Mikko Koivu’s departure from the Wild means that for the first time since the beginning of the 2009 season the franchise will be looking for a captain. The offseason overhaul of the roster by general manager Bill Guerin has left a few candidates for the job. The two players who seem to be mentioned most are defenseman Jared Spurgeon and winger Marcus Foligno.
You have to wonder how much of a hurry Guerin, a one-time NHL captain himself, and coach Dean Evason are going to be in to appoint someone to wear the “C”. Guerin has jettisoned longtime mainstays such as Koivu, Eric Staal, Jason Zucker (traded in February) and Devan Dubnyk, and young players such as Ryan Donato and Luke Kunin, because he wanted to alter the makeup of this team both on and off the ice.
That could mean the wise play, at least for the upcoming season, would be to not name a full-time captain. The rebuilding Detroit Red Wings have gone the past two seasons with four alternate captains but no one getting the primary assignment. General manager Steve Yzerman said that will change for the coming season.
The Wild did not have a permanent captain during their first eight seasons under coach Jacques Lemaire, who rotated that assignment among different players. If Guerin and Evason don’t name a captain for what is certain to be a pandemic-impacted and truncated season, it will be because they want to see how the roster takes shape both on the ice and “in the room” as hockey people like to say.
Do any of the new players emerge as leaders? Veteran center Nick Bonino, acquired from Nashville last week for Luke Kunin, will be playing in the final season of his contract, but seems to be the exact type of guy Guerin acquired to help change the culture at Xcel Energy Center. Foligno has been a stand-up guy in the Wild locker room but he’s entering the last season of his contract. Spurgeon will be in the first season of a seven-year, $53 million contract he signed last September so he has security, but there would be no hurry to make him the captain.
Guerin likely knows exactly what he is looking for in a leader but that doesn’t mean he’s found it. The way he has been making moves since the Wild was bounced in August from the qualifying round of the playoffs, there are no guarantees he’s done and that could continue to change the chemistry of the franchise.
So who will replace Koivu? Don’t be surprised, if for the time being the answer is no one.