Since his arrival last offseason, Minnesota Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher has made no secret about how he wants to build his team around Mikko Koivu
Anytime he was asked about the status of his franchise, Fletcher named Koivu first among the names of talented players that can carry this team. He and Head Coach Todd Richards named Koivu the first-ever permanent team captain last October. When asked about his plans for this offseason, Fletcher listed his top priority as signing Koivu to an extension.
On Thursday, the Wild inked the 2001 first round pick to a seven-year extension, meaning Koivu will be a member of the Wild through the 2017-2018 campaign when he's 35 years old.
"It's a milestone day in the history of the Minnesota Wild," said Fletcher minutes after seeing the signed deal on his desk. "When you have your franchise player commit to you, really for the next eight seasons. He's our best hockey player. He's our captain. And he's still just 27 with his best hockey years ahead of him."
Fletcher's obvious excitement was matched by Koivu, who said he considers Minnesota to be his second home.
"Everybody has treated myself and my family and friends always first class," he said, specifically noting Wild fans, the organization, coaches, trainers and more. "I really feel Minnesota is my home. That was the biggest point when we started. I'm happy to be there and to be a member of the Wild."
He then added a statement that should be music to the ears of the folks in the State of Hockey, who are as provincial as they come. "I'll be a Minnesota guy for the next eight years, and it feels good."
Koivu is coming off a career year last season in which he tallied 71 points on 22 goals and 49 assists. His assist and point totals led the team, as did his multi-point games (20). He played in all but two games, and helped Team Finland to a bronze medal finish at the 2010 Olympics, his second Olympic appearance.
His stats are one thing, but what set Koivu apart in the eyes of the Wild staff was his leadership, and his competitiveness. Fletcher knew he was inheriting a good hockey player, but he didn't know just how many intagibles Koivu brings to the club.
"I don't think I realized how competitive he is on the ice. He is not a flashy player, but he truly is a dominant power center in the NHL."
The Koivu signing continues a summer of accomplishments for Fletcher. He wanted to reach deals with restricted free agents that included Guillaume Latendresse
and Josh Harding
. He wanted to bolster the lineup with skill and toughness, as he did with the acquistions of Matt Cullen
, Eric Nystrom and Brad Staubitz. But his top priority was to reach a long-term deal with Koivu, and he did it two weeks after he was allowed to by the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
"When I took the job, my primary goal was to sign Koivu," Fletcher said. "After 15 months of planning how to go about this, today we were able to accomplish that. It speaks to the commitment Mikko has made to us. He showed strong interest in signing with us and both parties are excited about moving forward together."
Moving forward includes rebounding from two straight years of missing the postseason with new additions and more experience for all of the returning players.
"Now we can focus on the next season and getting ready for the preseason and Helsinki after that," he said. "I'm excited and I can't wait to get started."
When asked what he thought of the new additions to the team, he said, "I think it looks good."
All that's left now is for Koivu to get healthy. Following last season, he underwent surgery on his knee and his shoulder. He says his recover is ahead of schedule.
"I'm very confident I'll be ready to go when camp starts [on September 17]," he said.
A team that didn't have a permanent captain for eight years, now has one for the next eight. And now, Fletcher can focus on a new number one priority, whatever that may be.