Wild have to find a way to keep Kevin Fiala

Minnesota Wild Kevin Fiala
Bruce Kluckhohn, Getty Images

The Minnesota Wild have not only become one of the NHL’s best teams, they have become one of its most exciting teams. The past two seasons have seen the Wild score goals like never before in franchise history, and the top line duo of Kirill Kaprizov (their first 100-point player) and Mats Zuccarello gets most of the attention for it. And for good reason. They are exceptional players individually and as a duo, and have helped completely transform the outlook and style of the team.

But they are not the only reasons for it.

The Wild have also developed another dominant scoring duo recently in Kevin Fiala and rookie Matt Boldy.

It could create a little bit of a headache for them this offseason as it relates to Fiala.

Boldy is still a rookie and on his entry-level contract, which is exactly what the Wild need right now given their future salary cap outlook. They need talented, productive players that do not cost a lot of money. Young, homegrown players are the best way to get that.

But Fiala is a bit of a different monster here. He is a pending restricted free agent and will be coming off of a contract that currently carries a salary cap hit of more than $5 million per season. He is going to command — and should be able to get — a significant raise based on his play both this season, and since arriving in Minnesota. Fiala was one of the major additions in the very brief and tumultuous Paul Fenton era, and has not only met all of the expectations the team had for him, but also exceeded them.

After his five-assist performance on Friday night Fiala is now up to 32 goals, 50 assists, and 82 points in 78 games this season, while also posting strong possession numbers. He has become a complete player and a major piece of the Wild’s roster. Since the joining the Wild he has 78 goals and 183 points in 211 regular season games, which averages out to around 30 goals and 70 points per 82 games. That is not only top-line production, that is outstanding top-line production.

Given that he still has a year of team control before he is an unrestricted free agent keeping him should be a no-brainer, at least in the short-term.

But starting next season the Wild have some really complicated salary cap situations to juggle given all of the dead money they have going to the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter buyouts. More than $12 million in dead money to be exact. As of now Minnesota only has $8 million in salary cap space to work with this season with only 17 players under contract. It is not a stretch to think that Fiala could command at least $7-8 million on his next contract given his level of production, as well as the fact he is in the thick of his prime years in the NHL.

The good news is other than Fiala and Marc-Andre Fleury, the Wild do not have any other major players with expiring contracts that need new deals. Kaprizov, Zuccarello, Joel Eriksson Ek, Ryan Hartman, and most of their key defenders are all signed long-term. But it is still going to be a challenge, and another contract is going to have to move out to make room for Fiala’s new deal and completing an entire NHL roster.

They are not going to move Kaprizov, Zuccarello, Eriksson Ek, or Hartman (nor should they) but whether it is a Marcus Foligno, or Jordan Greenway, or Tyson Jost, or perhaps more significantly one of the big money defenders (Matt Dumba, Jonas Brodin?) they are going to have to find a way to create room to keep Fiala. He has not only become one of their most productive players, he has become a key building block to the team’s identity and one of its absolute best players. He is a player you keep and build around, and as long as they have their duos of Kaprizov-Zuccarello, and Fiala-Boldy in their top-six they are going to remain a powerhouse offensive team.

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    Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

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    BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

    The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

    Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

    Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

    Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

    The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

    Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

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    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

    Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

    These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

    In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

    “Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

    Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

    “He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

    Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

    “I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

    Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

    “I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

    Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

    “I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

    Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

    The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

    One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

    “It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

    Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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    SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

    Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

    “Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

    The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

    Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

    Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

    Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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    The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

    The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

    General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

    The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

    Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

    Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

    “I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

    Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

    “Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

    After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.