Mikko Koivu had a lot to celebrate in his 15th (and potentially final) season with the Minnesota Wild. He hit 1,000 games, 700 points and was named Hockey Wilderness’ all-time fan favorite — and those are just a few of the accolades the Wild’s captain earned during the 2019-20 season.
But despite ratcheting up the intensity and importance in the five-game series against the Vancouver Canucks, Koivu’s results, like the Wild’s as a whole, were disappointing glimpses at what could have been had the pieces fell into place.
Koivu played only an average of 11:36 minutes per game against Vancouver (the second lowest among players who played all four games — Luke Kunin being the lowest), and for his efforts ended up with no goals, no assists, 6 PIMs and only five shots on goal. At the faceoff dot the long-time centerman went 29-27 for 51.8 percent, just a bit down from his regular-season average of 53.1.
Defensively, the fourth line of Koivu, Ryan Hartman and Ryan Donato/Nico Sturm had some solid moments during the series. In Game 1, Koivu’s line was amongst the best on the Wild in terms of Corsi For percentage, dominating possession at 5-on-5 with a 60.13 CF%. And in Gamr 4, Koivu’s line was the Wild’s best defensive answer against Vancouver’s phenomenal top line of Elias Pettersson, J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser, holding them scoreless at 5-on-5, with Pettersson and Miller’s only assists coming on the power-play.
On the offensive side of the ice, though, Koivu actually had a solid series at 5-on-5. Like most of his teammates, he seemed to be snake-bitten when it came to capitalizing on his chances. ChartingHockey.com shows it pretty clearly via their expected goals (xG) charts. For as strong as Koivu played (especially with the primarily defensive zone starts) the points — if not goals — should have been there.
But when Koivu and company did manage to get a look at the net, they had a tough time getting it to go.
Thus, Koivu ended up another example of a Wild player who put in the effort in the four-game series loss to the Canucks, but despite the chances was incredibly unlucky:
Perhaps that’s why the usually stoic and responsible captain had an uncharacteristically penalty-filled series with six PIMs in four games. Though to be fair, one of his minors was for a questionable delay of game call, assessed when he slipped on a faceoff and his glove hit the puck. Granted, Koivu has been nailed in the past for frequently using his glove to control the puck in the center dot, but this was pretty clearly not that. Guilty by association, I guess.
Koivu’s future has been discussed, speculated on, prognosticated about, sliced and diced six ways from Sunday all season long. Despite a decent showing in the pre-postseason bubble hockey experience, Koivu’s future with the Wild (or indeed, in the NHL) will be up to just two men — himself, and general manager Bill Guerin. Guerin has been adamant that changes need to be made, and that they will be coming. But if the Wild can’t find what they’re looking for in the draft or free agency, does that mean Minnesota has a fourth-line center spot for Koivu, as long as he’s not being paid top six money? Does Koivu even want that, or would he rather play in Finland? Does Koivu want to play at all, or just retire to his family and his post-hockey life?
Whatever the decision, the 2019-20 Stanley Cup Qualifier was a microcosm of Koivu’s entire career: full of potential with moments of greatness, yet falling disappointingly short of what might have been.
Previously in the Minnesota Wild play-in report card series: