? There is the elusive 2023 first-round pick, but that is just pushing down the return for Fiala even further and doesn’t make the team any better in the near future. What would be incredibly interesting is if the Devils would be willing to part with 2020 first-rounder and elusive winger Alexander Holtz. If he isn’t traded, he will be in the lineup, so this would be — from the Devils’ perspective — trading a player whose ceiling is Kevin Fiala, for a player that is Kevin Fiala, but that is more expensive. There is also Dawson Mercer as a young forward option, but it’s essentially the same deal with him but with more NHL experience.
Asking for Holtz or Mercer might be way too much, but considering that there is no way New Jersey is moving defenseman Luke Hughes in any trade, outside of those three, their prospect pool is just full of mid-tier meh prospects. Could you talk me into accepting a package full of the likes of Arseni Gritsyuk, Fabian Zetterlund, and Kevin Bahl? Yeah, probably, but it doesn’t really feel as good as getting a former top prospect that would be fighting their way into the Wild roster and suddenly add a new dynamic to the burgeoning core forming in Minnesota.
While the Devils and Senators would acquire Fiala in hopes of making the playoffs, the Kings would be getting the offensively talented winger as something to move them from just a playoff team in a terrible division to one of the under-the-radar contenders for a championship. They already made the Devils/Senators-esque trades last summer by acquiring Viktor Arvidsson and signing Phillip Danault, but this would be another move to compete for a title.
Now, what would the Kings give up? They did boast the top prospect pool not too long ago and are slowly seeing that come up to the NHL level, so there are pieces there. While Quinton Byfield is out of the question, you do have to wonder if they would be willing to part ways with 2019 fifth-overall pick Alex Turcotte. He is a center that is pushing is way into the NHL and could be a true tangible piece to make the top-six look a little scarier in Minnesota. If it isn’t Turcotte, it’s not like Los Angeles is without young talent to dream of in green and cream — whether it is Akil Thomas, Tobias Bjornfot, Gabriel Vilardi, Helge Grans, Brock Faber, Francesco Pinelli; there are interesting enough young skaters that could all tangibly be the main piece of a return for Fiala. And departing with any of those players wouldn’t really hurt the Kings all that much, so maybe it just does make sense for them to do that.
No matter what team acquires Kevin, they will be getting a true top talent, and the Wild will be getting a young player or draft picks that the fan base can dream upon.