Minnesota Wild’s Captain Conundrum
Beginning in the 2009-10 season, the Wild abandoned the rotating captain setup that they had, and gave Mikko Koivu the privilege of being the first permanent captain in franchise history. After the conclusion of the 2017-18 season, Koivu will have been captain for nine total seasons in his 13-year career. The club has qualified for the postseason seven times with him on the team, five of which he has been captain. While he has been captain, the Wild have accumulated a grand total of fourteen playoffs wins.
The Wild have multiple former captains such as Zach Parise with the New Jersey Devils and Eric Staal with the Carolina Hurricanes. Ryan Suter was the alternate captain of the United States Olympic team in 2010. The club has experience on the roster, and players that could step up and take the mantle if Minnesota decides that it is time to move on.
I enjoy Koivu’s game and think that he is a fine captain. In fact, I don’t believe it is in the Wild’s best interest to replace him at this point in time. However, looking at his stats, the biggest knock on his game has been lack of scoring. He has only been able to score 20 or more goals in three total seasons, with the most recent being in the 2009-10 season, where he set a career-high mark with 22 goals. He has eclipsed 30-plus assists in ten seasons, and 40-plus assists in five of those seasons. Throughout his career, Koivu has been an elite passer and playmaker at his position.
Another strength is Koivu’s elite face-off game. He currently sits at an astonishing 54.4% career face-off success rate. Not to mention, he has spent his entire career in Minnesota, displaying loyalty to the team that drafted him. Something that makes him a true captain is that even when the Wild were not a successful team, he stuck by and continued to be a leader for the team. While representing Finland in the Olympics, Koivu earned a silver medal in 2006 and a bronze in 2010. His skills have been recognized as an All-Star only once in his career during the 2012 game.
Naturally, since Parise was signed to the Wild, certain fans have been vocal about wanting him to be the captain of the team. He has experience – when he was in the Stanley Cup Final with the Devils, Parise was competing to be just the second American-born captain to win the Stanley Cup. When the Wild held their opening press conference with his signing, the alternate captain patch was unveiled to the press, fans, and himself at the same time. He is also a homegrown All-Star, born and raised in the Twin Cities. His father, J.P. Parise, spent a significant amount of time playing for the Minnesota North Stars.
He also has a silver medal in the 2010 Olympic games. During his time with the Devils, he was selected to the All-Star game once in the 2009 game. With New Jersey, Parise was selected as team MVP three times.
Parise has struggled with injuries, making it difficult to justify on why he deserves to be captain. His contract certainly warrants it, with a hefty 13-year, $98 million price tag. He is in year six of the deal and has only posted more than 30 goals just once. Although with the 2012-13 season being shortened, he may have had a chance to hit the 30-goal mark. I find it hard to believe that this is what the Wild were expecting after giving him such a jaw-dropping deal.
Suter shares the exact same contract as Parise, with those dollar signs you will automatically be in the conversation to captain a team. Suter, like Parise, was made known about being an alternate captain for the Wild at their introductory press conference. During games, no player skates on the ice more than the veteran defenseman. The 2017-18 season is also the only season in which he is a negative player, with his plus/minus currently sitting at minus-four.
He was also part of the United States silver medal team in the 2010 Olympic games. Suter is a three-time All-Star, making it once for Nashville in 2012 and twice for Minnesota in both 2015 and 2017. However, he has never been a full-time captain in his career thus far. He has served as an alternate captain in the NHL for both the Wild and Predators.
To this point, he has actually had a more successful career in Minnesota than he did in Nashville. With the Predators, Suter played a total of 542 games, tallying 38 goals and 200 assists. In a Wild sweater, he has 37 goals and 199 assists in 420 games. The Wild got everything they had hoped for when they signed him. He has been criticized for being a slow skater, but that can be directly attributed to playing 28-to-29 minutes per game. Since Boudreau has taken over, Suter has averaged 26:55 in 2016-17 and 26:43 in 2017-18, both of which are a significant drop, yet still rank in the top three of the league. Since joining the Wild, Suter has been in the top three in ice time per game every season.
Since signing a three-year, $10.5 million deal in July 2016, Staal has had a career resurgence. Many local fans were upset, under the impression that an aging veteran on the decline was a terrible free-agent pickup. The contract proved to be a bargain. In 2016-17, Staal had 28 goals, 37 assists, and 65 points. So far in 2017-18, he has 20 goals, 23 assists, and 43 points. He has proven to be one of the Wild’s most consistent players, and has finally granted Minnesota the true first-line center they have coveted since their inception.
Staal won the gold medal at the 2010 Olympics with Team Canada. He is also a five-time All-Star, making it four times with the Hurricanes and once in 2018 with the Wild. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment is winning the Stanley Cup with Carolina during the 2005-06 season – the championship was the Hurricanes’ first Stanley Cup in their franchise history. He was captain for seven seasons during his tenure in Carolina.
While Parise was injured, Staal was given alternate captain duties along with Suter. This makes it clear the club values him as a leader in the same degree as their highest-paid players. He has a chance to become just the fifth player in Wild history to topple the 30-goal mark in a season, following Marian Gaborik, Brian Rolston, Zach Parise, and Jason Pominville. He is also good in the circle, winning 48.8% of face-offs throughout his career.
The Captain of the Wild…
Staal, at 33, is the same age as Parise and Suter, who are all one year younger than Koivu. The biggest reason to not make Staal a captain is because next season is the last year of his current contract, while the rest are signed long-term. Staal and Parise are the only two that have played in the Stanley Cup Final, while Staal is the only one to win it all. Koivu may have the least amount of accolades between the four, but he has stuck by the rebuilding process and is the only one to have played for only a single team. All four players are strong options to be considered captain of the Wild, but because Koivu has spent his entire career here, I believe that he remains the best option for Minnesota.
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