Over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at possible free-agent fits for the Edmonton Oilers. Today, we have Mikko Koivu.
After 15 seasons, the Minnesota Wild are moving on from Mikko Koivu.
According to Michael Russo of The Athletic, general manager Bill Guerin told the 37-year-old that the team would be moving in a new direction shortly after the team was eliminated from the playoffs this summer.
The Wild are looking to upgrade up the middle and get younger and faster. With Koivu now 37, the Wild are expected to move on from the club’s all-time leading scorer after his role diminished significantly last season.
It’s believed general manager Bill Guerin informed Koivu in their end-of-season exit meeting last month because Koivu, who remains in the Twin Cities, has told confidants and others over the past few weeks that his time playing for the Wild is over, sources said.
Koivu was drafted fifth overall by the Wild all the way back in 2001. He made his debut for the team in 2005-06 and, over the next 15 seasons, set franchise records in a whole bunch of statistical categories, such as games played, goals, and points. He’s also the only full-time captain in Wild history, so it would certainly be strange to see him wearing a different jersey.
That said, there’s no guarantee that the veteran pivot will carry on in the NHL. Koivu hasn’t publicly stated if he plans to look for a new team to make one final run for the Stanley Cup or if he intends to retire or finish off his playing career at home in the Finnish Elite League.
If Koivu does want to continue playing in the NHL, he would be an interesting free agent option for the Oilers to pursue. Edmonton, as we know, has a pretty glaring need for a third-line centre upgrade. Koivu fits that profile and he would also provide the team with a mentor for Jesse Puljujarvi.
Koivu obviously isn’t the same 20-goal and 60-point guy that he used to be, but he’s still an effective player, especially on the defensive side of the ice. His boxcar stats from 2019-20, five goals and 21 points in 55 games, aren’t impressive, but the Wild came out on top with him on the ice at even-strength, outscoring their opponents 28-to-26 and outshooting them 637-to-634.
But the real bonus in adding Koivu to the mix would be providing Jesse Puljujarvi with something he hasn’t ever really had in Edmonton, a good, veteran Finn to play with. With the former fourth overall pick possibly set to return to Edmonton in 2020-21, providing him with a mentor like Koivu would be a game-changer.
Back in 2003-04, the Oilers brought in the 41-year-old Adam Oates to provide veteran leadership on their roster. While he only produced 16 points, his year was valuable because he mentored and passed on wisdom to a couple of key young guys, Jarret Stoll and Ales Hemsky.
Now, of course, the Oilers can’t be paying through the nose for Koivu to come in and simply be Puljujarvi’s personal coach. In order for Koivu to make sense as an Oiler, he has to come at an inexpensive price tag.
Koivu only scored five goals and 21 points last season, which isn’t that much of an upgrade on what Riley Sheahan accomplished as the team’s third-line centre. If he comes on a fairly cheap one-year deal, it’s a sensible fit. But the Oilers obviously can’t be handing out a multi-year deal to a 37-year-old like Koivu, no matter how good of a veteran he might be.
The logic when it comes to Koivu is that he can be a perfectly fine stop-gap at the third-centre position in 2020-21 that can also add value through his veteran presence. Given the fact there isn’t a wealth of centre options on the open market this fall, it’s something for the team to consider.