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  • It's Not Worth Sacrificing Fiala to Temporarily Upgrade At Center

    Aaron Heckmann

    The Minnesota Wild indicated that Kevin Fiala may not be in their plans last summer. They had a contract standoff which led to a rare case of team-elected arbitration, which resulted in a one-year deal. Meanwhile, Minnesota committed long-term to Kirill Kaprizov and Joel Eriksson Ek, handing out five and eight-year deals, respectively. That, coupled with reports that there was a 50/50 possibility the Wild would move their game-breaker in the offseason, led to uncertainty going into the season for the 25-year-old winger.


    This season has been a struggle for Fiala, who has a single goal and only three primary assists at 5-on-5. Overall, he has three goals and 15 points in 23 games this season while holding a career-low 3.8 shooting percentage. He's bound to start scoring sooner than later, considering his 60 percent expected goals rate at 5-on-5.


    That said, it would be a critical mistake if the Wild dealt Fiala.


    Fiala is struggling to get on the scoresheet, but his overall game has drastically improved this season. He's cleaned up defensively, committed fewer penalties, and has made fewer ill-advised turnovers. Even though he's not scoring right now, Fiala continues to drive play and control possession better than most on the team. His ability to control the puck going into the offensive zone is precious.


    There is a lot of unwarranted criticism thrown at Fiala for his inconsistency. But he had a team-leading 43 goals and 94 points in 114 games over the past two condensed seasons. It's also worth noting that the Wild have one of the worst power plays in the league, so it's not surprising that Fiala is struggling to score. Fifteen of his 43 goals from 2019-20 through 2020-21 came on the man advantage.


    Recently, a report has surfaced that the Wild have called the Vancouver Canucks about J.T. Miller. Once again, Fiala was placed directly in the spotlight. He would presumably be the central piece a trade with Vancouver. It can be reasonably assumed that Minnesota asked about Bo Horvat too.


    This shouldn't come as a surprise. The Wild missed out on the Pierre-Luc Dubois and Jack Eichel sweepstakes. Their pipe dream of Aleksander Barkov reaching the market ended when the Florida Panthers extended him. Let's face it, the Wild won't be getting a franchise center through trade or free agency. So is it worth trading Fiala for a temporary center upgrade?


    The answer should be no.


    Minnesota's 33 points through 23 games places them atop the Western Conference. They are one of the league's most dangerous teams through the first quarter of the season.


    It's not worth cashing in their best tradeable asset for a season and a half of a stopgap center like Miller -- especially when that center is 28 years old and turns 30 before hitting free agency. And with Fiala's goal-scoring struggles, they'd be selling low on a player who has shown top-line ability. The Wild would likely surrender an additional asset in the trade to get Miller, only to watch Fiala disappear and Miller walk in 2023.


    Plus, the Wild have shown that acquiring a center is not necessary to succeed anyways. Their center-by-committee approach has been a success. They have an established top-six center in Eriksson Ek. Ryan Hartman is experiencing a breakout season. And Freddy Gaudreau is holding steady in the middle-six. We haven't even mentioned Marco Rossi, who is bound to have a spot in the top-six next season. The Wild are well-equipped down the middle right now. Trading Fiala will do more harm than good.


    If Fiala becomes a cap casualty, the Wild should trade him for future assets rather than an unnecessary center addition. Prospects and picks will help further bolster their already high-end prospect pipeline too.


    The Wild have to stay the course with the long-term approach. With the influx of prospects coming into the lineup over the next couple of years, there's no reason to trade one of their best assets to acquire a stopgap center when the lack of a high-end center hasn't affected their success. And what they will lose in Fiala would be hard to replace, regardless of what the Wild would get in return.


    Fiala's contract plays a significant role in whether he gets dealt. A cap squeeze is coming because of the Parise/Suter buyouts. With Jordan Greenway, Nico Sturm, Rem Pitlick, Kaapo Kahkonen needing to be re-upped next summer. They need to address the defensive situation. Therefore, there's only so much time left for players to work their way into Minnesota's plans.


    During the remainder of the season, Fiala's production will likely seal whether or not he will remain in Minnesota.


    All Data Via Evolving-Hockey, Natural Stat Trick and Hockey-Reference.

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