Wild

The Wild Built An Offense That Can Survive Without Fiala

Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no doubt Minnesota Wild will see regression in its offense without Kevin Fiala. Last year, they finished fifth in the NHL with 3.7 goals per game and 11th with 32.5 shots per game. With Fiala, Minnesota’s offense became a faster and more skilled group on the transition. Kirill Kaprizov’s accomplishments overshadowed Fiala’s, but Fiala still finished with 85 points, also beating Marian Gaborik‘s single-season Wild record.

Fiala helped Minnesota become a regular season juggernaut as the 2021-22 Wild finished with a franchise-best 113 points. Fiala grew into a better offensive dynamo than Mikael Granlund, delivering on all the hype he had when he arrived.

But suddenly, the team’s offense, Fiala included, evaporated in the playoffs. And that’s been a recurring theme. Fiala has only tallied nine points in 17 playoff games with Minnesota. That’s just 0.52 points per game. It just wasn’t good enough.

In 13 career playoff games, Kaprizov scored 11 points or .84 points per game. Most Fiala defenders pointed to his lack of a Top-6 quality center, but Kaprizov didn’t have that, either. Kaprizov showed he doesn’t need to play with the best offensive center to get points.

Kaprizov already plays a playoff style, so he doesn’t need the transition game to be successful. But Fiala thrives in the transition game. Once it goes away in the playoffs, it always exposed Fiala’s weaknesses. His incompleteness as a player doomed him.

Dean Evason is experimenting with different lineup combinations, but top prospect Marco Rossi will likely replace Fiala. Freddy Gaudreau is returning to play alongside Matt Boldy. These three are going to be the team’s trio moving forward.

Fans are skeptical of Gaudreau getting time on the team’s “2.5 line” (either their second or third line, depending on who you ask). But 10K Rinks’ Tony Abbott put the Gaudreau skepticism to rest recently, breaking down how Gaudreau is a perfect, stable fit on a scoring line.

Time to get on the Gaudreau bandwagon. He can be Minnesota’s version of Blake Coleman, an instrumental depth contributor to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s back-to-back Stanley Cup wins. There should be no complaints about him getting Top-9 minutes. Zero.

You can stay on the Boldy hype train, too. Although Boldy is not as offensively gifted as Fiala, he has the frame suitable for playoff physicality. He needs to continue growing stronger to withstand bigger defensemen like the St. Louis Blues defensemen who had their way with him. Rossi finished 7th in scoring among Under-22 AHL players after beating myocarditis the year before. He has shown his worthiness to be capable of replacing Fiala’s transition game.

If they can maximize their offense, it won’t matter that Fiala is gone. Boldy, Fiala, and Gaudreau combined for 168 points. What happens when you split that evenly? 56 points. So now we ask ourselves: Are these three players capable of averaging 56 points over a full season?

Why not? And if they do, they’ll replace the line’s output even without Fiala’s 85 points. That’s the new bar.

You could even say that the GREEF line consisting of Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek, and Marcus Foligno can also hit that bar. While none of them have the upside of being offensive juggernauts, they can produce good secondary offense.

Eriksson Ek is more than capable of besting his 2021-22 scoring record of 49 points. We’ve seen him grow from Day 1. He’s a highly intelligent shutdown center by suffocating the opposing team with the nifty hands to pounce on rebounds.

Foligno may not repeat his 2021-22 point totals due to a high shooting percentage of 23.5%, which led the team. However, you can definitely say he can repeat his 2020-21 point totals of 26 points in 39 games in the 56-game shortened season. That’s 54 points over a regular 82-game season. Foligno has come a long way from his offensive output in Buffalo, on top of being one of the league’s best shutdown wingers.

Greenway is a different story. Still, he will generate his offense by being a loose cannon to be face-to-face with the goalie every time he’s on the ice. Opponents will fear defending his 6’6”, 241-pound frame. And make no mistake, Greenway is fully capable of besting his previous point totals from the last three seasons.

Then there’s the rest of the pack in Tyson Jost, Sam Steel, Connor Dewar, and Brandon Duhaime rotating in and out of the lineup. Good competition here for depth and versatility. While you won’t expect much offensively, they’ll likely emulate Gaudreau if any of them were put in his role. Now you feel better about this team going forward? I do. Really good, actually.

Guerin has good depth in Iowa, where Adam Beckman, Mitchell Chaffee, and Vladislav Firstov can also fill out a scoring role in the Top-9 in case of injuries. Sammy Walker is in the tier of a version of what Dewar is expected to do right now in Minnesota. The blueline should also be strong offensively, as always.

This whole time we’ve been thinking everything wrong. Are fans going to miss Fiala’s dynamic individual talent? Sure. But it’s all about a team contribution, and the Wild still have a strong team without him.

Let’s face it, Fiala never established himself as a franchise centerpiece. While Fiala has shown high-end dynamic skills on the transition and incredible puck work, he isn’t a cornerstone. If he were, it’s fair to say he would’ve had a better showing against the Blues last season or the Vegas Golden Knights the year before. 

Sure, Minnesota could’ve traded a Matt Dumba to keep Fiala. The money would work in the short term, but what about the long road? What if it interfered with signing Boldy or Calen Addison later on? It wasn’t Dumba who Guerin prioritized over Fiala; it was the prospects. And if things go to plan, those prospects will be the key to the Wild filling in the massive hole left by Fiala.

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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

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