One of the reasons sports is so attractive to the American public mindset is the continuity and consistency these events and their players bring to our daily lives. Sports in our culture isn’t just a form of entertainment but an extension of our hopes and dreams combined with a sense of civic pride.
In football, John Elway always was and will be first and foremost part of the Denver Broncos and is still there with the organization as its general manager. In baseball, nobody could ever imagine Derek Jeter in anything but a New York Yankees uniform, and it would be anathema to think of Larry Bird wearing anything but the Boston Celtics’ Kelly green and white. In the NHL, the name of Mikko Koivu has been intertwined with the Minnesota Wild even before Koivu came to the United States as a young player. Koivu has been the steady rock in that organization and the interruption of the current season has cast a shadow of doubt on whether or not Mikko Koivu has worn a Wild jersey (or sweater for purists) for the last time.
Mikko Koivu has played his entire NHL career with the Minnesota Wild which is quite a unique accomplishment in professional sports. The 6’3″, 213 lb. center was originally drafted by the Wild as the sixth pick in the first round of the 2001 NHL draft. Koivu, along with his older brother Saku, arrived from Turku, Finland and have left their mark on the NHL. Since his arrival in the NHL with the Wild during the 2005-06 season, Mikko Koivu has played in 1,028 games, scored 205 goals and recorded 504 assists along with 60 power play goals during his career. Koivu currently is the team leader with a total of 709 points in regular season games. Koivu has also played in 55 Stanley Cup playoff games for the Wild where he has scored 11 goals and 17 assists. While these are fantastic statistics, the real story behind Koivu’s longevity and influence in Minnesota lies in the fact that he has been the permanent team captain for the Wild since 2009.
It was probably no short irony that March 12th was not only the suspension of the NHL season but Mikko Koivu’s 37 birthday. Just as the regular season and Stanley Cup playoffs for 2019-20 lies in continual jeopardy due to the Covid-19 pandemic that has shook our daily existence to the core, Koivu’s 37th birthday may also mark his last day not only in a Wild jersey but the end of a brilliant career. Koivu is finishing up a two year, $11 million dollar contract at the end of this season and then becomes a free agent. Koivu in essence really has three career possibilities to choose from to decide how to write his final chapters of an illustrious hockey career. Koivu has the obvious choice of staying with the Wild, maybe even for just one more season and finish out his career without any foreseen interruptions. In this scenario, the Wild could make another playoff push and send Koivu off on a winning note. The second option will not be popular with Wild fans but Koivu, as a free agent, could sign with another team for another season and take his chances with a new organization, maybe even outside of the NHL as Koivu could return to his native Finland to play in the Liiga. Koivu lives with his family in Minnesota and stayed there during the current pandemic so there is a sense of connection between the team and his family; the possibility of Koivu moving on to another team exists but is probably unlikely at this time. The third option is simply for Koivu to accept the NHL league suspension as his “curtain call” and retire from hockey.
Why do we love sports heroes so much? Athletes can in many situations represent the best of our communities and provide a sense of hope. Fans follow teams in multiple sports leagues knowing that their team has little or no chance of winning a Super Bowl or the Stanley Cup this year or probably next year as well. Sports is an escape from our daily lives including the drudgery and uncertainty we face when we are locked up in our own homes as virtual prisoners. We need sports as a release from our own frustrations, our own disappointments and sometimes we just need to believe that “we’ll get ’em next year.”
Hockey players such as Mikko Koivu are becoming more and more rare these days – players who spend their entire careers with one organization. Individuals such as Koivu portray consistency and stability not only for their teammates but for the fans as well. Yes, players’ careers do eventually wind down; players get slower, have more injuries with age and just can’t compete as much with the youth around them. While greats like Mikko Koivu do eventually slow down and their scoring productivity drops, the intangible influence they exude on the ice and in the locker room is priceless. All of the greats of the NHL have had to retire at one point or another but the stories and memories they leave with their organizations and their fans live on long past their careers. Regardless If Mikko Koivu does decide to retire this year or play one more season , he has left a proud legacy with the Minnesota Wild and the NHL.