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The Wild Needed Quality But Settled For Quantity In the Fiala Trade

Photo Credit: David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

The team that gets the best player in a trade wins the trade. It almost always works out that way. That’s why when Kevin Fiala first came to Minnesota, the State of Hockey was apoplectic. They traded the better player, Mikael Granlund, straight-up for Fiala. No picks and prospects or other considerations going Minnesota’s way.

But as bizarre as Paul Fenton‘s moves were, he had this one figured out. He identified Fiala as the available asset most likely to be the best player in a Granlund trade. Once he did that, he didn’t care about anything else. And he was right. Granlund is decent in Nashville. Fiala became a star in Minnesota.

After Fiala’s breakout season where he took second place in franchise history with an 85-point season, trading him and coming away with the best player was going to be difficult. It was theoretically possible, of course, based on the rumored interest in Fiala. When profiling New Jersey’s trade assets, 10K Rinks identified Alexander Holtz, a right-shot sniper who notched nearly a point per game in the AHL at age 19. Looking at Ottawa, their crown jewel was the No. 7 overall pick in this year’s draft.

Neither would be a guarantee to exceed Fiala, but Hockey Prospecting puts Holtz’s chances of stardom at 34%. Several prospects would likely be available with Ottawa’s pick that matched Holtz’s chances, or better.

We’ll never know what truly was and wasn’t available, but Holtz or a top-10 pick would’ve represented an appropriate amount of upside for Fiala. If Minnesota took either straight-up, no one should have complained.

Instead, Minnesota shipped Fiala to the Los Angeles Kings, receiving a package of two assets that don’t seem to add up to the 85-point scorer in Fiala. One is the 19th overall pick in next month’s draft. The other is University of Minnesota defenseman Brock Faber.

Is adding a top-20 pick to Minnesota’s arsenal of high picks (24th, 47th, 56th) a good thing? Sure is. Does Brock Faber have his fans? Sure does. Is either of them a decent bet to replace Fiala? Not sure about that one!

Given that he’s a prospect and not just a pick for two weeks from now, let’s start with Faber. The Kings drafted him 45th overall in 2020. He had his fans on the Elite Prospects scouting staff, with J.D. Burke saying in that year’s Draft Guide, “Don’t let the national team’s depth chart fool you — Faber is as competent as a defender as you’ll find on that blue line.” High praise, considering he was teammates with Jake Sanderson, who went fifth overall that year.

The thing with Faber is that he’s lacked production for most of his career. He has just 26 points through 59 games with the Gophers. He didn’t produce much in the US Development Program, either. That lack of production craters not only his chances of stardom but even his likelihood of making the NHL.

Courtesy of Hockey Prospecting

Now, points aren’t everything, and the microstats Mitch Brown of EP tracked during his draft year had him as solid in entering the offensive zone with control and elite at exiting the defensive zone. That’s important, and it’s a big reason why someone like Jonas Brodin is so valuable despite his historical lack of production.

But Bill Guerin, Judd Brackett, and Co. had better be right about his skating and defense translating to the NHL. Because if not, there’s not much to fall back on. Even so, EP compares his strengths to defensive-defenseman Chris Tanev. The Calgary blueliner is a very good hockey player. It’d have been a great result for the Kings to get a Chris Tanev with a second-round pick. Maybe not so much as a centerpiece in a trade for an 85-point game-breaker in Fiala.

So the burden of upside will likely fall on that 19th overall pick. How often does a pick in that range turn into a star?

Not incredibly often. The findings of Hockey Prospecting’s Byron Bader are that picks in the 11-20 range turned into stars just 7.1% of the time from 2005 to 2013, less than half of what a pick in the 6-10 range expects to yield (17.8%). And while picks in the 11-20 range are far likelier to make the NHL compared to the 21-30 spots, they’ve actually yielded less star power than the latter group (8.3%).

The potential drop from a top-10 spot to 19 will also likely cost them chances at some very good prospects. At, say, No. 7 overall, Minnesota could expect to choose from the likes of Matthew Savoie (47% chance of stardom, per HP), Joakim Kemell (32%), or Kevin Korchinski (23%, 4th among defensemen in the 2022 class). Those are all consensus top-15 picks, meaning they’re likely gone at 19. Heck, even talented players that may fall down draft boards like Danila Yurov and Denton Mateychuk could go before then.

If anyone can snag a star at 19, it’s Brackett, the head scout who managed to draft last year’s top-rated goalie (Jesper Wallstedt) despite starting at No. 22 overall and scooping up Brock Boeser at No. 23 in 2015. But no matter how good your scouting is, do you want your return for a Fiala trade to hinge on whether you can pull a rabbit out of your hat at pick 19?

If Brackett can pull off another feat of draft day wizardry, maybe they can balance the scales of this trade. But look at what happened the last time the Wild traded a budding superstar to California.

Sure, Minnesota rolled the dice and lost on the package they got for trading Brent Burns 11 years ago. Devin Setoguchi flamed out in a Wild uniform, never scoring 20 goals again in his career. Zack Phillips, whom Minnesota selected at 28th overall, never played an NHL game. Even Charlie Coyle, the relative success of the lot, only hit the 20-goal mark once.

But imagine Setoguchi and Coyle both became consistent 25-goal scorers, and if Phillips became a top-nine forward, just as a thought experiment. Would that have still offset losing a Norris-winning defenseman? One that scored 25-plus goals from the blueline twice? One that has 22 more playoff points in San Jose than Minnesota franchise leader Zach Parise, plus a Stanley Cup Final appearance?

Probably not! Because, again, the team that gets the best player generally wins the trade.

Maybe it was never possible to do that with Fiala. After all, he played at a 46-goal, 107-point 82-game pace over his final 53 games. Can he put it together for a full season alongside Anze Kopitar? Will he bring out the best in Quinton Byfield as he did with another big American forward in Matt Boldy last year? The Kings get the pleasure of finding out.

More importantly, they get to do so without costing themselves anything they couldn’t replace. Whether it was the potential of other stars hitting the market, not leveraging teams for maximum return (by their own admission), or the way Guerin publicly talked crap about Fiala while pushing him out the door, Minnesota simply did not get a 2019-era Fiala in this deal. A bonafide, blue-chip asset that could easily grow into the best player in this deal.

Without doing that, the Wild made it much, much harder to not regret trading a game-breaker.

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