“Which is wrong,” Parise said. “I understand. I know how it is. Everyone wants to point blame and point fingers and look for excuses when things go wrong. I think it’s unfair. Just for me getting to know Mikko and how much effort he puts in, it’s not justified if someone is blaming him.
“That’s why making the playoffs is a big thing, not just for him, but for the organization and everybody around here. Mikko, as captain, wants nothing more than to lead us into the postseason. He works so hard for us. He does a lot of things that a lot of people don’t recognize, a lot of things that don’t get on the scoresheet. ... To me, everyone should appreciate his intensity and fire. If we don’t play well, you can see it on his face. And we better play good the next game.”
All about team
Koivu is tied with Brunette for second in franchise history with 119 goals and ranks second to Marian Gaborik with 398 points, but he sacrifices his offensive numbers and personal accolades for being reliable defensively. Some contend Koivu focuses too much on defense, at the expense of offense, but Fletcher argues that he should perennially be a Selke Trophy contender as one of the NHL’s top defensive forwards.
This year, Koivu ranked 13th among forwards who took more than 700 draws in faceoff percentage (.540) and was seventh in ice time (21 minutes, 5 seconds a game).
“I knew he was good, but I didn’t realize how good he is,” Parise said. “He [forces]so many turnovers in the neutral zone and his work ethic is unbelievable. For me, I’ve found he gives me at least one, two, three, sometimes four scoring chances a game. For a winger, what more can you ask for? Then it’s up to you to put it in the net.”
Koivu’s skill level does not place him in an elite category, and is not his greatest strength. His work ethic, drive and ability to defend is what sets him apart, Yeo said. Plus his devotion to his team.
“For him, team dinners and team meals, it’s an insult if you don’t come,” Brunette said. “He wants everybody together. If we’re going somewhere to do anything, he wants the whole group.”
In a lot of ways, it’s why Koivu and former teammate Martin Havlat never meshed. Havlat didn’t take part in many team activities.
“[Havlat] probably wasn’t completely in tune to the team as Mikko would have liked,” Brunette said. “It was an adjustment period and it didn’t go all that well, I guess you can say. … I don’t know if [Havlat] completely bought in to our group.”
That bothered Koivu.
“He is Captain Serious, no question,” Yeo said. “But behind the scenes, he is a joker that is a great teammate, loved by his teammates and loves to have fun when he comes to the rink and isn’t afraid to dish it out.”
Winning is the answer
In this series, Koivu will be going head-to-head with one of the league’s model captains, Jonathan Toews. The young star can light you up offensively, and has as a tremendous work ethic as well.
He has also won a Stanley Cup.
If Koivu wants to silence the naysayers — and for the record, he says he only cares what his teammates think about him — he will have to lead the Wild in the playoffs perennially.
“I think the one thing that bothers Mikko a little bit is that he doesn’t get enough respect around the league as far as how good a player he is,” Yeo said. “The reality is we haven’t done enough winning here. It’s not because of him. If people want to blame him for anything, blame him for getting injured at the wrong time the past two years.
“But I’m hoping we get to the point where we start to win, get into playoff games and have more of a spotlight on the team where people recognize just how good he is.”