The Los Angeles Kings have gotten their business done early this summer, acquiring star forward Kevin Fiala from the Minnesota Wild. There have been rumors about the Kings’ desire to add a bonafide top-six winger for a while now, and they have finally pulled the trigger. I’ve been against an acquisition like this for a while, but this deal has me extremely excited for multiple reasons.
What the Kings Are Getting in Fiala
In simple terms, the Kings are getting an elite offensive weapon who instantly becomes the most dynamic player on their roster. Fiala is coming off a career-high 33-goal, 52-assist, 85-point season with the Wild. As I mentioned recently, the big question surrounding players coming off career seasons is sustainability. Can they keep up that level of play? With Fiala, there should be little concern. One big concern many people have is players having inflated numbers playing with elite linemates, and some people are worried that Fiala is a product of superstar Kirill Kaprizov. Fear not, Fiala played just 88 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time with Kaprizov last season; Fiala’s success was very much of his own doing.
The other concern is an unsustainable shooting percentage (S%). Again, not the case with Fiala. He scored 4.7 goals above expected with an S% of 12.6 percent; both are extremely repeatable totals. He finished last season with 2.3 wins above replacement and 11.4 offensive goals above replacement, according to EvolvingHockey.com, totals that would place him first on the Kings for those categories. His underlying numbers become more impressive with more digging.
His 4.402 chance assists per 60 minutes and 7.96 chances per 60 minutes are more than any Kings player. He created a high number of chances off both the rush and in the forecheck. He’s also an elite puck carrier with 20.99 zone entries per 60 and a controlled zone entry percentage of 74.2 percent. His 4.9 entries leading to a scoring chance per 60 also leads all Kings. A phenomenal skater with excellent hands, vision, and a nose for the net, Fiala is the complete package offensively. Despite being just 5-foot-10, Fiala is solid on his skates and can get to the dirty areas of the ice. He will add the dynamic, elite offensive toolset the Kings have been crying out for.
The big stipulation with getting Fiala was his restricted free agent status. The Kings have signed Fiala to a seven-year deal that carries an average annual value of $7.875 million. If he keeps up even close to his current level of play, this will be a fantastic deal for the Kings. It also leaves the team with just under $12 million to fill out their roster for next season. That’s more than enough money to fill out their roster, but I’ll discuss the roster later.
What the Kings Gave Up
When analyzing a trade, the return is key in determining how good a deal is. In this case, general manager Rob Blake knocked it out of the park. The Kings acquired Fiala for a 2022 first-round selection and prospect Brock Faber. Considering the Kings’ depth of prospects, giving up a 19th overall pick isn’t a problem. The player picked at 19 would have a very slim chance of reaching Fiala’s level and would enter into the Kings logjam of prospects. Take into account that this is considered a slightly weaker draft than usual, and it makes even more sense. The team’s first-round pick was expendable, and losing it means very little.
The part of this trade that stings a little is giving up right-shot defenseman Faber. He is a highly-touted prospect who was one of college hockey’s best defensemen last season and played a significant role for Team USA at both the Under-20 World Championships and the Olympics. However, Faber was still expendable, as were most right-shot defensemen in the team’s system. Even with Faber gone, the Kings still have Brandt Clarke, Sean Durzi, Jordan Spence, and Helge Grans in the system, more players than roster spots. One or more of them had to move, and as an unsigned prospect and someone the Wild were interested in, it makes sense to move Faber. He’ll become a solid NHL defenseman, but so will other defensemen in the team’s system, and to bring in an elite player like Fiala, it’s worth losing Faber.
Where Does Fiala Fit
The Kings needed a top-line winger to play with Anze Kopitar and Adrian Kempe, which is exactly where Fiala will play. This is also an incredible fit for the player and team. As mentioned, Fiala is an exceptional skater with high-end skill, the perfect complement to Kopitar and Kempe. I’m a huge fan of putting substantial speed on either side of an aging Kopitar, who has never been particularly fast. The other benefit to Fiala on this line is his incredible play driving. Kopitar is not the elite play driver he once was and needed some help in that department. And for all of Kempe’s strengths, play driving isn’t one of them. Fiala can take on the bulk of this responsibility, giving a break to Kopitar and helping Kempe reach 30 goals again.
Fiala’s playmaking is a big reason he’ll be a great fit as well. There’s been a lot of talk about the Kings needing a pure goalscorer for the top-line, and I think Fiala is the perfect middle ground between pure goalscorer and playmaker. If he can help facilitate another 30-goal season from Kempe and get close to that number himself, Fiala will be an incredible addition. He can not only set up Kempe for another big season but finish the chances Kempe created last season that went unfinished. His speed, skill, and finishing will be the perfect complement to Kopitar and Kempe. The Kings will now have a first line that rivals some of the league’s very best.
Fiala’s fit on the power play will be interesting and is maybe the one hole someone can pick in this trade, even though I don’t think anyone should. His five goals and 12 assists on the power play don’t point to a transformative player who can fix the Kings’ special team’s issues, but he can be an important cog on the man advantage. He played a lot in Kopitar’s spot last season on the left half-wall and can play the bumper. If used correctly, I’m sure he can post good numbers on the powerplay.
How the Trade Affects the Roster
Something that will be very interesting to see is what impact this has on the rest of the Kings’ roster. The team added a forward without shipping one out, creating a numbers issue upfront. Here is how I imagine the lineup will look on opening night.
|Kevin Fiala||Anze Kopitar||Adrian Kempe|
|Trevor Moore||Phillip Danault||Viktor Arvidsson|
|Alex Iafallo||Quinton Byfield||Arthur Kaliyev|
|Carl Grundstrom||Blake Lizotte||Gabe Vilardi|
It’s easy enough to not re-sign Brendan Lemieux, Lias Andersson, or Andreas Athanasiou, but that still leaves prospects like Rasmus Kupari and Jaret Anderson-Dolan without a roster spot. As mentioned, the team will have just shy of $12 million to fill out their roster. The Kempe contract is still looming and will be around $5-6 million, leaving the team anywhere between $5-6 million to fill out their roster. Mikey Anderson and Sean Durzi should take up close to that much combined, leaving minimum money to re-sign Carl Grundstrom, Gabe Vilardi, and replace Alex Edler. There is the option to shift one of Durzi, Matt Roy, or Sean Walker to the left for next season, but who knows if the Kings are willing to do that.
This does make another trade down the line a very sensible option. Moving out either money or prospects who will need an NHL roster spot next season. If the team looks to move out prospects, two of Anderson-Dolan, Kupari, and Vilardi seem like sensible players to trade. If the team would rather move out money, trading Alex Iafallo would make sense. He’ll be making $4 million for the next three seasons to be a third-line forward, which isn’t a huge problem, but he is replaceable despite being one of the best defensive forwards in the league. You won’t replace his style of play, but you can get someone to replace his value in different ways. Grundstrom brings more physicality and a goal-scoring touch, and one of Kupari or Vilardi has the chance to make a big step up next season.
This isn’t to say the Kings need to or even should trade Iafallo instead of prospects, but it is an option, and someone will likely have to move now. Perhaps, Iafallo and one or more of those prospects are traded for a left-shot defenseman to replace Edler, killing two birds with one stone. No matter what, trading for Fiala will have a ripple effect on the roster, but it will be a positive one, as the Kings have made a significant improvement.
Blake Does It Again
Last summer, Blake made two excellent additions. The signing of Phillip Danault was arguably the best free agent signing of last season, while the trade for Viktor Arvidsson proved to be an excellent one and has similarities to the Fiala deal. In both cases, Blake was able to get a player for below market value because their team had to trade them. Blake has made a significant upgrade to the team by giving up two expendable assets and signing Fiala to an extremely fair deal. Blake’s knocked one out of the park again as he continues to prove why he’s one of the best general managers in hockey.