He’s the first and only full-time captain in Minnesota Wild history, the franchise’s all-time leading scorer and no player in team history has suited up for more games. Last season, he helped guide the team to its most successful regular season ever and he has led the team to five consecutive playoff berths, over which time the Wild have won two rounds.
But Mikko Koivu hasn’t accomplished everything he’s set out to do in Minnesota, so, with his contract set to expire at season’s end, he’s put pen to paper on a new deal. On Monday, as Minnesota prepared to open their pre-season schedule against the Winnipeg Jets, the Wild announced that they had come to terms with Koivu on a two-year, $11-million extension — a contract which also carries a no-movement clause — that should keep the 34-year-old in town until after his 37th birthday. Signing the deal, Koivu told Wild.com's Dan Myers, was a way to ensure there were no distractions this season.
"I wanted to get it done before we started or not talk about it at all once the season started," Koivu said. "I've never believed that it helps, either the player or the organization, if there's talks going on all of the time [during the season]."
That Koivu has decided to remain in Minnesota isn’t altogether surprising, especially considering the Wild’s window appears as open as ever right now and the team is full of potential for another step forward. During the 2016-17 campaign, Minnesota pieced together the most stellar regular season in team history under coach Bruce Boudreau, racking up 49 wins and 106 points across the 82-game slate. For much of the season, a division title looked well within the Wild’s grasp, but late-season troubles turned into a woeful playoff performance that saw Minnesota finish second in the Central and ousted from the post-season in five games at the hands of the St. Louis Blues.
Yet, the franchise does seem to be trending in the right direction. Offensively, it was the greatest year the team had ever seen, with four players eclipsing the 20-goal plateau and five players with 55-plus points. The end result was a 263-goal season, a full 36 tallies better than any other campaign. Defensively, it was much the same for the Wild. While Minnesota didn’t put together franchise-best numbers, they were awfully close. The 208 goals against were the seventh-fewest in the league and on par with the defensively sound brand of hockey the Wild have played over the past several seasons.
And Koivu had a hand in both of those areas last season. Few would confuse him with a point-per-game player, but he managed the fourth-best goal and point totals of his entire career, registering 18 and 58, respectively. It made him the team’s third-highest point producer. But where Koivu excelled, which should come as no surprise to anyone who has watched him develop over the course of his career, was in his own end and away from the puck.
Koivu, as the Wild have come to expect, was brilliant defensively, logging more minutes and against tougher competition than any other forward. He was excellent against the league’s best players, too, producing a 60.7 goals-for percentage at five-a-side. Koivu was also dynamite on the dot, winning 55 percent of his faceoffs — no shocker given he’s 54.5 percent for his career — and finally, for the first time in his career, earned a nod as one of the best defensive forwards in the league by finishing third in Selke Trophy voting.
There’s no doubting that Koivu’s defensive acumen is the most important part of his game, either, particularly at this point in his career. As he heads into elder-statesman status, Koivu’s offense will slow down. That’s a given for every player not named Jaromir Jagr. What won’t go away, however, is his ability to think the game so well that he can continue to play a shutdown role at the top of the lineup, skate out against top players and work his magic on the penalty kill. He’s as reliable as centers come in his own end, and that ability dissipates much more slowly than the skill that allows player to score 20 goals and 50 points with regularity.
Truthfully, the only surprising thing about the contract for both Koivu and the Wild are the terms. Over the past several seasons, veterans, even those in their mid-30s, haven’t been shy about signing deals that stretch beyond one or two campaigns. Just this summer Trevor Daley and Patrick Eaves, both 33, signed three-year deals and Patrick Marleau, 37, signed a deal that keeps him around until he’s 40. But instead of going that route with Koivu, the two sides agreed on a shorter term, and while fewer years usually means more money, that’s not the case with the Wild captain. On his new deal, Koivu will take a $1.75-million annual pay cut and his actual salary will dip by more than $3 million next season, from $9.18 million to $6 million, with the final year of the deal paying Koivu $5 million.
Koivu taking the pay cut does send a message, though. It’s awfully evident that he wants to win and wants to do so in Minnesota. Taking less money can help that become a reality, as the extra cap flexibility the contract offers the Wild can be used to retain the likes of restricted free agents-to-be Matt Dumba, Jason Zucker and Joel Eriksson Ek. It can allow Minnesota to attempt to re-up Eric Staal and Tyler Ennis, both of whom will be free to hit the open market in two years’ time. And the additional cap room, though slightly less than a couple million, can help the Wild potentially add a piece or two in free agency or at the trade deadline to bolster an already deep roster. For teams without an all-world, generational talent, that’s the one major way to improve your chances of winning a Stanley Cup: utilize whatever cap space is available and stack the roster to the gills when you get the chance.
And, if all goes according to plan, Koivu’s selflessness with his contract and willingness to dedicate himself at both ends of the ice will allow him to add to his resume in Minnesota as not just the franchise’s first full-time captain, but the first player in Wild history to hoist the Stanley Cup.
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