A couple of years ago, I compiled a list of the most polarizing athletes (and sports-related topics) in the eyes of Minnesota sports fans.
Guys like Joe Mauer, Adrian Peterson and Mitch Leidner were obvious picks at the time. Toward the bottom of the list of 10, though, I added a deserving name from the Wild: Mikko Koivu.
The list came out in mid-October of 2015, meaning Koivu was very early in his 11th season with the Wild. His goal totals the previous four years (one of which was shortened by labor problems in the league) were 14, 11, 11 and 12. Koivu had topped 20 goals three times in his first five NHL seasons, so that downturn was notable for a player in his prime.
He remained a solid two-way center and a good guy in the faceoff circle, but there was a definite split among Wild fans who thought Koivu’s all-around game made him valuable and those who thought he was a passive underachiever who didn’t score enough.
Now let’s fast-forward two years. On Monday, Koivu signed a two-year contract extension. His previous deal, a 7-year, $47.25 million contract, certainly contributed to impressions that Koivu wasn’t living up to expectations. This deal was much shorter in term and with an annual value of $5.5 million — more than a million less than before.
Koivu, 34, is coming off of two seasons that featured an uptick in production. He had 17 goals and 39 assists two seasons ago and bumped up to 18 and 40 last season. After scoring on fewer than 8 percent of his shots the two seasons before, Koivu scored on a little more than 12 percent the past two seasons. That plus his consistent backchecking and 55.2 percent faceoff mark last season made him a finalist for the Selke Trophy, given to the NHL’s top defensive forward (he finished third).
And the comments section from Monday’s story about Koivu’s extension? Yeah, there were a few grumbles — but nothing like the wholesale bashing Koivu received a couple years ago from a big chunk of the Wild fan base.
So Mikko, I’m officially moving you off the list of the most polarizing athletes in the Twin Cities.
Zach Parise — fair or not since his dip in production is directly related to a back injury — has taken Koivu’s place among Wild players.
Andrew Wiggins is the new polarizing Wolves player, by the way, replacing Ricky Rubio.
Any quarterback for the Vikings will make the list. It’s just a matter of who is playing at the moment.
On the Twins, Byron Buxton has been extremely polarizing … but that has cooled off some as Buxton has heated up.
Even with a much better season this year, Mauer still has to be considered at the top of this list.
(Whispers: Mauer, like Koivu, will be entering the final year of a long contract on an upswing next year. What will the Twins do?)