Wild captain Mikko Koivu isn’t just waiting to see if the NHL season will resume.
He’s also in a holding pattern when it comes to his career.
“I’m trying to think about it all and think about what’s best for me,” Koivu said.
When the league came to a sudden stop last month during the coronavirus pandemic, every player was put on hiatus, but the ramifications of the timeout weren’t the same across the board.
For a 37-year-old veteran like Koivu nearing the end of his contract, he was faced with the possibility he’d already played his last NHL game while also being confronted with the return vs. retire debate — a unique position the 15-year veteran has been contemplating during this lull.
“I don’t think I have a clear answer for you on any of those [questions],” Koivu said Wednesday during a video conference call. “[I’m] just trying to stay in the moment as much as I can. If [I said] I haven’t thought about all the options, I’d be lying. I think obviously [I’m] thinking about a lot of things and a lot of the options for what the future will hold.
“But as of right now, I guess I’m in a boat like any other player that is trying to wait for the league to make a decision if we’re going to restart the season and when that would be and if not then obviously trying to figure out what to do with the future and then go from there.”
Throughout the season, Koivu shied away from publicly disclosing his plans beyond 2019-20.
Now, with players scattered and under direction from the NHL to self-quarantine through the end of April, the different scenarios have been on his mind.
The process of figuring out his next move will depend on a host of factors like whether he still enjoys the game (“I still do,” he said), being physically at the level he wants to compete at, and if he’s mentally prepared.
“Every single question that you can think of I think as a player you have to do it and kind of go through that, what’s the best thing for you to do, and I’m sure the decision will come,” said Koivu, who’s currently in Minnesota. “You kind of start to get the feeling what’s right, but I don’t think the time is right now. As I said, I think you still gotta wait what happens first and I don’t think it’s even possible before that.”
After spending his entire NHL career to date with the Wild, Koivu is the franchise leader in numerous categories — including games played (1,028), assists (504), points (709), plus-minus (plus-70), shots (2,270) and faceoff wins (10,354).
Earlier this season, he became the 55th player in NHL history to play his first 1,000 games with the same team.
Before the trade deadline in February, Koivu told Wild management he wouldn’t waive the no-movement clause in his two-year, $11 million contract to potentially facilitate a trade elsewhere — citing his tenure with the Wild as what he valued most.
And when he mulls the next major crossroads of his career, that history will again be a consideration of his.
“Of course,” Koivu said. “If it didn’t, I think it would be wrong; I would be lying. Like we talked about before the deadline there, it’s something that for sure matters to me and the team and the organization. There’s options, and you just got to do whatever you feel is the right thing to do for yourself.”
One such option could be continuing to play in his native Finland instead of the NHL, a route Koivu said he’d evaluate.
“If you still feel that you have the fire and you have the motivation to still come back and play, yeah, for sure, I’ve thought about it,” he said. “I’m sure every player if you are from other countries and you’re from Europe or whatever, you think about it. So, that is an option, for sure.”
Still, whichever direction Koivu pursues is up in the air until a verdict on the NHL’s current season is reached. And despite talk of how the pro sports leagues could reopen continuing to seep into the national conversation, Koivu isn’t sure how likely that is.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I think there’s day that you get more optimistic about it and you get more confidence that we’ll get back on the ice. And then there’s other days that it doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen.”
Neutral-site games have gained more attention as one way to bring back hockey. In Koivu’s eyes, it doesn’t matter where the NHL plays as long as fans are in attendance.
“It would be very strange,” he said of returning in empty arenas. “There’s no question about it. Even if you go to the playoffs or even a regular-season game, fans are a huge part of the game and I think that’s one of the biggest reasons why you play the game. You get to be in front of fans.”
Eager to go
If the season is salvaged, Koivu believes the teams that can find a groove quickly will be set up for success. Even though the Wild had that rhythm before the break, winning eight of its previous 11 games, Koivu said the team would have to rediscover it.
“You have to create the momentum again,” explained the sixth overall pick in 2001, who had four goals and 17 assists through 55 games.
Just recently, Koivu was chatting with former teammate Brian Rolston and reflecting on how the season went for the Wild: a slow start before the second-half turnaround. He felt based on the team’s experience, the group’s health and if it could sustain the level of play it was at going into the playoffs, “anything can happen,” Koivu said, “and I think that’s something we were looking forward [to].”
That possibility has been shelved for the time being, and Koivu’s future has become overrun with unknowns.
But as he awaits clarity, his perspective has extended beyond his own reality.
“When you look at the news and you look around the world, how this affects people and all that,” Koivu said, “I think there are far more important things than hockey right now.”