It was unexpectedly announced Tuesday afternoon that veteran center Mikko Koivu is retiring from the NHL. The 16-year veteran and long-time Minnesota Wild captain parted ways with the Wild after they decided they wanted to move on with the youth in the organization. That has backfired, as the Wild could have used him right about now with their weak center depth. Instead of retiring, he opted to sign a one-year contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets, where he could provide them with some stability down the middle.
Koivu, 37, had played six games with the Blue Jackets this season. He had registered 1 goal, 1 assist, and 2 points while averaging just over 12 minutes a night in a bottom-six role. He has struggled right out of the gate in this shortened season, albeit he was able to find his game as seasons progressed in his time with the Wild.
The motive behind Koivu’s retirement was that he felt he wasn’t playing at the standard of play that he needed to be at to succeed and be fair to the Blue Jackets.
“This was not an easy decision for me as I have loved every minute of my short time in Columbus and really hoped to be able to help this team accomplish its goals this season, but the bottom line is I haven’t been able to get to the level of play that I need to be true to myself and fair to my teammates, so the time is right for me to retire from hockey”
“I have been extremely blessed and I am eternally grateful to the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets organizations for the opportunities they have given me to live out my dreams of playing in the National Hockey League for the past 16 years”NHL.com
He also notes how blessed he was to be a part of the Wild and Blue Jackets organizations. It is official, one of the best players to ever wear a Wild jersey has decided to hang up the skates and move on.
Blue Jackets Chaos
The Blue Jackets have abnormally been in the spotlight as of late. First, it was budding star Pierre-Luc Dubois communicating his desire for a trade that the organization would eventually grant when they sent him to the Winnipeg Jets with a 2022 third-round pick in exchange for Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic. Next, it was the recently acquired Laine being the second player that head coach John Tortorella benched for a significant portion of a game. The 22-year-old winger did not play the last minutes of the second period and the entire third period in the Blue Jackets game on Monday night. Now, it is Koivu announcing his retirement out of nowhere.
While Koivu hadn’t played at the level of play he wants to be, it is really surprising news. This isn’t the first time he has struggled at the start of the season, which makes the timing very odd. While I want to steer away from speculation that this could be related to the drama that is occurring with the Blue Jackets, it is really interesting timing because Koivu has only played seven games. It just seems odd that he would sign with the Blue Jackets if it depended on how he performed to start the season, which is such a small sample size.
An Underrated Career & Retiring His Number
Koivu has been one of the best defensive centers in the NHL over the past decade. Due to the nature of the voters who tend to vote based on two-way play, the former 1st-round pick in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft never won a Selke. He was robbed of the Selke in several different seasons but most notably the 2017-18 campaign. According to Evolving Hockey, Koivu’s 2017-18 even strength defensive goals above replacement (which takes into account overall defensive contributions) ranked 1st among all forwards since 2007-08. It is arguably one of the best defensive seasons by any forward during that duration.
The 16-year veteran registered 206 goals, 505 assists, and 711 points in 1,035 games. He also finishes with a 54.1 faceoff win percentage. While he wasn’t flashy and a goal scorer like many, he was still a force for the Wild. He was a top defensive center and faceoff and shootout specialist, all while still being a quality offensive contributor when called upon.
Likewise, he registered 11 goals, 17 assists, and 28 points in 59 playoff games. Koivu is the all-time Minnesota Wild leader in games played, assists and points. He was 14 goals short of Marian Gaborik’s all-time Wild record of 219 goals. It is also the intangibles he brings; he was the long-time captain of the Wild and was a strong voice in the locker room. He had a very underrated career with the Wild and led by example, which displayed his character and leadership qualities.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Wild should retire Koivu’s number. They have the obligation to do so because he has been such an important player and person to this organization. Likewise, he has been the face of the franchise, along with Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. He leads the Wild in several statistical categories and has been an important character in his time with the Wild in mentoring the young players. He also helped lead the Wild to six straight playoff runs from 2012-13 to 2017-18 despite the Wild failing to have any significant success in the postseason.
Koivu would be the first player in Wild history to get their number retired. One way they can remember and honor his legacy would be to retire his number. The loyalty and character that he displayed, along with his excellent on-ice play and being the first captain for the Wild, make him worthy of this consideration.
What Is Next?
Koivu had a phenomenal and underrated career with the Wild before his short stint with the Blue Jackets. I wonder if the 37-year-old would be interested in joining the Wild organization in a front-office role. It would be music to their ears if he wanted to join the organization and would definitely make the fanbase excited to see him return.
Aaron Heckmann covers the Wild for The Hockey Writers & Zone Coverage. His data-driven articles are focused on solving problems, telling stories, and discovering unique storylines. Find him on Twitter @aaron_heckmann.