‘Good’ contracts prevented Wild from getting Fiala deal

The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn released a full NHL contract breakdown on Wednesday. The Minnesota Wild did very well, finishing fourth among teams in contract efficiency. With the exception of Brandon Duhaime, Matt Dumba and Tyson Jost, Luszczyszyn expects every Wild contract to exceed its cost.

Heck, even bad contracts are good. Each only lasts one year and they should provide a value of only -2.4 million dollars less than the combined cost. Freddy Gaudreau’s $1.2 million transaction is expected to generate $2.2 million in capital gain, which will almost cancel it out on its own. Then Minnesota has Kirill Kaprizov, Ryan Hartman, Joel Eriksson Ek and many more players offering value. It’s a good place to be.

Of course, some of it is out of sheer necessity. The Wild have two extremely ineffective plagues on their salary cap, with Zach Parise and Ryan Suter’s buyout penalties leaving a nearly $13 million crater in their cap. With that, Minnesota must go bargain-hunting, avoid long and ineffective free agent contracts, and be selective in re-signing players.

It’s one of the main reasons they retired 85-point scorer Kevin Fiala after this season. They couldn’t afford it. “We don’t have ceiling space,” Bill Guerin said at the time. “Honestly, to keep him would require trading three guys and wearing down the squad more. It just didn’t fit.

It made sense. Trade the guy who is about to get a lucrative contract so you can keep multiple pieces on the team. Pack that with a reasonable return in a draft pick that became Liam Öhgren and Brock Faber, and that’s it. Right?

Then you scroll down to the 13th place team, the Los Angeles Kings. Who tops their list of best deals? None other than Fiala.

Luszczyszyn gave Fiala’s 7-year, $55 million deal an A. He predicts the contract will provide $19 million in excess value to the Kings over the life of the trade while giving him a 67% chance of outperforming the deal. It is one of 36 contracts to receive an “A” rating or better. Even better, from now on, Luszczyszyn predicts that only 13 of these transactions will exceed Fiala’s capital gain.

Simply put, this is one of the best contracts in the league. It’s better than anyone in the Wild except Kaprizov, whose Luszczyszyn contract gives an A+ and expects to bring in $22 million on capital appreciation. Or we can look at it another way. Having Kaprizov at an AAV of $9 million and Fiala at his freight of $7.9 million would give Minnesota $8.21 million in combined added value. That in itself would offset about 65% of the redemption penalties.

Instead, the Wild is stuck with lots of “good” contacts who somehow aren’t particularly useful or mobile. Of course, a deal like Hartman’s would always be in demand, as would Eriksson Ek’s, Jared Spurgeon’s or Jonas Brodin’s. But as you go down the line, you start to see contracts that are more effective than their actual league value.

Take Alex Goligoski, for example, who signed a mid-season extension to a two-year contract worth a total of $4 million. Luszczyszyn’s projects that bring in $11 million in value, but that doesn’t quite add up. Goligoski’s ice time dropped as the season progressed and he seemed to be most effective alongside Spurgeon. He certainly won’t be with Spurgeon next year, and he turned 37 last week. Is Minnesota really betting on getting significant value from this deal?

Then there’s Jake Middleton, signed to a three-year ($2.45 million AAV) extension that’s expected to net an additional $2.9 million worth over the next three seasons. It’s betting on Middleton not regressing after coming out of nowhere in his 26-year-old rookie season. Luszczyszyn’s model only has it at 56% to deliver a relatively modest contract. Not much better than a flip wedge.

Dmitry Kulikov (projected $1.5m capital gain on a $2.3m AAV contract) is basically untradeable, despite Luszczyszyn’s model loving his contract. He’s currently on the outside watching the Wild, which means they could bury him in the AHL once Jon Merrill is healthy. Speaking of Merrill, Luszczyszyn expects him to deliver $1.5 million a year on a $1.2 million contract. That’s right, locked in for three years to get less than $400,000 in savings per year. Don’t spend everything in one place.

The best of Guerin’s contract decisions since last season (aside from Kaprizov) was to extend Jordan Greenway. He signed Greenway, with a projected value of $4.5 million per season, to a $3 million AAV contract. Its good! But is it as good as having a $10.6 million player under $8 million? Probably not!

Once added together, these transactions probably do not bring the added value that Fiala will bring. Combined, Luszczyszyn’s projections estimate that the Goligoski, Middleton, Kulikov, Merrill and Greenway contracts will combine for $17 million in value. That’s less than the $19 million Fiala is likely to fetch. So maybe not having three guys would have been worth it. Maybe even four or five. Maybe more, if you’re considering, say, taking Jost’s contract for next year.

Perhaps there were other good reasons for moving Fiala. It’s very possible that Guerin and Dean Evason were right to be cool with him. Maybe you think the comeback for him, especially if you include the possibility of hitting Danila Yurov, was worth it. These are all valid.

What isn’t valid, however, is the idea that they couldn’t afford Fiala. As we said in April, this decision was made by the front office prioritizing certain players over Fiala. It might work long term. But when you stack up the Fiala contract against many other contracts Minnesota has signed over the past year, it looks like they may have made the wrong decision of going for depth over star power.

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