Mikko Koivu and the Wild parted ways last year, and now Koivu is moving on from the NHL.
The former Wild captain retired Tuesday, less than a month into the season after a short stint with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
"I always trusted that as long as you put the work in each and every day, you'll get to the level you want to be and I just wasn't able to get there," Koivu said during a virtual news conference.
After the Wild decided not to bring back Koivu when his contract expired in the offseason, ending his 15-year run with the organization, Koivu signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract with Columbus to continue his NHL career.
But the 37-year-old's fresh start began slowly.
Koivu opened the season in the NHL's COVID protocols, experiencing minor symptoms and delaying his Blue Jackets debut. And after playing seven games, chipping in a goal and assist, Koivu was a healthy scratch Monday against Carolina.
That wasn't the reason behind Koivu's decision to retire after 16 years in the NHL, which Koivu said had been on his mind for some time.
Although he entered the season with the thought that it could be his last — just like he did ahead of his final season with the Wild — Koivu was excited to join the Blue Jackets, enjoyed his brief stay in Columbus and is glad he pursued a new chapter after his tenure in Minnesota. But because he had to push himself to get ready for games and couldn't find a rhythm, he believed it was time to stop playing.
"I felt that I need to be honest with myself and the way I want to leave the game," said Koivu, who consulted with friends and family, including his brother and former NHLer Saku Koivu.
Drafted sixth overall by the Wild in 2001, Koivu is the franchise's all-time leader in games (1,028) and points (709). A one-time Selke Trophy finalist as the league's best defensive forward and first full-time captain in Wild history, the Finnish native was the 55th player in NHL history to play his first 1,000 games with the same team.
"Minnesota just really became home for me," Koivu said.
Even though he's done competing in the NHL, Koivu said he'll keep following the sport and plans to stay involved in hockey. He just doesn't know in what capacity.
"It's a great game and something that I've done all my life," Koivu said. "Hopefully there's something that I will find with the game."
Wild GM Bill Guerin released a statement after Koivu's announcement that called Koivu "a fiery competitor" and said, "No one worked harder than Mikko during his time with the Minnesota Wild."
Guerin also mentioned honoring Koivu in front of his fans in the State of Hockey when able to do so, noting that "the impact [Koivu] made in our community and the connections he made with Wild fans will live on forever."
It's possible Koivu's No. 9 will be the first player jersey to hang from the rafters at Xcel Energy Center.
And the opportunity to get back in front of Wild fans is a moment Koivu would embrace "100 percent."
"I will be back in Minnesota at some point," he said. "That is a very special bond for me personally. All the years that I spent there, the way the fans always treated me and also the teams that I was with, the feeling going to the Xcel Energy [Center] and just the energy that you had in the building, you feel like you're one of them.
"So, I will never forget that and for sure I'll be back there — just obviously in a different role than I'm used to, but I will enjoy that."