The Boys of Ice are Back in Town, all except one
WINTON… It’s finally here. I have got my summer hockey break in, I’m feeling refreshed, have missed the game, and I’m ready for the season to commence! Perhaps those that believe in some of the more popular superstitions here won’t like the thought of the Minnesota Wild Training Camp kicking off their on-ice training on Friday the 13th, but that’s when it begins. 9am to be precise and of course it will be at their most awesome TRIA training facility in downtown St. Paul. The facility is in the repurposed former Dayton’s Department store and it holds a special place in my heart. My mother started off a promising career in Women’s fashion right out of High School at the leading store in her hometown, (my birthplace) and then had to set that aside when I came along. But as soon as my younger brother began grade school in the early sixties, she resumed that career and started out at the St. Paul store.
As a youth member of the Student Science club at the Museum downtown, twice a month I would go to the educational meetings there, afterwards it was over to Dayton’s for lunch with my mom. She would work her way up to the Flagship store in Minneapolis and took on a few new projects for the Dayton family at that store, turning them all into successes. She had in close to 30 years when she retired and was a highly revered staff member. I couldn’t count how many times I was in that St. Paul store as a kid, the Dayton’s had the best of everything there along with some unique entertainment at times. To appeal to their teen customers, they would occasionally have a local rock group in, and a couple of those would go on to national fame. It was definitely one of my “happy places” as a kid.
To think that the National Hockey League club that I pull for has their training facility on that site, that brings back many warm feelings to me. Nothing was spared here either to create one of the best facilities in the league. TRIA rink is easily top three in the NHL. And yes, it is a selling point for prospective players, especially the free agent type. At least thus far though, it’s not enough of a factor to get RFA forward Kevin Fiala re-signed and into camp. All other Wild personnel are with contracts and have assembled in town for Captains practice, off ice training and general all-around camaraderie. In a Labor Day appearance at the State Fair, Head Coach Bruce Boudreau made mention of that and was pleased that the players were showing that renewed resolve considering the clunker of a season the team endured last year.
He was also unsure of when the Fiala situation would get finalized and in a strong dose of candor, voiced some displeasure at Fiala’s performance post trade to the Wild and a basic overall disappointment over the deal that sent Mikael Granlund to Nashville for him. Boudreau intimated that “Granny” was the clubs best forward overall and that the Wild got the short end of the straw on this trade. I can see that, and in observing Fiala over his time in the league, he is a hard player to get a read on. He excelled at all levels leading up to the NHL but remains enigmatic at this level. In his 2014 Entry Draft year he was taken 11th overall and many considered him to be the 3rd best European skater in that draft.
The young Swiss player went to Sweden to play Junior hockey and performed well. After being drafted he stayed there until Nashville brought him over later the next season. He was assigned to the Milwaukee Admirals AHL club and put up 20 points (11G, 9A) in 33 games. In the 15-16 season he appeared in 66 games with the Admirals, scoring 50 points on 18G and 32A. In the 16-17 campaign he split time between the big club and the ‘A’. With the Predators, he was on the card for 54 tilts scoring 16 points on 11G and 5A. In Milwaukee he was in 22 games with 19 points on 7G and 12A. In the Stanley Cup tourney, he was in for 5 games with 2G and 0A, and one of those goals was the G3 OT GWG in the stunning 1st Round sweep of CHI. In a 2nd Round playoff game versus STL, he broke a femur in his left leg that ended his season. That was the year NASH went to the Cup Final, losing to PITT in 6 games. He recovered and returned for the 17-18 season and played in 80 games with the Preds scoring 48 points on 23G and 25A. He played in 12 playoff games with 3G and an assist. His point production was thin in that playoff, but he was a very noticeable player for the Preds.
For the 18-19 season he split time with NASH and MIN, appearing in 64 games for the Preds with 10G/22A/32pts, and then 19 games with the Wild getting 3G/4A/7pts. It wasn’t lost on me that that was the part that Boudreau showed the most sarcasm on. He came back though and spoke to the challenges of relocation and new teammates. Bruce did impart the feeling though that he is 50/50 on this guy at this point.
And that’s the challenge for me in trying to get a full hockey sense on him and his abilities. He is around a .796ppg player from Junior to the ‘A’. In the show he is a .466ppg player. Those stats are irrespective of playoff performance, which has mostly been negligible. Neither does this include an intense look at advanced analytics. In my book he has real good hands, lateral movement, good vision and can maintain puck possession longer then most players. His skating and shot aren’t stellar in my book. He is coming off a 3-year deal for $4.275mil and his agent is former NHL lunkhead Claude Lemieux. However, new Wild GM Bill Guerin and Claude were teammates in a former life and friends. Yeah, I know Bobby Sugar, this is show biz, not show friends.
But what in the H-E-Double hockey sticks is the holdup here? Fiala is not due a big bump in salary. He is a just under a half a point a game guy. And for me, he looked mostly lost in his 19 games here at the end of last season. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt though, but I also would not give him more then a 2 year “prove it” deal to him. Prove to me why you were an 11th overall pick, not just that you can prepare a Fondue Suisse’ au Boeuf. If you were hoping to avoid Boudreau’s wicked skating test by missing camp, you won’t. You’ll still have to do it… PEACE