Mikko Koivu considers himself blessed. Not many professional athletes get to play an entire career for a franchise and city they love, and the two-year, $11 million contract extension he signed Monday will push his tenure with the Wild past his 37th birthday.
Just as Koivu can’t imagine himself anywhere else, General Manager Chuck Fletcher said he can’t imagine where the Wild would be without him. That’s why it required only a few phone calls to conclude negotiations that Fletcher called “painless.” Koivu’s loyalty to the Wild has made the Finnish captain its “flag in the ground,” Fletcher said, turning a non-playoff team into an attractive destination for other talented players.
The center said the two-year term is ideal, because he likes the motivation of working toward the next contract. Fletcher said the duration and value are good for the Wild, too, leaving room under the salary cap for future deals.
Koivu didn’t want talks to continue during the season, so he was relieved to reach an agreement this week. So was Fletcher, who gives the center much of the credit for the roster the Wild has assembled.
“We missed the playoffs four years in a row [2009-12],” Fletcher said. “He would have had an opportunity to become an unrestricted free agent. He didn’t. He chose to sign here and to be the rallying point for how we were going to rebuild.
“Without Mikko, Zach [Parise] and Ryan [Suter] don’t come. Without Zach and Ryan, all the other players don’t come. Mikko was that flag in the ground. If he had left, who knows where we would be as a franchise? I can’t say enough about him. It’s great he’s going to be here for three more years.”
Koivu returned the affection. When he was 18, and the Wild made him the sixth overall pick in the 2001 NHL draft, he gave no thought to settling in one place. With each passing year, he became more attached to the Wild and the Twin Cities.
Koivu’s comfort level helped convince him to sign a seven-year, $47.25 million contract extension in 2010, in the midst of that playoff drought. As he enters his 13th season, he is the franchise leader in seven categories, including games (843), assists (435) and points (614).
“Ever since Day 1, I’ve always felt at home here,” said Koivu, the Wild’s first and only permanent captain. “For myself, that’s the biggest thing. We have a winning culture here now, and we want to keep getting better and building that.”
Fletcher said negotiations were swift and smooth because Koivu understood his worth, as well as the need for the Wild to maintain enough cap space to keep a deep roster intact. Forward Jason Zucker and defenseman Matt Dumba are in the final year of their contracts and could merit big paydays next summer.
Koivu’s extension shouldn’t compromise the team’s ability to sign them, Fletcher said. If the salary cap rises to the $76.5 million to $77 million range as he anticipates, the Wild “should be fine.”
At age 34, Koivu prefers not to look too far into the future. He wouldn’t have wanted a longer contract — that can create pressure, he said — and called the two-year extension “the right thing to do.” His aim is to remain healthy and productive, then consider another extension when the time arrives.
His age wasn’t a factor for Fletcher, who noted Koivu’s intensity in practice Tuesday — one day after coach Bruce Boudreau had to shoo the center off the ice to rest an aching leg. Coming off last year’s 58-point season, his best since 2010-11, Fletcher said Koivu is skating as well as he has in years. Koivu also is leaner and quicker, Fletcher said, and has adapted his training regimen with age.
Koivu appears to have “a lot left” to give, Fletcher said, both on and off the ice.
“He represents everything you want your organization to stand for,” Fletcher said. “Mikko gets it. It’s not just about getting the biggest payday, or winning anywhere. He wants to win here. And I think that’s a great statement.”