The next arbitration hearing is scheduled for Tuesday between the Minnesota Wild and restricted free agent Kevin Fiala. The two sides have now submitted figures, though they can continue to negotiate a contract up until the moment the hearing starts. According to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, Fiala has filed for $6.25MM while the Wild have submitted for $4MM. Michael Russo of The Athletic notes that Fiala actually filed for a one-year term, meaning he will still be a restricted free agent next season.
It is important to remember that the two filings are meant to be the absolute limits of a negotiation, and arbitration almost always results in a contract somewhere in the middle. The midpoint of these two filings would be a $5.125MM cap hit for Fiala next season.
Given that it was the Wild who elected salary arbitration in this case, the term of the award was actually up to Fiala. He could have chosen a two-year deal to get him to unrestricted free agency, but by filing for just one he has essentially bet on himself. If say, the two sides can’t agree on a multi-year deal before Tuesday and a $5MM contract is awarded, Fiala will be owed that much as a qualifying offer again next offseason. He would then be able to file for arbitration again and earn a raise, still getting to the UFA market at the age of 26. The only real risk in this method is if the Wild decide not to qualify him for whatever reason, but unless there is a major injury or huge decline in play, that would be unlikely.
In fact, Fiala is likely worthy of a much more expensive contract after his recent performances. In 2019-20 he truly broke out, scoring 23 goals and 54 points in just 64 games for the Wild. At that point, he was still averaging just over 15 minutes a game. This year he was given more ice time and more responsibility and rewarded the Minnesota coaching staff with 20 goals and 40 points in 50 games. He posted outstanding possession statistics, even if they were helped by strong offensive deployment, and represented an outstanding one-two punch with rookie Kirill Kaprizov.
The question of course, as it will be for every contract the Wild sign over the next few years, is how they can fit in Fiala with such a huge cap penalty coming. Minnesota will face a $14.74MM cap charge in both 2023-24 and 2024-25 thanks to the buyouts of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, making it very difficult to fit in the rest of the roster. Given the team still has Kaprizov to sign, it’s hard to know exactly how much room they’ll have. Perhaps that’s why a one-year arbitration award for Fiala isn’t the worst outcome, with the two sides restarting negotiations a year from now.