In a ceremony that didn’t leave many dry eyes in the arena, the Minnesota Wild retired their first jersey in franchise history on Sunday which belonged to their first permanent captain, Mikko Koivu. Many former teammates were on hand to celebrate that included Niklas Bäckström, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, and even former Wild players and current Nashville Predators Mikael Granlund and Luke Kunin.
To celebrate this historic moment The Hockey Writers Wild writing staff of Devon Platana, Mariah Holland, and Justin Walters collaborated for a roundtable discussing Koivu’s career. They each discussed a different topic related to Koivu’s jersey retirement such as why he deserved the honour, his top three moments, and who could be next to follow in his footsteps and have their jersey hung in the rafters of the Xcel Energy Centre.
Koivu Deserves This Honor
When it comes to jersey retirements, there really isn’t a set criterion. After all, teams retire players’ jerseys for different reasons, with statistics and the organization’s age itself playing a factor. That’s why the Wild have yet to retire a number until now: they’re one of the “newer” clubs in the grand scheme of things and have had few players stick around long enough to deserve the honor.
Having said that, Koivu deserves to have his jersey retired for multiple reasons, ranging from his individual statistics to his status as a locker room leader.
Koivu’s On-Ice Contributions
Expectations were high for Koivu when he was selected sixth overall at the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. There’s a lot of pressure anytime a player is taken that high, especially after his brother, Saku, established himself as a legitimate top-six forward during the six previous seasons.
Nevertheless, it didn’t take long for Koivu to earn himself a key role on the team. After making his Wild debut during the 2005-06 season, the Finnish center never touched the American Hockey League (AHL) again. He went on to play 1,028 regular-season games with Minnesota, which is still a franchise record to this day. Considering how Jared Spurgeon is the next closest player as he approaches 750 games, it isn’t tough to see how loyal Koivu was to the organization.
Koivu was also as consistent as they come when it came to playing at a high level. Of his 15 seasons with the Wild, he finished with at least 50 points on seven occasions. His best performance came during the 2009-10 campaign when he finished with 22 goals and 49 assists for 71 points. It was just the third time that a Wild player hit the 70-point mark in a season, which is a total that’s been hit only twice since then.
What’s even more impressive is that Koivu didn’t stop being a point producer until the very end of his career. He averaged 0.74 points per game (PPG) from his sophomore NHL season until the 2017-18 campaign. Even with injuries and the COVID-19 pandemic holding him to just 103 games played in his final two seasons with Minnesota, he still recorded 50 points over that span, which was a lot better than most players could do in their late 30s.
Many players have played over 1,000 games at the NHL level, but few have maintained the same level of leadership as Koivu did throughout his tenure with the Wild. It didn’t take long after his debut with the organization for people to see him as a true leader. The Wild awarded Koivu with alternate captain honors at the age of 24 during the 2007-08 season. This was during a campaign when they had five players share the ‘C’ as the club searched for its first full-time captain.
Koivu was selected again to be one of four alternate captains during the 2008-09 season. However, this time there wasn’t anyone named captain as the Wild continued to search for their leader. By the end of the season, it became clear that he had what it took to be the team’s true leader, and was finally named captain the following season.
After that, the word “captain” became synonymous with Koivu. While numerous players wore the ‘A’ alongside him over the years, he wore the ‘C’ right up until his final season with the Wild in 2019-20. His leadership never wavered once on or off the ice during those 12 seasons. When the Wild needed a goal, he was there. When a big hit was needed to re-energize his teammates, he was there. When the locker room needed a motivational speech in between periods, he was there.
Koivu accomplished everything that his numerous coaches asked of him without complaint. He always showed up every night and gave it his all, no matter if the Wild won or lost. He was the definition of a player that led by example, which is why it’s tough to think about anyone else when associating the word “captain” with the organization.
Koivu’s Connection with the Fans
Although Koivu was a fantastic two-way centre throughout his career, it wasn’t just his on-ice play that cemented his status as one of the Wild’s all-time players. His connection with the fans is another massive reason why his jersey is now hanging from the rafters at the Xcel Energy Center for decades to come.
It’s important to remember that Koivu was just a Finnish kid in his early 20s when he came over to North America. That sort of transition is tough for anyone, especially while dealing with the pressure that comes with being an early first-round draft pick. Nevertheless, the Wild fanbase welcomed him with open arms and the feeling has been mutual ever since.
Koivu never hesitated to help those in need across the St. Paul community. He was constantly in collaboration with Children’s Minnesota, a local pediatric hospital. The charitable Finn consistently donated to the hospital, even sponsoring private rooms so that kids could get the medical attention that they deserve. He even invited some of the patients and their family members to various Wild games, giving them a chance to feel like normal children at a hockey game.
Wild fans could go on and on about how much they love Koivu and he’s been willing to remind them that he feels the same. He made sure to thank them for their support not only when he left the club but when he heard that his jersey was getting retired. It wasn’t an obligation for him to thank everyone, but the fact that he reminded the fanbase that it was their support that led him to have the career that he did shows what kind of special bond he had with the city.
At the end of the day, the Wild will see many more captains and while some of them will be great (including Spurgeon), no one will have the same connection that Koivu did with the fans. That alone was a great reason for his jersey to be retired this past weekend.
Koivu’s Top 3 Moments
With a 16-year career as successful as Koivu’s, it’s hard to pick just three goals or plays that would be his best. Instead, we’ll focus on three defining moments in his career, moments that everyone will remember for years to come and in turn made him a standout on the Wild’s roster.
Koivu Coming Back From Broken Leg
In his third season with the Wild and prior to his becoming captain, he had his leg broken and missed about two months of the season. It wasn’t a fluke accident that caused his leg break, it was another player who took a cheap shot and hit Koivu across the back of the leg with his stick. That player was Mattias Öhlund and he was suspended four games for the hit that caused him to miss 6x that many games.
The impressive part about this was his ability to come back in such a short time. Koivu missed 24 games and came back stronger than ever. For most players, it would take a while to get back in the swing of things but not the Wild’s future captain. In his first game back, he recorded an assist in their win over the Chicago Blackhawks.
The even bigger victory was their first meeting with the Vancouver Canucks after Öhlund broke Koivu’s leg. It was about a week after his return and he made an impression. He scored a goal in their 4-2 win and was credited with the game-winner. When he scored it, he made sure to skate right in front of the Canucks bench and let out an emotionally-filled victory yell.
Koivu Hits 1,000 Games
In the NHL it’s a great accomplishment to play in 1,000 games and it’s even more impressive to play all the games with the same team. He played all 1,000 games for the Wild plus 28 more and his final seven with the Columbus Blue Jackets before he decided to retire. He was able to celebrate the milestone with a lot of former teammates just like he did for his jersey being sent to the rafters.
He was the first Wild player to play in 1,000 games and he also set NHL history as the 55th player in the league to play that many with the same team. During that time with the team, his name became synonymous and will always be a part of Wild history.
Koivu Knew When to Leave
Something that made Koivu special was his ability to read the ice and make plays based on what he expected to happen. He wasn’t a superstar scorer but his playmaking talents were some of the best. His assist numbers were consistently 30 or above for most of his career. He was always setting up his teammates for goals and overall success.
His skills to see the ice also translated to his own play. As the end of his career approached, he knew his time was coming. Rather than playing until no team would take him, he decided to retire while his game was still good. However, to himself, he thought it was slipping and he couldn’t play at the top of his game anymore. He didn’t want to put his teammates through that, so he respectfully retired in the classy way everyone had come to expect of him.
Wild’s Future Jersey Retirments
With Koivu’s number being the first-ever to be retired by the Wild, why don’t we look way too far into the future to see who the next number might be raised to the rafters at Xcel Energy Centre?
The current captain of the Wild looks destined to remain in the state of hockey for his entire career, with still five seasons remaining on his contract after the 2021-22 season. In 750 career NHL games, all with the Wild, Spurgeon has 94 goals and 330 points, so hitting 500 points for his career isn’t unrealistic at all. He’s also produced in the playoffs, with 24 career points in 55 games.
All that while also being one of the league’s top defensive defensemen. He’s averaged over 22 minutes a night on his career while blocking over 100 shots in eight straight seasons and could make it nine very soon. Spurgeon could hold the record for most games played in a Wild jersey by the end of his career, passing Koivu who had 1,028.
No player has had such an immediate impact on this franchise in such a short period of time as Kirill Kaprizov has had over the season and a half with the Wild.
After 112 games in the NHL, Kaprizov is over a point-per-game and is currently in the top 10 in NHL scoring on the season with 30 goals and 43 assists. He may break the Wild’s goals (42) and assists (50) record for one season in just his second year in the league.
There was an incredible amount of hype for him entering the NHL, and he has lived up to every inch of it so far. A couple more seasons like this one, and there will be no debate on who is the most outstanding offensive player in franchise history, as no. 97 will be up in the rafters forever.
Ok, admittingly, this is looking way too far down the tunnel. However, Matt Boldy is looking terrific at just 20 years old and is giving Wild fans hope that he will be the next superstar in the organization.
He has NHL-level speed and a fantastic shot, not to mention already being 6-foot-2 and over 200 pounds. He’s clicking at just below a point-per-game after his first 27 games in the NHL and is showing no signs of slowing down either.
It’s almost comical talking about Boldy having his no. 12 possibly retired by the Wild one day, but you never know. The young power forward is off to a terrific start, and if he stays in the State of Hockey for the next decade or so, he could see this honour bestowed upon him one day.
Koivu’s Retirement Bittersweet
As difficult as it was to hear the news that Koivu was retiring, it wasn’t surprising. Not many players make it to 1,000 games played and when they do, they aren’t young players anymore. As stated before, he will always be a part of Wild history. From his serious attitude to his memorable backhand shot that nearly always fooled goalies, he was a one-of-a-kind player.
Something that was very unfortunate about the timing of his retirement was never getting the chance to see him play on a team with the likes of Kaprizov, Kevin Fiala, Mats Zuccarello, and Boldy. It would have been really interesting to see how those players would have meshed together.
While Koivu’s playing career is done, it’ll be interesting to see if he transitions into any type of coaching position with the Wild or any front office position in the near future. It will also be fun to see how current captain Spurgeon continues to transform into a franchise player like the captain before him.
Mariah Holland is a contributing Minnesota Wild writer for THW. She’s been covering the Wild at THW since October of 2020 and specializes in game takeaways and weekly check-ins. She is always looking for different angles to cover the Wild and dig deeper into the stories surrounding the team to help fans connect on a more personal level and to keep an eye on the latest follow her on Twitter @MariahEStark.