The Wild won’t look the same next season, and not just because of recent roster turnover.
Longtime captain Mikko Koivu will not be back, after the team announced Friday it won’t re-sign him. Koivu, 37, had been with the organization ever since it drafted him sixth overall in 2001, and through 15 ensuing seasons he assembled the most illustrious career in team history.
“Mikko’s legacy will live on forever in our organization,” General Manager Bill Guerin said in a statement.
That on-ice legacy started in 2005, when Koivu made his NHL debut, as a rookie out of Turku, Finland. He scored his first goal in his second game and was the Wild’s points leader by 2008-09. After that season, he was appointed the team’s first full-time captain.
In 2012, Koivu was named to the All-Star Game, became the Wild’s all-time leading scorer in 2014 and had logged the most games by 2016.
A year later, he was a finalist for the Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best defensive forward. And last season, Koivu became the 55th player in NHL history to play his first 1,000 games with the same team. He and brother Saku are the sixth set of brothers in NHL history to each skate in 1,000 games.
Overall, he is the franchise leader in numerous categories including games (1,028), assists (504), points (709), plus-minus (plus-70), shots (2,270), faceoff wins (10,354) and multipoint games (153).
He’s also second in goals (205), third in game-winning goals (33) and sixth in blocked shots (557), contributions that suggest his No. 9 could be the first player jersey to hang from the rafters at Xcel Energy Center.
“His hard work, dedication and team-first mentality will be extremely difficult to replace in our lineup,” Guerin said.
But Koivu also made an impact in the community. The father of three sponsored two private patient rooms at Children’s Minnesota Neuroscience and Epilepsy Center in St. Paul.
Koivu is expected to address the media in the near future. It’s unclear what’s next for him. After the Wild was eliminated from the postseason in August, Koivu wasn’t sure if he would continue to play or retire.
“It’s a such a big decision that there’s no way I’m ready to do that right now,” he said at the time.
In February, Koivu opted not to waive the no-movement clause in his expiring two-year, $11 million contract to pave the way for a trade elsewhere. But signs of a potential separation did pop up during the season, with Koivu sliding down the depth chart to center the fourth line, a change he understood but one that was difficult for him to accept.
He had four goals and 17 assists in 55 regular-season games while averaging the fewest minutes (15:34) since his rookie season.
Koivu has also mentioned the option of playing in his native Finland. Regardless, he sees himself staying connected to the game.
“It’s been part of my life my whole life,” Koivu said in August. “So I don’t see myself not being involved.”
Earlier this week the Wild traded another experienced center, Eric Staal, to Buffalo for Marcus Johansson, and locked up Jonas Brodin with a seven-year contract extension, which ignited Matt Dumba trade speculation. Last week, the team acquired center Nick Bjugstad from Pittsburgh.
If those moves didn’t already signal a new direction for the Wild, Koivu’s exit makes that crystal clear.
“He’s been an integral part of this organization here for a long time and has had a great career,” Staal said on a video call Friday. “I wish him the best in whatever he decides.”