ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Wild didn’t get Kevin Fiala signed to the long-term deal they wanted. That’s OK, general manager Bill Guerin said. It works two ways.
Guerin signed Fiala to a one-year, $5.1 million contract on Monday, Aug. 16, assuring the Wild will have a key piece of the team’s future on the ice for the 2021-22 season, and in training camp next month. That gives Fiala a year to prove he’s worth the deal he wanted, never a bad thing for a team that feels close to a postseason breakthrough.
By the same token, it also gives the Wild a year to see if Fiala is, in fact, worth a long-term deal.
“And I don’t think it’s a bad thing for Kevin,” Guerin said said Monday afternoon. “I think it’s a great opportunity for him. It didn’t work this year, but I think he’s going to be motivated. And you know what? I do think Kevin’s the kind of guy that probably wants to prove me wrong and say, ‘You know what? You screwed up.’ ”
If that is what it takes to push Fiala, 25, into elite company, well, the Wild will take it after pushing the Vegas Golden Knights, a Western Conference Final team, to seven games in the first round of the playoffs this spring. The Wild also move back to the Central Division this season — after playing in a weaker, one-off West Division last season — against playoff teams Colorado, Dallas, Nashville, St. Louis and Winnipeg.
“To a man,” Guerin said, “we’re all going to have to be better.”
Fiala, 25, is part of the the young nucleus around which Guerin wants to build his offense, joining center Joel Eriksson Ek — who signed an eight-year, $42 million extension on July 2 — and Karill Kaprizov, the young winger who finally arrived from Russia for the 2020-21 season and won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie.
Fiala’s last deal, a two-year, $6 million contract, wasn’t wrapped up until the day before training camp in 2019. Fiala arrived late, something Guerin didn’t want to happen again. The sides exchanged arbitration numbers over the weekend — they were $2.25 million apart, according to Sportnet’s Elliott Friedman — and were scheduled for their next meeting on Tuesday.
Getting Fiala into camp on time, Guerin said, was a big reason the team took him to arbitration.
“Training camp isn’t always the funnest part of the year but it is important, and if you’re not there you’re behind the 8 ball and it’s very tough to play catch-up,” Guerin said. “So, with all that behind us, Kevin can just focus on what he needs to do to be ready.”
After this season, Fiala will have one more year before he can become a free agent.
“It’s a very important year for him. Any time you’re in a contract year it’s very important.” Guerin said. “You know, if Kevin truly wants to establish himself as an elite player, then he’s going to have to keep improving. He’s had two good years for us and he’s going to have to continue to get better.
“Kevin’s still young, too. He’s still a young man and there’s lots of room for improvement in his game, in a lot of different areas. But there are some things he does extremely well that other people in the league can’t do. Like I said, it’s a big year for him.”
With Fiala in the fold, leaves Kaprizov, 24, as Guerin’s primary focus. He led the Wild with 27 goals and 51 points in 55 games last season and won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie. As a 10.2 restricted free agent, he can negotiate only with the Wild but he also could return to Russia, where he scored 78 goals and 153 points in 160 games and won two league championships with CSKA Moscow from 2017-19.