It’s June, and the Minnesota Wild are watching their hated rivals, the Colorado Avalanche, play for a Stanley Cup. In Denver, a team chock full of stars is planning their parade. We’re talking players like Cale Makar, Mikko Rantanen, and Nathan MacKinnon. In St. Paul, fans are wondering what happens when their team parades Kevin Fiala out of town.
The hot stove of the NHL offseason won’t heat up until after the Stanley Cup Final. In the meantime, though, the New Jersey Devils are the favorites to obtain Fiala. It makes a lot of sense. They’re an up-and-coming team, coming off the splash signing of Dougie Hamilton and looking to take further steps. They also have plenty of desirable assets for Minnesota.
But the Devils will hardly be the only ones in the mix. The Ottawa Senators have long been rumored to be on the hunt for Fiala. Now that we’ve taken inventory of New Jersey’s trade bait, let’s look at the other organization linked to Fiala.
As with New Jersey, we’ll have to profile the players Ottawa is unlikely to trade. Tim Stützle, who they drafted third overall in 2020, headlines that list. Stützle only turned 20 in January, but he’s already looking like a star. He leads his class with 87 points in 132 games, including 22 goals and 58 points this year. He’s like Fiala in many ways, a scoring chance machine who’s great in transition.
Similarly, even if the Wild could afford Brady Tkachuk, he wouldn’t go anywhere. Neither would Thomas Chabot. Drake Batherson is 24, productive, and on an extremely team-friendly deal ($4.975 million through 2026-27). Therefore, it’s hard to see Ottawa rushing to move him.
Josh Norris is an RFA with no arbitration rights, so he’d be cheap in theory. Still, if the Sens are going to improve their scoring depth, trading a 22-year-old who has scored at a 34-goal pace in his career won’t help that.
On the prospect side, University of North Dakota defenseman Jake Sanderson stands out as the biggest untouchable. The Senators are high on Sanderson (5th overall in 2020) after he broke out as a sophomore, providing the Fighting Hawks with 26 points in 23 games.
The good news: There are not too many untouchable-level players after that. The bad news: Ottawa doesn’t have the depth of assets that New Jersey has. Scott Wheeler had them ranked as the 17th-best farm system in the league in January. Hockey Prospecting, which ranks prospects by their production, not scouting, has them 24th.
Ridly Greig stands out from the pack, but he doesn’t project to have Fiala’s upside. He has 95 points in 60 games over his past two seasons in the WHL, which is good but not quite great. As it stands, Hockey Prospecting compares his development curve with Jamie Langenbrunner. You’d take that, for sure. But would you as the centerpiece of a Fiala trade?
Other than Sanderson and Greig, most everyone else in Ottawa fits the mold of having some interesting skills but little in the way of projectable production. They have Mads Søgaard, a 6’7″ goalie prospect who had a .908 save percentage in 35 AHL games last season. But at 21, he’s far from a guarantee to contribute before Jesper Wallstedt arrives.
Erik Brännström is the one player who falls in the grey zone between NHL and AHL. The defenseman was the centerpiece of the Mark Stone trade to the Vegas Golden Knights, but he’s yet to find his way in the NHL. Not only does he have only 31 points in 116 games, but his overall game is also pretty ghastly. Evolving Hockey’s xSPAR model rates him as costing the Senators a standings point last season. That includes below-average ratings at both even-strength offense and defense.
Still, he’s just 22, and his AHL track record is fantastic, with 63 points in 90 career games. Can a new change in a better environment make for an interesting buy-low opportunity for the Wild?
In short, if this deal gets done, it’ll be draft picks to the rescue. Ottawa has the seventh overall pick this season, which would set Minnesota up nicely to grab an intriguing offensive winger. If they don’t mind going small, Joakim Kemell or Matthew Savoie has a chance to replicate Fiala’s production eventually. There’s a good argument that Ottawa’s 2022 first-rounder is the single best attainable asset on the Fiala market.
If Ottawa wants to keep No. 7 overall, they still probably have the draft capital to get the move done. They could send Minnesota a protected first-rounder in 2023, which is expected to be a great draft class. They also have their second-rounder in the next two drafts and the Tampa Bay Lightning’s this year.
A first-rounder will be the minimum to out-bid a team like the Devils for Fiala. Even if they can pry away the seventh pick next month, though, will that player be on too long of a timetable for Guerin’s vision? It’s possible.
Another problem is: Can Ottawa keep Fiala past this year? The Senators’ recent history is full of colossal embarrassment after embarrassment. Star players like Erik Karlsson, Mark Stone, and Matt Duchene all made exoduses out of the franchise. With $24 million in cap space, they can absolutely sign Fiala. But can they entice him actually to put pen to paper?
It depends on what Fiala wants, which is something we can’t really know. Would he take less money to go to a contender? Does Fiala want to maximize his earnings? Is his priority proving that he can be the guy like Kirill Kaprizov? Or is it simply something he never got in Minnesota under the Guerin/Evason regime: respect?
Ottawa can offer Fiala at least two and maybe three of those things next year. Contending is off the table for the Sens next year. But with new ownership, there’s hope.
Eugene Melnyk left a complicated legacy, to put it lightly, as owner after passing away in March. The Senators often appeared dysfunctional for much of his time there. Ottawa also is consistently in or near the bottom-five of the league in payroll. Will that change in the near future?
If so, being the primary shooting option on a line including Stützle, with Tkachuk looking for rebounds, could be an attractive proposition. But if Fiala doesn’t see a fit, or if Minnesota can’t quite find what they’re looking for coming back, another team may easily snag the Swiss sniper.