Mikko Koivu is the Wild's go-to guy in every situation. He's supposed to be captaining this ship.
Yet, for a second consecutive season, the Wild is sinking down the stretch, and Koivu's been in the press box as the team drowns.
Last year it was a broken finger. This year it's a shoulder injury. And if you know how much Koivu despises losing, you can guess how useless he's feeling.
"Of course it's frustrating," said Koivu, who turned 29 Monday and talked for the first time since the Wild pulled him from the lineup Feb. 18.
Koivu was initially injured Jan. 14 in St. Louis on a check from Vladimir Sobotka. He missed eight games, but on Feb. 11, two games after returning, Koivu aggravated the left shoulder when tackled by then-Columbus Blue Jackets forward Jeff Carter.
He played two more games with soreness before the Wild sat him. Tuesday, when the Wild plays host to the Dallas Stars, Koivu will miss his 13th consecutive game and 21st in the past 25. This season's downfall began in mid-December when Koivu missed four games because of a knee injury.
"I'm not going to lie about it or make up any stories, but it is [frustrating]," Koivu said. "I just have to go forward. I can't really think about what's behind me. You've got to learn about it, and I did. I'm going to take that lesson with me for the future."
Koivu seemed to be referring to the fact he rushed back ahead of schedule because he felt pressure to help the struggling Wild at the time. He then got hurt again. Asked if that's what he meant, Koivu said, "I don't want to go into details."
Surgery a possibility
Koivu returned to practice Saturday. Doctors will examine him in the next couple days with the hope that he is cleared for contact. Koivu says he "definitely" plans to play again this season.
With the playoffs a pipe dream, though, one wonders if it would be smarter for Koivu to just shut things down for good, get his shoulder healthy and get ready for next season. After all, Koivu said he's not even sure yet if he'll need postseason surgery.
But Koivu says he wants to end on a good note.
"Individually you always want to try to do your best. I hate to say that. I think that's a cliché sometimes," Koivu said. "But I think I'm going to give everything that I have. I'm proud to be part of this team, part of this organization and that's the way it's going to be the rest of my career here.
"I don't care where we're at in the standings right now. It's a matter of pride and what you bring to the table. I don't care if it's practice or games, you've got to prepare and show everything that you have. That's what I'm here to do."
Despite being captain, Koivu has pretty much kept his distance from the team during his absence.
"You always want to be around the guys, but at the end you don't want to bother them," Koivu said. "Everybody prepares their own way, and when you're not playing, I don't want to bother the guys. I try to do everything I can to get back as soon as I can and help that way.
"You want to let the guys do their thing and give them the right to prepare their own way and trust that they do the job. Obviously if they need me, I'll try to help them, especially the younger guys. But I think at the end, you want to leave them the space to prepare for each and every game."
Thoughts strictly on Wild
Koivu wouldn't address whether he'll play in the world championships. He captained Finland to gold last year, and MTV-3 in Finland reported GM Jari Kurri plans to travel to Minnesota this weekend in an attempt to lure him back.
If he were to play, the optics might not be good with Wild fans.
"I don't want to talk about that stuff right now," Koivu said. "It's a matter of us getting better here as a team. That's where my thoughts are right now. We have a lot of games here to go.
"When you look at the standings, the frustration is there. That's obvious when you're not winning. You just have to climb out of it and turn this thing around. I believe there's a lot of things we can do right now and not wait, and show that we do battle every single day. At the end it's about getting better here."