After months of speculation, the Minnesota Wild traded Kevin Fiala to the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday. In return, the Wild received LA's first-round pick in next week's draft (No. 19) and defensive prospect Brock Faber, who the Gophers named as one of their captains for next season.
If there's one thing we've learned in the aftermath of the trade, it's that Minnesota's chances of contending in the near future are slim. Without Fiala, there's no way the Wild can compete with the juggernauts in the Western Conference.
For the record, there were ways they could have made the math work to retain Fiala long-term. But it became impossible when they handed out multi-year extensions to Jordan Greenway, Alex Goligoski, and Jon Merrill, then added Tyson Jost on the books at the trade deadline. On the other hand, there was some legitimacy to trading Fiala. The Wild would have to sacrifice other places on the roster to fit him under the cap.
That's the harsh reality of the cap situation, but it also might highlight that the Wild don't plan on contending. They appear to be undergoing a reset. Minnesota can stay vaguely competitive over the next three seasons while using the time to build toward a legitimate contending roster for when the dead money expires in 2025-26.
Fiala isn't a perfect player by any means, but there's no question that the soon-to-be 26-year-old winger has his moments. His lack of production in the postseason can't be ignored, just like his inconsistency and room for defensive growth. Still, he's a top-line winger among the league's best players.
There's a chance that he's just scratching the surface, too. He had 85 points and was worth 2.3 Wins Above Replacement (per Evolving Hockey) with Freddy Gaudreau as his center. In the past three seasons, only 21 players have a better point-per-game rate (3.28) than Fiala.
Minnesota missed a prime opportunity to acquire a young NHL-ready forward in the trade who could help immediately, like center Martin Necas from the Carolina Hurricanes. Even when you consider the lack of leverage Minnesota had to begin with, it's difficult to believe that the Wild couldn't get a high-end forward prospect in return. Why wouldn't they hold out for a player like Alexander Holtz from the New Jersey Devils? Heck, the Wild should have asked for goal-scoring wing prospect Arthur Kaliyev from the Kings, especially since Fiala agreed to a seven-year deal.
It seems misguided to acquire a defensive prospect in the trade when the Wild don't have an elite-caliber forward prospect outside of Matt Boldy and Marco Rossi. The latter is expected to make the roster next season and be on a line with Boldy, so the Wild need more offensive talent in their system. They missed an opportunity to add that using their second-best player.
That's not to say that Faber isn't an intriguing defensive prospect. The young, right-shot Maple Grove native is projected to be a top-4 defenseman in the future.
So what does this all mean moving forward?
Well, even before acquiring Faber, the Wild's defensive cupboard is stocked with Calen Addison, Carson Lambos, Ryan O'Rourke, Jack Peart, and Daemon Hunt. Still, Minnesota chose to target Faber, who will likely slot in as Matt Dumba's replacement on the second pair behind Jared Spurgeon. And it may also hint that Guerin will trade Addison at some point. Something has to give, and Addison is also a right shot.
Minnesota's return for Fiala feels underwhelming, given the pick is in the back half of the draft. Still, plenty of good prospects will be available when the Wild pick. And Faber has a lot of people in his corner who think he can become an impactful top-4 defender. Faber's point totals don't pop out — 14 points in 32 games with the Gophers last season — but that's because he's known for his defensive presence.
Faber was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and made it on the Big Ten First All-Star Team last season. The 19-year-old is one of the best defensemen in his conference because of his skating and his ability to suffocate opponents defensively.
"Faber's a smooth-skating (forward, backward, as well as through his footwork, crossovers and pivots), strong, stick-on-puck defender who plays a heady, efficient, play-driving two-way game," The Athletic's Scott Wheeler wrote in a recent piece. "Though there isn't a lot of flash to his game, he has honed what he's good at to become a legitimate prospect."
If Faber can develop into half the player Brodin is, it will be great for the Wild. And who knows? Maybe Faber can add more of an offensive element to his game as he develops.
After grabbing Faber, it's up to Minnesota's top forward prospects and perhaps a player such as Jost to replace Fiala's production up front. The Wild will need it, barring an unforeseen trade to acquire a top-six forward, if they want to do any damage in the West.
Fiala's departure speaks volumes and reveals several things, such as Minnesota's contending blueprint and possible course of action with the current defensive logjam. And while there's no doubt the Wild added another premium defensive asset to their prospect pool and an additional pick in this year's draft, they could have maximized their second-best player by playing the waiting game and capitalizing on a bidding war.
All Data Via Evolving-Hockey, Natural Stat Trick, EliteProspects and Hockey-Reference
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