UPDATED Mikko Koivu will miss the Winter Olympics.
The Wild captain, who was expected to captain Finland, underwent surgery on a broken ankle Jan. 6 after being hit by a dump-in off the stick of Washington's Nicklas Backstrom two days before.
The normal course of recovery for this type of injury is six to eight weeks. Koivu underwent surgery in an attempt to accelerate his return to the Wild lineup. Monday will be five weeks from surgery.
Koivu has been skating daily, but he has yet to be cleared to participate in practice let alone games. Koivu, who has missed 15 games and has 35 points in 44 games, informed Finland GM Jari Kurri today.
"I just don’t feel healthy enough to feel that I can play at the level that I want," Koivu said, the pain in his eyes. "I really think it’s not fair for my teammates with Minnesota, with Team Finland, the management in Team Finland and most important it’s not fair for myself either. It’s been going on the last two weeks, but for sure the last week, just back and forth the emotions have been up and down. Had a good day, then following day it would be worse. Just the level that I’ve been skating by myself, I haven’t been practicing with my team that’s here, I just don’t think it’s fair to anyone to play for Team Finland."
Koivu will take some time off from skating but plans to resume before the team is allowed to practice again Feb. 19. His hope is still to be ready by the first game in Edmonton on Feb. 27, but that could be pushing it.
He made clear that doctors say his ankle is healing properly and the screws are keeping the bone steady.
"I knew that would happen with bones healing that you’re going to have a good day and it’s going to get the pressure and the next day it might be worse," Koivu said. "But even knowing that and going forward with it, it’s frustrating. It’s a different kind of pain, too, then for example if you hurt your knee. It’s kind of a little stiff and wears off and gets better the longer you skate. With this one, it’s the opposite. It’s good for 10, 15 minutes and then the pain just starts building up and the kind of pain you don’t enjoy skating and not even talking about playing the game the way I want to play the game, so it’s just different than any other injury that I’ve had."
This would have been Koivu's third Olympics. He won bronze with Finland in 2010 and a silver with Finland in 2006. His older brother, Saku, is also not participating in this Olympics.
He said doctors told him this was the "worst timing ever" to have this injury, that if it happened a week or two earlier or if the Olympics were a week or two later, he'd be there.
"It’s hard," Mikko Koivu said. "Obviously we’ve been having lots of success in the past and the feeling to represent your country especially in the Olympic Games, it’s something as an athlete that doesn’t happen very often and who knows if it’s going to happen again with the NHL.
"But I've got to think clearly and I just think it’s not fair to anyone for me going to play for Team Finland right now even if I wanted to go there bad and play for my country there. I've just got to move on and get better over here."
He said he felt a responsibility as captain of the Wild: "To be honest, I thought about it in both ways. I thought if I would be healthy and I could go and play, that would help me to come and play here. But at the same time, I want to make sure that I’m 100 percent healthy and be ready to go as good as I can be when the puck drops here after the Olympics. Those were the things. There’s lots of things that you have to go through before you make the call, but that was definitely one of them.”
Earlier this week, GM Chuck Fletcher made clear Koivu's Olympics were in jeopardy, telling me, "There’s a lot of healing and work that needs to be done to get him to that position. If we can get him there, great, but I think people need to understand how hard he’s working to get healthy and come back. But it is what it is. Your body’s only going to heal the way it’s going to heal. There’s no magic wand here. He’s skating on his own, but it’s a long way from skating on your own to playing in a high-end international Olympic game.
"It’s not like this is just going to turn here in the next day or two. Once you start practicing with the team and taking contact, how long ‘til you’re able to play in a game, are there any setbacks? There’s a whole host of issues you have to look at. My only thing is I don’t want to rush it and I want to make sure we err on the side of caution. If he’s ready, great, but I don’t want to be gambling with his health and nor does Mikko. I give him lot of credit to have that surgery. A lot of people would not have had that surgery, so he’s ing everything he can to accelerate this. But he can only do so much.”
The Wild will have four others representing their countries in the Olympics, the United States' Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, Switzerland's Nino Niederreiter and Finland's Mikael Granlund.
On Granlund, Koivu said, "I think he’s showed that in the past with the national team. He’s been playing very good each and every time he’s been part of Team Finland. So, I expect a lot from him. But obviously you don’t want to put any pressure on him either. It’s not about, obviously, one player. It’s about the team, which will always been that as Team Finland. But yeah, I hope nothing but the best for Granny and obviously for the whole team and I’m sure they’re going to do just fine.”
Finland also lost Tampa Bay's Valtteri Filppula with ironically a broken ankle yesterday. Brutal.