That question in the headline has been popping up every once in a while (a weekly subject during the season, really). If the Wild ever want to be a serious contender, do they need a better 1st line center? Or, in fact, do they even have a legitimate 1st line center in Mikko Koivu?
Koivu's dedication can't be questioned. He has never even entertained the possibility of moving to another team ($6,750,000 per year does that to a guy) and I don't think you could have any legitimate issues with his effort on the ice night in, night out. He's a horse out there, plays in every situation and does pretty much everything well.
As a dependable playmaker, Koivu's managed to eclipse the 70-point mark once during his 8-year NHL career. Some would say "only once", but after watching Koivu drag guys like Antti Miettinen on his wing, I'm not going there. He had a decent season after Martin Havlat joined the team, but the two never really got going, on or off the ice. Still, 62 points (17G, 45A) in 71 games is a reasonably good effort, considering that the team itself left fans frustrated after a disappointing season with Todd Richards coaching the team.
In came Mike Yeo, along with Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi and a few role players. This was supposed to be "the season" for Koivu. For once, he had shooters on his wings. Great shooters. But then reality met mr. Crap and they had a party, and mr. Fan crashed that party and, yeah, it was all bad.
Koivu had a shoulder injury in March that cost him 15 games, and eventually cut his season to just 55 games. Koivu still managed to score 12 goals and 44 points, ending up 3rd on the team in points. Heatley scored just 9 more, playing all 82 games. So, you could still say that Koivu didn't actually get the help he probably deserved from his linemates.
Or is it Koivu that doesn't provide the necessary help to his teammates? If it's Koivu that's just good, but not great? After all, he does score a fair amount of points every season, but never looks like that top-tier guy that you'd want your ideal 1st line pivot to be. He's not a constant threat. Not really a dominating player.
Now, last season was what it was. With little time left for training, players and coaches just tried to learn, teach and fix things on the fly, and after having only a micro-camp, that's not really a fair situation to anyone. Even if your name is Mikko Koivu or Zach Parise.
Now, when you're evaluating an individual, the linemates should be kept away from the subject as much as possible. But maybe that's just what Koivu needs. He's not an individual superstar. More probably, he's the KO-hit in a devastating 1-2 punch. Neither of the two had an outstanding season, and in the playoffs they were mostly shut down by the Blackhawks.
But that's what you'd expect, to be honest. The only two forwards on a decent team that you really need to be aware of at all times. And the Blackhawks were aware. They didn't blink. The 1-2 punch never connected.
So, will Koivu ever be the man most Wild fans want him to be? Depends on your expectations. Could he post a PPG-season? He actually might, who knows how hot they get with Parise once the new season gets rolling. But Koivu will never be the "one guy" that takes your team to glory. Not with the Wild, not with anyone else. He's the guy who can do that with somebody, but he won't be THE name you're going to single out. He's just not that kind of a player.
And as a player, Koivu has peaked. He's 30, and he's not going to get better as an individual. From this point on, you can expect him to maintain his level of play for a while. Then comes the eventual drop in production, then the change of style, and before you know it, he's Wes Walz. Let's just hope that the Wild get this team somewhere with him in it before it's too late.
No, Koivu won't be enough. Koivu will never be enough on his own. I love the man more than any other player I've ever seen on the ice, and I want him to be that guy, but he's not. So don't expect that of him. You'll just be disappointed.