During an offseason in which its top goal scorers needed to be re-signed, the Wild managed to bring back all three players.
But not everyone returned under the same terms.
While Kirill Kaprizov and Joel Eriksson Ek signed lavish deals, Kevin Fiala is in on a one-year contract — a discrepancy among the team's offensive leaders that puts Fiala once again in the position of having to prove himself.
"I'm very, very motivated," Fiala said Thursday after his first practice of training camp at Tria Rink in St. Paul. "I got my fire in my eyes. I'm looking forward to the season badly."
The 25-year-old winger has faced these stakes before with the Wild.
This is the third time he's been in a contract year since the Wild acquired him in a trade with Nashville in 2019. Last season while wrapping up a two-year, $6 million deal, Fiala scored 20 goals in 50 games (second on the team to Kaprizov's 27) and finished with 40 points (also second) — this after he racked up a team-best 54 points in 64 games in 2019-20.
“I want to be that type of player that can be an every-situation guy not just if we need goals. 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.”
Signing him, Kaprizov and Eriksson Ek became the Wild's No.1 priority after the season, a box the team finally checked this week when it finalized Kaprizov's contract.
Kaprizov received the most money, $45 million spread over five years, and Eriksson Ek secured the longest commitment at eight years for $42 million.
Team brass would have liked a lengthy deal for Fiala, but the two sides couldn't reach an agreement. The Wild filed for salary arbitration, a move that guaranteed a resolution before training camp, but mediation wasn't needed; Fiala signed for one season at $5.1 million in mid-August.
He'll be a restricted free agent again after the season before becoming eligible for unrestricted free agency.
"I like it," Fiala said of the one-year contract. "It's a great opportunity for me to do another great year, and then we'll see what happens after that."
Even before negotiations started, improvement was on Fiala's mind.
Although he was one of the Wild's go-to players in the offensive zone last season, he still battled turnovers and was even benched for the miscues. After the Wild was eliminated from the first round of the playoffs in seven games by Vegas, Fiala vowed to be better and identified the areas he wanted to work on like his shot and defensive-zone play.
"I want to be that type of player that can be an every-situation guy 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.
"So, I gotta be better defensively, more consistent. Gotta be offensive, as well. I gotta dig some pucks out in the corners, be stronger there. I gotta go to the front of the net."
Unlike Kaprizov and Eriksson Ek, who worked mostly with the same linemates last season, Fiala didn't have a set partnership. And the shuffle continued Thursday when he skated with free-agent acquisition Frederick Gaudreau and Victor Rask.
"He's a great player," Fiala said of Gaudreau, who previously played with Fiala in the Predators organization. "I think we looked great out there, all of us three."
Regardless of who's on his line, the spotlight will find Fiala — because of his skills and his contract situation.
"I'm very focused and very excited for the season," he said.