Minnesota Wild Notebook: Quiet Deadline, Complex Center Situation & Fiala’s Rise

This edition of the Minnesota Wild Notebook will feature the Minnesota Wild’s decision to stay quiet at the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline as GM Bill Guerin didn’t want to sell his pending free agents or lose future assets for a playoff run. It will also feature the complex situation at center that should be dictated by Marco Rossi and Joel Eriksson Ek unless a trade occurs, and finally, the rise of Kevin Fiala who has erupted to silence any doubters.

Quiet Deadline: “Our Time Will Come”

The decision to stay quiet at the deadline was the right one as Guerin continues to build for the future. The team has five pending free agents but chose to keep them for the remainder of the season for an inevitable playoff run, and none of them would have garnered more than middle-round draft picks based on the deadline day deals. Any trade might also have disrupted the team’s chemistry, which isn’t ideal as the season nears an end.

The Wild were interested in Nick Foligno but were not willing to pay the premium – a first-round pick – for a rental player, even if it meant uniting the brothers (from ‘Russo: Wild have interest in a Foligno Bros. reunion, but price must be right,’ The Athletic, 04/10/2021). The was another smart decision.

“Our time will come,” is what Guerin is standing behind, and it a positive statement (from “Why the Minnesota Wild were quiet at trade deadline: ‘Our time will come,'” the Athletic, 04/12/2021). It’s nice to see him stay patient with the plan.

Complex Center Situation: Allow Rossi & Eriksson Ek Dictate Need

The team should allow Rossi and Eriksson Ek to dictate the complex situation up the middle and the need for a top-six center. This scenario wouldn’t matter if the Wild trade Matt Dumba for a center, but that won’t happen this offseason unless his market value dramatically increases. It also hinges on Rossi being fully healthy.

Instead of trying to sign a center in free agency and assuming the Wild don’t trade for a top-six center, Eriksson Ek and Rossi should become the 1-2 punch down the middle, and the team should reassess from there. The free-agent market is shallow for centers, and none of them move the needle.

Joel Eriksson Ek, Mikhail Sergachev
Minnesota Wild center Joel Eriksson Ek moves around Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

In my Eriksson Ek article, I argued that he can be a low-end, first-line center. Rossi has a top-six center trajectory as well. Instead of wasting money on mediocre addition, the Wild should stick with what they have, which will subsequently allow the money to be spent on youth.

The Rise of Kevin Fiala

Kevin Fiala is on the rise, and this is perfect timing as the Wild have struggled in the past few weeks. After displaying his talent in the second half of last season, Fiala is the game-breaker that former Wild GM Paul Fenton advertised him to be when he was acquired in a one-for-one deal that sent Mikael Granlund to the Nashville Predators. Minnesota was looking for consistency from the dynamic winger, and he has delivered this season.

Despite the criticism against the young forward, Fiala has been good this season, even if it has yet to translate to the scoresheet at a pace that many were hoping for. Like Kirill Kaprizov, he has an elite transition game, which makes him such an effective player.

Kevin Fiala, Minnesota Wild
Kevin Fiala 2020-21 RAPM chart (Evolving-Hockey)

Fiala has been among the league’s best in generating offense, and his possession game has been strong. The only concern is his ability to finish, but it has improved recently, which is a positive sign. He has been above average defensively, which is also important. He has done everything right this season, but it just hasn’t translated to goals for the young winger.

Fiala has 5 goals and 11 points in his past nine games, including 2 shootout goals. According to Natural Stat Trick, his shot share of 49.71 percent and expected goal share of 55.44 percent at 5-on-5 rank second and fourth on the team, respectively. He’s been one of the best forwards on the team and is integral to their success.

The 24-year-old is a pending restricted free agent with arbitration rights, which makes me wonder if he will elevate his game to the next level – as shown in the past ten games – in hopes of a better contract. The Wild need him to continue his surge because, along with Kaprizov, playing their best is the only chance the Wild have of making noise in the postseason.

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