Mikko Koivu already knows how he’ll figure out if he’s ready to retire from the NHL.
He just hasn’t arrived at the outcome.
“I don’t think it’s the time to make that call,” he said.
After months of uncertainty, Koivu and the Wild are back to finish the season that was put on hold in March by the coronavirus pandemic and they’ve been preparing for a qualifying-round matchup against Vancouver next month in Edmonton — a second wind for the team and its veteran captain on the last legs of his contract.
But instead of christening this return a farewell tour or a preview of what’s to come, Koivu is concentrating on the present and postponing plans for his future to a later date.
“I’m just really trying to enjoy every minute of it on the ice and the preparation part and once we get to Edmonton, to start playing again,” Koivu said Thursday on a post-practice video conference call. “I’m trying to take it as a new experience.”
It wasn’t too long ago that the 37-year-old was still in limbo, with the possibility he had played his last game with the Wild.
The NHL and players union only agreed to resume the season and implement a four-year collective bargaining extension last Friday, an outcome Koivu had been bracing for, but not having concrete answers earlier in the process was difficult.
Even once the restart was official, Koivu still wondered how smooth the transition would go. But now that he’s been on the ice at training camp with his teammates, it feels almost back to normal.
“It was strange times,” Koivu said. “Still is. But once we stopped playing and the unknown of what’s going to happen, how long it’s going to take, things like that, I think that was the challenge as a hockey player and in our situation. But now that’s behind us.”
Before the NHL shut down, Koivu was in the midst of an eventful season.
He returned from a knee injury and crossed the 1,000-game threshold in December, becoming just the 55th player in NHL history to log all those games with the same team.
Koivu then had another injury setback, suffering a groin injury, and his minutes were down as he played lower in the lineup. At the time of the pause, he was centering the fourth line between wingers Ryan Donato and Ryan Hartman. The three have been reunited at camp.
His profile, however, was on the rise leading up to the trade deadline in February as many wondered if he would waive the no-movement clause in his two-year, $11 million contract to potentially facilitate a trade.
In the end, though, Koivu told Wild management he would be staying put — a choice that continued an alliance that started in 2001 when Koivu was drafted sixth overall.
Since then, Koivu has become the franchise leader in multiple categories — including games played (1,028), assists (504), points (709), plus-minus (plus-70), shots (2,270) and faceoff wins (10,354).
Through 55 games this season, he has four goals and 17 assists.
“Mikko Koivu has meant everything to this franchise,” coach Dean Evason said. “He has been such a figure. Just watching from afar for so many years of how he’s led and led by example and is still leading, there’s a reason he’s the captain of the team.
“You watch his work ethic out there, it’s just absolutely awesome. He doesn’t let anybody off the hook. If you’re going against him, you’re going against a man that’s competing every single second that he’s on the ice, practice or games.
“So yeah, I’m excited obviously for everybody but no question excited for Mikko going forward here.”
As for what will point him in his next direction, which Koivu said in the spring could be playing in his native Finland when he’s done with the NHL, it’ll come down to how he feels physically and mentally.
Although his knee still bothered him through the first 20-30 games of this season and he didn’t feel great about the last month before the stoppage on the heels of his groin issue, he’s encouraged by his start to camp.
And he’s also having fun.
“I feel really good,” Koivu said. “I feel, I don’t want to say 100 percent healthy, but there’s no pain — nothing that will bother you playing the game — and you can enjoy it now.
“And that’s a feeling you want to have.”