For a lot of the Minnesota Wild fanbase, when you draw the name Mikko Koivu to your lips a sense of ire slips over the room. While some fans see him for what he is, others feel the weight of a “C” on his chest has pinned the 35 year old center to the ground, and this team pinned to mediocrity. Mikko Koivu has never been an electric goal scorer. Then again, who in the franchise's history really has been? But for some, points equate to getting one of those fancy letters on your sweater, and Koivu is considered far from deserving.
The story on Mikko is as old as time. He’s a great two-way center you can rely on in all 3 zones, on the power play or on the penalty kill. Koivu has been religiously one of the best in the faceoff dot since he came into the league in the 2007-08 season. In that time among active players he ranks 3rd for number of faceoffs (15,696), 3rd in faceoff wins (8,499), and 10th in faceoff win percentage of active players with 100+ games and 5,000+ draws. Historically, Mikko Koivu has been elite from the circle.
But this is a league of ‘What have you done for me lately?’ fans, and lately Koivu’s age has started to show. Last season, Koivu took the 7th most draws. But among the top 50 players in faceoff attempts, he finished 26th in win percentage with 51.4%, which is a very respectable number mind you, but still a few points off his career average of 54%. Koivu who has historically elevated his faceoff game in the post season won just 46% of his draws in 5 games against the Winnipeg Jets this post-season. Simply put, Koivu was just getting out-muscled on the draw.
Games are more than just faceoffs though. Once that puck is dropped there are more things to do and Mikko Koivu tends to do those things pretty well. Koivu notched 14 goals this season (none in the playoffs) which is about where one might have put him prior to the season. He hasn’t had a 20-goal season since 2009-10 so it’s quite safe to assume those days are well behind us. Where Koivu’s numbers really took a dive, though, were in assists. He’s generally been a good set-up guy, but this season he only pulled in 31 assists, his lowest total in any season he played that wasn’t marked by injury or lockout.
Where Koivu once seemed to be enjoying a little renaissance in his game in seasons past, he has definitely taken a step back this season. And that’s something you can see in even just analyzing his time on ice. For the first time since Koivu’s first 2 seasons in the league he saw his average time on ice dip below the 19 minute mark. Well below it. Averaging just 18:29 on ice this past season show that Coach Boudreau was giving a little more time to some of the younger core, and with how Eric Staal played it’s no wonder Koivu saw his on-ice role diminished this season.
In aggregate, however, you cannot get too down on Koivu. The man lives and breathes Minnesota Wild hockey. If players like Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are plugged into this team, Koivu is the heart they plug into. For fans who appreciate the intangibles players bring to the ice, Mikko is a treat to watch. He’s responsible first, and is a complete pest on the defensive side of the puck. He’s not overly physical - hitting isn’t really a part of his game - but he has a good reach and great hockey sense.
Offensively, he offers sound positioning, a solid forecheck, and, despite falling back a bit in helpers, he has great vision. The quickness just wasn't there for him like it once was. In space he does fine, he gets off those little one-time tap passes to set-up an outside rush, but when confined he's starting to decline from what was already a modest position in stick handling. Passing hasn't been as crisp which flew a little under the radar partially due to reduced expectations for The Captain, and also because Mikael Granlund emerged as the top playmaker on this team. For the season, with managed expectations, I’m inclined to give Koivu a B, B- if you factor in the post-season.
There really is no getting by the elephant in the room. What to do about that "C" on his chest? Is he deserving? Is he a leader?
I've long maintained the answers to those questions as 'You leave it and you're damn straight he is! On both accounts!" If there ever were a time to rip the C that time would be never. If you're honestly questioning Koivu's leadership role with this franchise you're going to have to come with some pretty hard evidence to counter and get taken seriously.
If Mikko elects to pass the torch, that I would support. The team is his until he says it isn't, and he's smart enough to see that dynamic shift in the locker room. And now might be that time. He's late in his career and with a new GM coming in who's going to hopefully have some new ideas to bring to the table. The time could be right for a change, but it shouldn't be forced. Koivu has built up far too much equity with this franchise than to have a new GM come in and pull the rug out from under him. Why anyone would take that decision away from him is beyond me. And quite frankly, when he does give it up, he should get to pick who gets it next. Start a new tradition, the Captain passes the torch to a successor of his choosing. Besides, it’s not like wearing a letter has ever won any games anyway.