Mikko Koivu won’t be suiting up for the Wild next season, but he might not be done playing.
The longtime captain is mulling his next move, but will leave Minnesota and return to Finland next week to train in case he chooses to continue his career elsewhere. Wild General Manager Bill Guerin announced last week the team won’t be bringing back the 37-year-old center.
“There’s some decisions that I’ve made and then some question marks that I still have,” Koivu said Friday on a video call. “As of right now, I don’t want to say too much just because you don’t want to take words back, and I think individually I have to make sure that it’s very clear what I want for the future.”
Koivu has spent his entire 15-season NHL career with the Wild after the organization drafted him sixth overall in 2001, a tenure in which he morphed into the face of the team amid the most decorated career in Wild history.
But with his two-year, $11 million contract expiring, the Wild decided not to re-sign Koivu, who learned about it from Guerin in August.
“It took me a couple of days, a couple of weeks, to sink in,” Koivu said, “and kind of mixed emotions when you think about it. But that’s the nature of the business. Now just got to find a new challenge for myself and go with that.”
Last season, Koivu’s role diminished. He ended up with four goals and 17 assists in 55 regular-season games while averaging the fewest minutes (15:34) since his rookie season.
While he could play in his native Finland, an option he’s previously mentioned, Koivu could also pursue a new home in the NHL. Free agency opens Oct. 9.
“I’ve never done it,” Koivu said, referring to wearing another NHL team’s jersey. “I think you always take pride for that. You want to be loyal as a player and for the fan base and for the whole organization. So that’s what I had in Finland. I’ve only played for one team there [and] now here. But I think when it’s not your option, or it’s not your decision, kind of makes it easier if you do want to still keep playing and put another jersey on.”
His long-running partnership with the Wild was what kept him with the team through last season. Koivu opted not to waive the no-movement clause in his contract ahead of the trade deadline because of how much he valued that longevity.
What happened next, though, was unlike any other time in Koivu’s career.
The season was paused in March by the coronavirus pandemic and after months of uncertainty, particularly for a veteran such as Koivu, the league finally returned for a postseason tournament in August in two bubbles in Canada.
But after only four games, the Wild was eliminated from the NHL’s play-in round — with Koivu on the ice in Edmonton for the Canucks’ overtime goal that ultimately ended his final game with the team.
Koivu’s last home game was March 3 vs. the Predators. It’s possible his No. 9 will be the first player jersey to hang from the rafters at Xcel Energy Center.
A former All-Star, one-time Selke Trophy finalist as the league’s best defensive forward and the first full-time captain in Wild history, Koivu is the franchise’s all-time leader in games (1,028) and points (709). He was the 55th player in NHL history to play his first 1,000 games with the same team.
“When you look back, there’s so much good,” Koivu said. “Ups and downs obviously like anything. But great, great memories and great people around the team over the years and creating so many friendships.”
Planning for life after the Wild is new for Koivu, but to handle the transition he’ll settle into a familiar routine. And that’s getting back on the ice to compete, just like he always has.
“You need to skate and be a part of the drills, even if it’s not games right away,” Koivu said. “Just to get in game shape, I think that’s what I need and gives me the best opportunity to prepare myself for the future, whatever that might be.”