The Wild and Kevin Fiala didn't agree on a multiyear contract this offseason, but the two sides won't have to wait long to try again.
Fiala is returning on a one-year, $5.1 million deal, a short-term solution announced Monday that avoided arbitration and gives the top-six winger another audition to show he merits a lucrative commitment from the Wild.
"It's a great opportunity for him," General Manager Bill Guerin said. "It didn't work this year, but he's got to be motivated. I do think Kevin's the type of guy that probably wants to prove me wrong and say, 'You screwed up.' That's what you want as a GM, too. That's what you want as a coach.
"You want these guys that are driven and hungry. I think Kevin's got the capabilities of doing that."
Although the Wild "would have loved" to sign Fiala long-term, Guerin said it seemed like that result wasn't feasible.
Negotiations began in July, and talks went back and forth without a resolution. But the team guaranteed an outcome before training camp when it filed for salary arbitration earlier this month, a move that was driven in part by Fiala's last contract.
That two-year, $6 million deal didn't get done until the day before training camp opened in 2019, and Fiala was a late arrival.
A restricted free agent, Fiala also could have elected for arbitration but didn't.
His arbitration hearing with the Wild was scheduled for Tuesday, but like in most cases in the NHL, a new contract was worked out ahead of time. The salary request filed by the Wild was $4 million and $6.25 million by Fiala's camp, and although these figures aren't necessarily indicative of actual offers, the two sides ended up settling in the middle.
"We're happy," Guerin said. "We're very happy to have Kevin back in the mix. There's no threat of missing training camp, and he can just kind of focus on being ready for training camp and his conditioning and all that stuff. Kevin's an important player for us."
Since joining the Wild in February 2019 in a trade that sent Mikael Granlund to Nashville, Fiala has been a ringleader in the offensive zone while striving to become more of a complete player.
Last season, Fiala finished second in goals (20) and points (40) on the Wild, but he was also benched for turnovers. Overall, the 25-year-old has 101 points in 133 games with the Wild; a team-high 54 points came in 2019-20.
Fiala will be a restricted free agent again next offseason before becoming eligible for unrestricted free agency. He can sign an extension with the Wild as soon as Jan. 1.
"It's a very important year for him," Guerin said. "Anytime you're in a contract year, it's very important. If Kevin truly wants to establish himself as an elite player, he's going to have to keep improving. He's had two good years for us, and he's going to have to continue to get better.
"Kevin's still young, too. He's still a young man, and there's lots of room for improvement in his game on a lot of different areas. But there are some things that he does extremely well that other people in the league can't do."
Guerin is optimistic the Wild could still re-sign Fiala to a long-term deal, which is what center Joel Eriksson Ek received and what Guerin anticipates for Kirill Kaprizov.
All three were offensive leaders for the Wild last season, and Guerin has identified the trio as part of the team's foundation. But the same contract might not work for everyone. Eriksson Ek re-upped for $42 million over eight years in July, an average of $5.25 million per season.
"This is a business," Guerin said. "It's not a personal attack. It's not, 'We don't like this guy. We like that guy more.' It's a business and we have a salary cap, a budget and a pay structure that we have to follow in order for us to be successful, and that's what we're doing.
"Lots of players go through this. I don't look at it as a slap in the face and if somebody does, then great. Prove us wrong."
Kaprizov is the only Wild regular still unsigned, but Guerin said he is in constant communication with Kaprizov's agent.
A recent report from Daily Faceoff indicated Kaprizov has a tentative agreement in place to return to Russia's KHL if he can't finalize a deal with the Wild. Guerin said he wasn't sure if the report was true, explaining: "It's not my decision. Doesn't bother me at all."
The NHL's reigning Rookie of the Year is coming off a dynamic debut, in which he led the Wild with 27 goals and 51 points. Kaprizov falls into the unique category of not meeting restricted free agency or unrestricted free agency requirements. He is only allowed to negotiate and sign with the Wild, is ineligible for an offer sheet from another team and doesn't have arbitration rights.
"Things are going well enough," Guerin said of the contract talks. "We still have lots of time. There's no rush or panic."
Even if Kaprizov is signed before training camp, the Wild could reconvene next month with holes in the lineup.
Trades, the waiver wire and internal candidates are all options Guerin mentioned to patch up the roster, but the flexibility might be enticing.
"It's not always the worst thing to have some competition spots open," he said. "When you get to training camp, you see who wants it. You see who's hungry. But we'll see."