Finally. The Minnesota Wild officially named center Mikko Koivu as its captain Tuesday – a year or two late, but it’s done and we can’t complain anymore.
Not that I haven’t complained in the past. After all, Koivu has grown into the Wild’s best skater (goalie Niklas Backstrom would give him a run for best player) over the past few seasons, cresting with a 67-point campaign last year and establishing himself as a strong, two-way pivot.
And though possessing awesome skills on the ice does not alone make a player captain material, Koivu has excelled at the leadership portion of the equation as well. In fact, in an upcoming issue of The Hockey News, the big Finn is named Minnesota’s ‘Glue Guy’ in our team stories; fellow Wild players are drawn to him and want to hang out with Saku’s brother.
For the rudderless Wild, this move comes at a perfect time, too. The team is off to a tragic 1-6-0 start, putting them dead last in the Western Conference and only a point up on the basement-dwelling Maple Leafs. Key free-agent acquisitions Martin Havlat and Petr Sykora are both hurt and top defenseman Brent Burns, who was supposed to flourish with Jacques Lemaire gone, is flailing with a minus-9 rating under new coach Todd Richards.
Sounds like the perfect time to turn to the man with the ‘C.’ In the past, members of the Wild would turn to the guy who had the ‘C’ for that month – not exactly inspiring. I know the idea was “team over individual,” but crimony, every army needs a general.
And Koivu can be that general. In fact, don’t be surprised if the center’s personal game gets a boost from the captaincy, too. The most recent example of this is Ilya Kovalchuk in Atlanta. Kovy was given the ‘C’ in Blueland on Jan. 12, 2009, with the Thrashers sitting at an ugly 14-24-5 record. The dynamic Russian was a point-per-game player with 43 through 43 games.
As soon as the stitching set in, however, Atlanta turned it around and went 21-17-1 the rest of the way. The team still missed the playoffs, of course, but pro-rate its record post-Kovie captaincy and the Dirty Birds would have chalked up at least 90 points instead of reality’s 76. Considering how much better Atlanta was in overtime and shootouts in the second half and the post-season was at least achingly close instead of pointlessly distant.
Kovy finished the season with 91 points in 79 games, meaning he averaged more than a point-per-game by the end.
This season, the Thrashers are off to a great start, thanks in part to an influx of skill (Pavel Kubina, Nik Antropov, Maxim Afinogenov) and a full year of the Rich Peverley Experience. They also know who their general is and are following his lead.
While Minnesota will be in tough to make the playoffs this season (Edmonton and Colorado are both better than expected, meaning the Wild is the soft touch in the Northwest Division), the building blocks are in place and naming Koivu the permanent captain is a step in the right direction.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appears Monday and Wednesday, his column – The Straight Edge – every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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