The Calgary Flames are rolling right now. The team has points in six straight games, and just finished up a grueling seven game road trip with an impressive 4–2–1 record as they currently sit first in the Western Conference.
The Flames have been dominant at both ends of the ice this season as they currently sit top-10 for goals for per game, and first overall for goals against per game. There really hasn’t been any main weaknesses with this team thus far.
That said, the area that has been a concern and could cause the team trouble down the line is the complete lack of secondary scoring from the bottom-six. As it stands the Flames have just 10 goals combined from their current bottom-six group, five of which are from Milan Lucic.
Brad Treliving has clearly recognized the main weakness for his roster, and lucky for him a perfect opportunity may have arose for him to take advantage of. Winger Kevin Fiala is in the midst of a down season and may want out of Minnesota. Should the Flames pursue him to fix their depth issues on the wing? Let’s take a look.
All numbers are 5v5 score-and-venue-adjusted courtesy of Evolving-Hockey.com. Only players with at least 1,000 minutes TOI over the last three years are considered.
Assessing the Fiala trade rumours
Since being traded to the Minnesota Wild at the end of the 2018–19 season Fiala has seen his stock rise dramatically in Minnesota only to fall to an all-time low this season. Fiala is in the midst of a very slow start to the year as he currently has just three goals and 12 points in 18 games for the Wild.
This has caused some major issues between Fiala, the organization, and head coach Dean Evason in recent weeks as reported by The Athletic.
The issues didn’t just start this season though. Going into the 2021 offseason, Fiala was a restricted free agent looking to sign a big money long-term deal coming off back-to-back career years in which he was on pace for at least 30 goals and 60 points in both.
The Wild however did not want to extend Fiala long-term, instead wanting to lock him down for a cheaper bridge deal instead. This begun speculation that the Wild may attempt to move Fiala in order to improve their centre depth.
The discussions drove the two parties to arbitration in the summer, which is never a good sign for a big name player. As expected the two came in with very different numbers.
In the end Fiala was handed a one-year, $5 million deal, meaning he would go straight back to restricted free agency in 2022. To make matters worse, the Wild handed big money long-term deals to two fellow Wild restricted free agents in Kirill Kaprizov and Joel Erikkson-Ek, which no doubt didn’t sit well with Fiala.
Well Fiala’s slow start to the season and up and down usage by the coaching staff has added fuel to the fire. Michael Russo of The Athletic had this to say just a few days ago about Fiala after he was removed from the team’s power play during the Wild’s 5–4 loss to the Florida Panthers.
Fiala, one of the Wild’s biggest scoring threats, didn’t move a muscle on the bench during the first and second unit’s shifts. Asked if Evason had explained why he’s no longer on the power play, Fiala said, “Dean hasn’t, so you can ask him.” Evason seemed to disagree with the assertion Fiala doesn’t know or understand why.Michael Russo, The Athletic
It appears the rift between Fiala and Evason is getting public now, which never bodes well for a player’s long-term future on a team, especially one that is coming off arbitration and is a free agent again in six months. Russo ended the discussion by stating that it’s hard to see Fiala staying in the organization long term.
It’s clear Fiala could be on the trade market sooner than later, so what does he bring to the table? Let’s take a look.
Who is Kevin Fiala?
Fiala was a first-round draft pick of the Nashville Predators, going 11th overall back in 2014. He spent parts of five seasons with the team, scoring 52 points in 204 games before being shipped to the Wild during the 2018–19 season for Mikael Granlund.
After struggling to start his career in Nashville due to some terrible luck, Fiala has developed into a legitimate top-six winger for the Wild as he’s posted 49 goals and 113 points in 151 games across four seasons with the team.
Over the past three seasons, he currently ranks first among all Wild players for goals, assists, points, power play goals, and power play points. In other words, he’s been the Wild’s best player over the past three seasons.
His rank league wide among wingers comes out looking very solid as well over the past three seasons.
|Stat||Fiala||League Rank Among Wingers (Since 2019–20)|
|Even Strength Points||71||33rd|
By every stat other than even strength points, Fiala grades out as a top-30 winger in the NHL. The only current Flames wingers who rank higher in each categories over the time frame are Johnny Gaudreau, and Matthew Tkachuk. As well, due to his hot start to the season, Andrew Mangiapane sits with four more goals than Fiala since 2019–20.
What makes Fiala’s numbers even more impressive is his ice time over the past three years in Minnesota. He ranks 155th in the NHL among forwards with just 16:20 ATOI over the past three seasons. Had his ice time been around the same range as some of the other top wingers in the NHL over the past three years, there’s a very good chance he would be inside the top-20 for each category.
His slow start to the season may be a concern, however if the past is any indicator then Fiala should be just fine. Not only is he shooting an incredibly unlucky 5.3% right now, this is nothing new for Fiala.
To open last season, Fiala produced six goals and just nine points in his first 17 games. He would then close out the season with 26 points, and 11 goals in his final 22 game games.
We can go even further back to his first full year in Minnesota in 2019–20, when Fiala started out the season with just one assist and no goals in his first eight games. He would then light up the scoresheet with 53 points and 23 goals across the final 56 games of his season.
There’s no doubt Fiala has the ability to fill up the scoresheet, but how do his underlying numbers look? Let’s take a look.
|Stat||Fiala||League Rank Among Wingers (Since 2019–20)|
Right away Fiala’s main strength is evident. He is elite at producing shots and attempts towards the net. He ranks fifth in the entire NHL over the last three seasons in terms of iCF/60, with the only wingers ahead of him being Alex Ovechkin, Max Pacioretty, David Pastrnak, and Brendan Gallagher. Some very solid company.
As well for total iCF over the last three years, Fiala ranks just outside the top-10 for wingers in the NHL with only elite names ahead of him. For just overall shots, he ranks 13th among forwards in the same time frame. There’s no doubt that he’s among the best shot producers in the entire league.
His other underlying numbers aren’t as impressive but he still ranks top-50 for ixG and xGF% over the last three years which grades out as a first line winger. Whether looking at his point totals or his underlying numbers, it’s clear that Fiala is one of the most gifted wingers offensively in the entire NHL.
The big knock on Fiala has always been his defensive game, or lack thereof. As we are currently seeing in Minnesota, his lack of effort on defence and tendency to take lazy penalties gets him in trouble with coaches and prevents him from earning the ice time he needs to fulfill his offensive potential. Looking at his RAPM (Regularized Adjusted Plus-Minus) chart from the past three seasons, it’s clear his weakness is defence.
Here’s the thing though, it really doesn’t look all that bad. Sure he’s clearly not going to be applauded for his defensive efforts anytime soon, but it’s not like he’s a complete liability either.
Fiala is clearly at his best in the offensive zone, but it’s not like his defensive game makes him impossible to trust on the ice. I mean what better coach to improve Fiala’s defensive shortcomings than Darryl Sutter? A team should want a player with Fiala’s offensive talents 10 out of 10 times even with his defensive shortcomings.
How the Flames might trade for Fiala
The big question is, if Fiala does actually become available, is a trade truly feasible for the Flames? The answer is yes. So what would the Flames need to give up? Well the biggest need for the Wild is a top-six or top-nine centre. They’ve been in the market for one for what seems like years. Well as well all know it just so happens the Flames have one of those who they’ve been trying to trade for years.
So would a Sean Monahan for Fiala trade work? First off, given that Fiala is two years younger than Monahan and has outproduced him by 10 goals and 21 points over the last three years the Flames would likely have to add a sweetener. That said, considering that Fiala is an RFA in a few months and is unhappy in Minnesota, the sweetener wouldn’t have to be much. Think a prospect or anything but a first-round pick.
Whether it’s because of injuries or something else, Monahan is simply not the player he once was. That said, he’s shown this season that if he’s given a chance with capable top-six wingers, Monahan can still be an effective player. As well he’s still very solid on the power play. With how needy the Wild are at centre, Monahan could be an enticing option considering the depth on the wings they possess.
The next question is money. Both the Wild and Flames are extremely tight to the cap so the money being exchanged would have to be pretty even. Monahan earns $6.375 million this year and next, while Fiala earns $5 million this season and is then an RFA. The Wild currently have around $2.25 million in cap space at the moment, so a one for one swap could theoretically work for both sides.
The issue for both teams is next season. The Wild will have an absurd $8 million more on the books for the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter buyouts, making their situation even tighter. That said, they will have Victor Rask and Alex Goligoski‘s combined $9 million off the books.
The Flames meanwhile have four players due for big raises, so adding another RFA to the mix in Fiala may just be too much to fit under the cap. However, depending on how the rest of Fiala’s season goes, he could be had for a very fair number come the 2022 offseason.
This is all to say that a Monahan for Fiala trade is something could realistically work. The Flames would have to add some extra pieces on their end, but it wouldn’t be a ton. In terms of the money it would be tight for both teams next season, but both could make it work.
Potential Flames lineup
So let’s say the Flames are able to get a deal done involving Monahan along with picks/prospects for Fiala, what could a potential lineup look like? Fiala is a leftie, but he’s played both the left and right sides in Minnesota. Given their depth on the left side, the Flames would obviously want Fiala playing right wing.
Here’s what a potential top-nine lineup with Fiala could look like.
Johnny Gaudreau – Elias Lindholm – Matthew Tkachuk
Andrew Mangiapane – Mikael Backlund – Kevin Fiala
Dillon Dube – Adam Ruzicka – Blake Coleman
Adding Fiala to a line opposite Mangiapane would be absolutely deadly as a second line and a matchup nightmare for any team. It’s not just the top-six that would be improved either. By adding Fiala to the roster it bumps Blake Coleman down the third line thus improving the Flames’ biggest weakness which is wing depth in the bottom-six.
By shipping out Monahan the Flames would have a gap on the third line at centre. Brad Richardson certainly isn’t getting the promotion so the next best option would be to move Dillon Dube back to centre or call up someone from the AHL.
In order to maximize their depth on the wing and prevent someone like Tyler Pitlick getting top-nine minutes I would call up a centre from the AHL. Adam Ruzicka would be the perfect choice. Ruzicka is currently lighting it up with the Stockton Heat as he leads the team with 16 points in 13 games. He also sits seventh league-wide for points.
A third line of Dube, Ruzicka, and Coleman would provide the Flames with some much needed depth scoring and offense.
Maybe this time Brad?
The Flames are clicking right now in ways we haven’t seen since the historical 2018–19 season. That said, the team clearly has an area of improvement that they will need to address one way or another before the playoffs if they hope to go on a deep run this season.
With Fiala nearing the brink in Minnesota and potentially on the market sooner than later, it offers Brad Treliving yet another great opportunity to bolster the Flames forward group. Fiala has had some bad luck this season, but he’s still one of the most offensively gifted wingers in the NHL. Time will tell if Fiala is truly placed on the market, but if he is, Brad Treliving should be first in line.