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Zulgad: Mikko Koivu’s decision to stay put indicates the end of his career is near

ST. PAUL — Mikko Koivu often has been a man of few words during his 15 seasons with the Wild, but that doesn’t mean he has been able to avoid criticism while playing for a chronically underachieving franchise. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the Wild captain once again finds himself the focus of attention and criticism.

Michael Russo of The Athletic reported last week that Wild general manager Bill Guerin had left it up to Koivu whether he wanted to waive the no-move clause in his contract with the NHL trade deadline approaching at 2 p.m. Monday.

Koivu wanted to be relocated to a team with serious playoff hopes, Guerin would attempt to accommodate the veteran. Koivu, who will turn 37 on March 12, has spent recent weeks on the Wild’s fourth-line but centers are to NHL teams what lefthanded pitchers are in baseball. A contender can always use one and so somebody almost certainly would have given Guerin something in return for Koivu.

Koivu ultimately elected to stay put and end the season in Minnesota, despite the fact Guerin’s offer was a good one. Koivu never has been past the second round of the playoffs in his time with Minnesota and while the Wild remain in the hunt for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference it’s clear Guerin is wisely looking to make moves by Monday’s deadline that have nothing to do with the present.

The news that Koivu had declined the opportunity to move was met with some criticism on social media. I have dished out my share of criticism toward Koivu through the years. I long ago thought the Wild locker room needed a shakeup and naming a new captain would be a start. This led to agreement from some, while others hated the idea because they liked Koivu or thought it doesn’t matter who wears the C.

The reaction to Koivu’s latest decision from this space might surprise some but I’ll defend him on not wanting to go anywhere else. He is in the final season of a two-year, $11 million contract he received from former Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher in September 2017. While I didn’t applaud giving the then 34-year-old a two-year extension at that point, trading Koivu now wasn’t going to get you that much back.

Bruce Boudreau had moved Koivu to the fourth line before he was fired and interim coach Dean Evason had mostly kept him there. It’s not as if Koivu was eating up valuable top six minutes before Luke Kunin was injured on Friday in Edmonton. Koivu’s role changed Sunday in a 4-1 loss against St. Louis as he spent much of the game on a line with Kevin Fiala and Alex Galchenyuk. With Kunin sidelined, Victor Rask was the fourth line center.

Koivu logged 13 minutes, 46 seconds of ice time. Eric Staal led all Wild centers by playing 17:52; Joel Eriksson Ek played 14:07 and Rask logged 8:22. Koivu was a minus-1 and Staal a minus-3. Eriksson Ek finished a plus-1.

If Koivu wants to finish his career in Minnesota, the sixth-overall pick in the 2001 draft should have that right. The key is if Koivu’s desire is to play for one organization, he needs to accept the fact that this will be his final season. There is almost no chance Guerin is going to show any desire to bring him back, unless owner Craig Leipold decides to get involved, and one would hope that isn’t the case.

One also has to figure that if Koivu has no desire to chase a Stanley Cup this season, he isn’t going to attempt to continue his career anywhere else in 2020-21. Koivu played in his 1,020th NHL game (all with the Wild) on Sunday. He had 203 goals and 500 assists, although only two goals and 13 assists in 46 games this season.

Koivu and his family clearly enjoy Minnesota and it would be a logical step that if he’s going to remain in Minnesota that he will retire this spring and be honored before the puck drops on the regular-season home opener next season. There will be discussion at some point about whether Koivu should be the first Wild player to have his sweater raised to the rafters at Xcel Energy Center.

That’s a discussion — OK, it’s a debate — for another day. In this case, Koivu has every right to end his career where it started. The key will be accepting the fact that end is 21 games away.


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