It wasn’t long after the New Jersey Devils’ season ended that Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek connected them to Minnesota Wild winger Kevin Fiala. As most know by now, the Wild face a cap crunch this summer with the dead cap hits of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter set to leave the organization with $12,743,588 in dead money after their buyouts a year ago.
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Fiala finished this past season with 85 points in 82 games and will likely command a contract worth much more than the Wild can afford due to their cap situation. That means a trade is more than likely to occur before or at the NHL Entry Draft on July 7-8. Although the Devils moved up to the second overall pick in the draft, their interest in Fiala likely remains. But can they still pull off a deal?
Michael Russo of The Athletic wrote an article earlier this week highlighting the Wild’s situation and what Fiala’s value may be (From ‘What could the Wild get for Kevin Fiala? A look at his trade value and potential suitors,’ The Athletic – 5/25/2022). Russo and Harman Dayal provided a few comparables of what a Fiala trade could look like, a couple of which the Devils could still pull off. If they’re that interested in him, it’s possible they can still acquire him without giving up a first-round pick. But that’ll depend on the competition they face from other suitors.
Why Devils Should Be Interested in Fiala
I recently wrote about Fiala when the Devils’ interest in him was initially reported by Marek three weeks ago. I don’t want to re-hash all the stats from that post, but we’ll start with a quick overview of what he’d bring to the Devils.
Though Fiala might not be a point-per-game player every season, he’s averaged 32 goals and 75 points per 82 games since the start of 2019-20. In the two pandemic-shortened seasons, he was on pace for 69 and 66 points in 82 games, respectively. He emerged as a legitimate top-line winger in his time with the Wild and took it to another level in 2021-22.
What makes Fiala so intriguing for the Devils is his elite skating ability. Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald likely wants to add some different forwards to the lineup, namely ones with size and who can forecheck aggressively. But even then, they’re always going to be a team that wants to play primarily off the rush. Fiala excels in transition and is one of the top rush wingers in the NHL, so he’s a clear fit. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s good friends with Devils captain Nico Hischier, which could help the chances of him signing long-term in New Jersey.
Comparables Suggest Devils Can Still Pull off a Deal
As for comparables that Russo mentioned that fit the Devils’ situation best, there are two. The first would be the St. Louis Blues acquiring Pavel Buchnevich from the New York Rangers for a second-round pick and Sammy Blais. The next is the Florida Panthers trading for Sam Reinhart from the Buffalo Sabres for a 2022 first-round pick (top 10 protected) and Devon Levi, one of the best goaltending prospects in the NHL.
Let’s start with the Buchnevich trade since his and Fiala’s situations aren’t too different. The Rangers couldn’t afford to re-sign Buchnevich, so they sold low on him and received whatever they could in return. Though Blais missed most of the 2021-22 season with an injury, he’s a bottom-six winger, so this wouldn’t be a difficult trade for the Devils to pull off. The Devils’ 2022 second-round pick sits at 37th overall, while their equivalent of Blais would be a player like Nathan Bastian.
That seems simple enough, but I wouldn’t say it’s realistic. The Wild should get a bit more than the Rangers did for Buchnevich, even though the situations are similar. That’s why Reinhart is probably the better comparison, but that’s where things get tricky for the Devils. For as good as Fiala is, they’re not going to give up the second overall pick for him, so what’s next?
A 2023 first-rounder could be appealing to the Wild because of how loaded that draft class is, but there’d have to be extreme protections on the pick (top-10 protected at an absolute minimum). The Wild will probably covet Alexander Holtz, but that’s likely where Fitzgerald draws the line. Could a protected 2023 first and someone like Ty Smith work in exchange for Fiala? That’s not too far off in value to what the Sabres received for Reinhart.
If the Devils aren’t willing to part with first-round picks, their 2022 second-rounder has to be in play, but it’ll take more than one prospect. That pick and prospects who are NHL-ready or close to it would have to go to Minnesota — think Nolan Foote, Fabian Zetterlund, Reilly Walsh. That might get close to a deal, but it will also depend on what competing teams offer, and there will be a few.
Devils Will Have Competition for Fiala
One of the worst-kept secrets in the league right now seems to be the Ottawa Senators’ interest in Fiala, and they have the ammo to pull off a trade. They hold the seventh overall pick in the 2022 draft and have a deep enough prospect pool to appeal to the Wild to meet their demands.
The key is, will Fiala be willing to sign long-term in Ottawa? He’s a year away from unrestricted free agency, so he has quite a bit of leverage. If permitted to speak to teams about an extension ahead of a trade and he tells the Senators he isn’t in signing long term, they’re not trading the seventh pick for him.
Another team Russo mentioned that also makes sense for Fiala is the Los Angeles Kings. They have the 19th overall pick in the 2022 draft and an even deeper farm system than the Senators and Devils. The Kings desperately need a scoring upgrade to their top-six, and Fiala certainly fills that need. If he’s willing to sign long-term with them — it’s Los Angeles, so why wouldn’t he — they’d probably be more than willing to part with the 19th overall pick and a prospect or two to acquire him.
How far those teams are willing to go — and there will be others — will determine how far Fitzgerald and the Devils are willing to go. It is worth noting that Wild GM Bill Guerin and Fitzgerald are good friends from their time with the Pittsburgh Penguins. And the Devils’ director of pro scouting, Jim Mill, also attends most Wild games, per Russo. Don’t undersell Fiala’s friendship with Hischier, either. He could ultimately want to play alongside his friend and fellow countryman long-term.
But if teams offer up their 2022 firsts for Fiala knowing he’ll sign a long-term extension, it could be game over. The Wild also need players on entry-level contracts who can play right away due to their cap crunch, and other teams can easily offer that, especially if there’s a 2022 first-round pick involved.
The Devils’ path to acquiring Fiala got a bit harder when they won the draft lottery, but they can still pull it off. Depending on what type of protection Fitzgerald and Guerin can agree to on a 2023 first-round pick, that’s one possible path. If not, the Devils can put together a competitive offer that includes the 37th overall pick and NHL-ready prospects that at least get Guerin to consider it. If the Wild end up coveting a first-round choice (2022 or 2023) with the players they’re offered, and the Devils aren’t willing to go there, then so be it. But given the Wild’s circumstances will force them to trade Fiala, there sure still is a path for the Devils to be among the suitors for him that doesn’t involve giving up the second overall pick.
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Alex Chauvancy is a New Jersey Devils writer for The Hockey Writers who has a penchant for advanced stats, prospects, signings and trades. He previously wrote for Devils Army Blog, a New Jersey Devils fan blog, from 2015-2017