In the 2019-20 Player Review series, we will evaluate the 2019-20 performances of each member of the Minnesota Wild during the regular season. Players were evaluated based on overall performance with regard to pre-season expectations and how that player performed in their particular role.
As the long-time captain of the Minnesota Wild sees his career (and current two-year, $11 million deal) come to an end, 2019-20 was an opportunity for Mikko Koivu to either (A) show he still has what it takes and earn a new deal with the only team he’s ever played for, or (B) put up one last strong season with Minnesota before retiring on his own terms.
Alas, the regular season did not end the way many of us (or indeed, Koivu) had hoped. Despite celebrating his 1,000th game and his 700th point in the same game against the Dallas Stars (more on that later), Koivu found himself demoted to centering the fourth line, missing 12 games in December due to a lingering lower-body injury, sitting on a career low in goals, tied for a career low in points, and earning the least time on ice since his rookie season. Koivu was even offered the opportunity to waive his no-trade clause to be dealt to a contender by general manager Bill Guerin — an offer which Koivu turned down.
So, as the Wild sit on the cusp of a best-of-five series with Vancouver to determine whether they will move on in the playoffs or possibly see the ping-pong balls reward them with the first overall pick, Koivu, the “Kaptain” and owner of almost every Minnesota Wild record in the books, enters the postseason with a great deal of uncertainty. How the 2019-20 season ends will go a long way to help him make his decision.
Season in review
After missing nearly half of the 2018-19 season with an ACL tear, Koivu had an opportunity to bounce back big when Bruce Boudreau started him on the second line with Jason Zucker and Kevin Fiala. And despite earning an assist in the season opener, points would be few and far between while the Wild struggled out of the gate. Over the first ten games (in which the Wild went 3-7), Koivu had only four assists and no goals — his longest goal-less streak to start a season since 2011. But where the scoring eventually came that year to the tune of 17 goals and 25 assists, in 2019-20, the points really never did. A big part of that was Koivu’s dismal 5.4% shooting percentage — by far his lowest since his rookie year.
And while Koivu’s shots taken were way down, averaging only 1.4 shots per game (the lowest number for any regularly starting forward), he struggled to make the high-percentage shots he was taking. The chart below, courtesy of Evolving Hockey, shows Koivu’s shots in 2019-20, with yellow goals, green shots saved and orange shot misses, with the size of the diamond showing the higher xGF number, or the better the chance that your average NHLer converts that opportunity. One thing is clear — Koivu had a bunch of high-quality chances that he couldn’t convert on.
Some might say, “Well, goals has never been Koivu’s strong suit — he’s primarily a defensive forward.” But even though Koivu is still an above-average defensive centerman, his prowess of preventing opposing scoring chances and interrupting their puck possession has plummeted over the last two seasons.
In fact, where in the past Koivu’s defense abilities would be among the most reliable on the roster, in the 2019-20 season, opponents could expect to score more frequently, albeit only slightly, with Koivu on the ice as opposed to off.
These steps back resulted in Boudreau’s mid-season decision to put Koivu on the fourth line, centering Ryan Donato and Ryan Hartman. The pairing actually sparked all three players, as each saw their points per 60 improve dramatically in the final month and change of the season. Koivu’s P/60 alone jumped from 1.24 to 2.14, and he scored just as many goals over the final 18 games (2) as he did over the first 37 (though, in the interest of full disclosure, both goals came in a single game — February 25 against the Columbus Blue Jackets — his only multi-goal game of the season and snapping a 30-game goal-scoring drought).
But even with his improved numbers on the fourth line, Koivu’s season fell far short of where most had hoped, and was an unfortunate swan song for a fan favorite.
This one’s pretty easy. On a night dedicated to the Kaptain’s 1,000th game, Mikko helped the Wild open the scoring with a sweet pass to Kevin Fiala for the game’s first goal and Koivu’s 700th career point:
Then, in the shootout with the game on the line, Mikko did what Mikko does. Forehand to backhand, top shelf, ballgame.
It’s a shame that in the very next game versus the Florida Panthers, Koivu suffered the injury that wound up keeping him out for 12 games and derailed the rest of his season.
Koivu has faced questions about what’s next the entire season, but was tight-lipped about what the future holds. However, since the season pause, he’s opened up more to the media about what he’s thinking. Koivu has insinuated, both back at the trade deadline and more recently, that he doesn’t see himself wearing another NHL jersey in the years to come, and should the Wild decide not to extend the long-time captain, he would either consider retirement or returning home to play in the Finnish Liiga.
Certainly, that means that Wild fans could be watching their Kaptain and fan favorite take the ice for the last time in a Wild sweater once the play-in games begin.