Captain Koivu is back! Spurgeon re-signs! The NHLPA stays in!

Marc Elliott

Minnesota Wild Captain Mikko Koivu  returns from injury for his 15th season
Minnesota Wild Captain Mikko Koivu returns from injury for his 15th season

MANHATTAN BEACH… For the Minnesota Wild, all rookies and prospects reported to St. Paul on Thursday the 5th and then promptly headed over to Traverse City MI for the 8 team Rookie and Prospects tourney. The club didn’t fare well there, going 0-4. The first three games they played were all one goal losses before succumbing to Chicago in the 7th place game in a 6-1 blowout. Former Gophers netminder Mat Robson had a nice performance as did Center Nico Sturm and Winger Dmitry Sokolov. It wouldn’t be a stretch to see Sturm get a callup this season from Iowa, and Sokolov, who needed to boost his skating ability and conditioning has improved on both. Hopefully he will continue to develop because some of the other parts of his game are already NHL level. 

The Veterans and rostered players from the big club reported on Thursday the 12th, excepting Kevin Fiala. It should be noted though that Fiala finally did agree to a 2-year extension and if all goes well with obtaining the necessary work visas and papers should report on the 18th or 19th. The first day on the ice for the big club was last Friday and all eyes were on the return of Captain Mikko Koivu to see how he would look upon returning from a season ending ACL injury and subsequent surgery. By all reports he worked quite hard to make it back for the start of camp and his return wasn’t a certainty. Teammate Luke Kunin went through a similar situation the year prior and his recovery-rehab took a considerable length of time. At any rate Koivu is back and outside of the internal question marks and concerns a player might have when returning from an injury of this magnitude, the Captain appeared ready to go and sans any noticeable limping. 

When Ryan Suter came back for camp last season after suffering a very serious shattered ankle injury, I believed he pushed it too hard and wasn’t ready to return when camp began. His own stubborn pride pushed him to return prematurely in my book and it showed in his play, and in the limp he carried with him off the ice for at least a good couple of months after the season commenced. It also showed in a handful of one on one battles he lost last year. Battles he never lost before in his career. But that’s how serious the injury was and how badly he personally handled it IMO. Sometimes it’s not a bad thing to listen to medical professionals. The Captain is not limping. He looks good. And apart from his self-viewpoint that he has a bit of rust on him in some subtle parts of the game, he has that usual Koivu preparedness thing going. 

I was having some hockey conversation the other night with my son William and out of the blue he wondered if the Wild would make Koivu’s jersey the first one in team history to hang from “the rafters” someday. I stated without hesitation that I hoped that would be the case, that I couldn’t think of any other player in team history that was more deserving. He agreed. We will be there for that night, no questions asked. The odd thing is that not all fans feel that way. I’m not solely addressing the jersey thing, but his whole career here with the club. Go on any prominent publication that publishes hockey news and if they cover the Wild, there will be a few times a season where based on what occurred in a given game, the Captain will get torn apart by fan comments more often then not. There have been many times when I have gone to bat for him over the years and will continue with that. But I still struggle to reconcile some of the fan commentary I have read over the years. 

Koivu is about to begin his 15th season with the team. He has seen and/or been a part of every bit of significant history of the organization. He is the only fulltime Captain the team has ever had. He is pretty much first or second in almost every conceivable team or individual record. And he is closing in on the 1000 games played mark. That’s a badge of honor that not a lot of players ever get to, and fewer yet do that with one franchise. And when other GM’s, coaches and players speak of him it is always with a high level of respect, stating that in his time in the league that he has easily been one of the best two-way players in the entire league. That’s the part that gets me. 

To those in the game and getting a paycheck from it because they are qualified to do so, they have nothing but respect for this player. Here in The State of Hockey, (geniuses) not so much. Sure, there are parts of his game that don’t compare with others as there is with any player. But for those parts of the game he excels at, there are few that have done it better or with more class and dignity. This just may be Koivu’s swan song. He isn’t even sure how it will go. But he is ready to put his stoic Scandinavian demeanor and work ethic into it and find out. Welcome back my Captain…

NEW WILD GM BILL GUERIN has been busy and after getting the last RFA player inked to a deal (Fiala) he went to work on an extension for star defenseman Jared Spurgeon and worked out a 7-year extension worth $53.025mil. The cap hit is $7.575mil per. Guerin and Spurgeon’s agent Eustace King came up with the contract as a result of a 2-day marathon of negotiations which both alluded to as “draining”. They got it done and a very important piece of the puzzle will be with the club for the foreseeable future. The deal begins in the season after this one and will protect Spurgeon with a full no-move clause for the next 5 seasons. After that a modified no-move kicks in. In mostly typical hockey player conservative fashion, Spurgeon said there was nothing splashy on the horizon for his new-found riches excepting maybe “a new pair of New Balance tennis shoes”. Congrats Jared, glad you are staying here…

THE NHLPA HAS announced that it won’t opt out of the current CBA in place and will not only see it through to its conclusion at the end of the 21-22 season, but that they are still working with the league to obtain an extension that will take both parties through until the end of the 2024-25 season. For all parties involved this is some outstanding news. While there are still issues to be worked out to get an extension, the lack of acrimony and positivity coming out of both camps is nothing but encouraging. This announcement made me smile! Hope you did too… PEACE