Minnesota Wild winger Kevin Fiala isn’t worried about the past, only the future.
He doesn’t care about Kirill Kaprizov’s 5-year, $45 million contract that makes him the highest-paid player in franchise history in terms of annual salary. Or about Joel Eriksson Ek’s 8-year, $42 million contract that provides him stability well into his prime.
Well, maybe Fiala does care about both of those things, considering he had to settle for a 1-year, $5.1 million contract this offseason. That said, Fiala took the high road Thursday at TRIA Rink in downtown St. Paul.
“I don’t want to go into details right now,” he said. “Just excited to get going. To be a normal full (82-game) season. That’s my focus right now.”
Still, it’s hard to imagine the 25-year-old winger from Switzerland isn’t a little perturbed by his current contract. Though the money he’s getting for this season isn’t chump change, in an offseason during which general manager Bill Guerin signed Kaprizov and Eriksson Ek to long-term deals, Fiala didn’t get that type of commitment from the organization.
Instead, the Wild actually opted for arbitration themselves, a rarity for an NHL team, before settling with Fiala.
“I don’t think it’s a bad thing for Kevin,” Guerin said last month. “I think he’s going to be motivated. You know what? I do think Kevin’s the kind of guy that probably wants to prove me wrong and say, ‘You know what? You screwed up.’ ”
Asked about his current contract, Fiala said he doesn’t mind that it’s a short-term deal.
“I like it,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for me to do another great year and then we will see what happens after that.”
After a few more questions about the same topic, Fiala finally let his guard down, if only for a moment. He admitted that he’s looking forward to proving himself this season, and in turn, proving the Wild wrong for not signing him to a long-term deal.
“I’m very, very motivated,” Fiala said. “I got (the) fire in my eyes. I’m looking forward to this season badly.”
Maybe next offseason the Wild regret their decision. Though Fiala still will be a restricted free agent at that point, meaning the Wild still will have a lot of leverage, they might not be able to afford a long-term deal if he continues the positive trajectory of his career.
In that case, the Wild would have to opt for a short-term deal, which inevitably would take Fiala right up to the threshold where he would be considered an unrestricted free agent. Then he would be able to sign wherever he wants.
There will be lots of time for those discussions down the road.
In the meantime, Fiala is fully committed to the Wild, and he wants to build on his performance last season, when he had 20 goals and 20 assists in 50 games. If those numbers were prorated to an 82-game schedule, the sixth-year NHL veteran would have set career highs in both categories.
While those numbers are impressive, Fiala isn’t content with simply being considered a scorer. He wants to be a player coach Dean Evason can trust in every situation.
“Not just if we need goals,” Fiala said. “I want to be the defensive guy, too. Whenever we have to be 6-on-5 against, I want to be on the ice. I want to be that guy that can be relied on. I’ve got to be better defensively. Just more consistent.”
That last part is crucial. If there’s a knock on Fiala, it’s that he can be streaky. There are some stretches where he looks every bit like an elite goal-scorer in the league, only to follow it up by ghosting the Wild for a few games at a time.
That has been the case since the Wild acquired him from the Nashville Predators at the 2018-19 trade deadline. Maybe that’s why the Wild were so hesitant to commit to him this offseason.
Not that Fiala is worried about any of that right now. Not with the Oct. 15 season opener against the Anaheim Ducks right around the corner.
“Why should I look back?” he said. “There’s nothing to look back. I can’t change anything. The only thing is looking forward right now.”