With the onset of the Todd Richards Era in Minnesota, the days of the inane concept of the rotating captaincy were abandoned. The previous Head Coach, Jacques Lemaire, had used that system as a way of spreading around responsibility and to reward players to had exerted the required effort and then some the previous month.
Which is why we had Alex Henry be the Captain of the Minnesota Wild once. Say that sentence aloud (no offense to Mr. Henry of course) and listen to how odd it sounds.
So when the old was gone and the new was brought in, Mikko Koivu was elected the first permanent Captain in Franchise history. Made perfect sense; he's got pedigree, he'd proven himself to be integral to whatever it is the Front Office and Head Coach were trying to do, he's strong and powerful yet creative and agile, and the time just seemed right.
Unequivocally he looked like a Captain, played like a Captain, so it made sense in a time of sweeping change that he be, well, the Captain.
There's no question that he's the very backbone to the team; the team flat out struggles when he's not in the lineup (which should be a point of concern, considering how much time he's missed the last two years.) The collective looks rudderless, punchless, and flat-out hopeless when they are Koivu-less. When he's in though, the natural order can be successful; the pieces fall into place as they have the team's heart and soul taking the ice in front of them.
I think there can be a fair argument as to whether he's not truly appreciated or noted in the Hockey world; sure, he's an absolute rock star in Finland and in the NHL he's basically a victim of market- a market that's on the verge of a catastrophic tumble from the top of the standings into the subterranean, a lowly place where a seat has been reserved in the Playoff-viewing area. Again, for the fourth year in a row.
But I think it may be fair to say that Mikko Koivu may be over-romanticised as well.
Full disclosure here, as if you need it; I'm as big a fan of Mikko Koivu as anyone else, and fully understand the ardent support that comes from being a fan of a team or a player. For now, Koivu's reputation as a Selke-Caliber forward is more or less just heresay; sure you have the metric stats guys arguing he was/is/will be because of things like Quality of Competition, yet he wasn't in the Top 20 for Selke Voting. In Koivu's defense, Awards voting is generally ALL F*CKED UP.
This isn't about Mikko Koivu the player, though. This is about Mikko Koivu, the leader.
Poke around the interwebs, or ask someone, and they'll give you examples of "leadership". Jarome Iginla and Vinny Lecavalier throwing down in the 2004 Stanley Cup. Wendel Clark taking on Marty McSorley. Brendan Shanahan taking on Donald Brashear. I think the easy conclusion to draw would be that well, Koivu should fight someone. Not that I endorse him fighting, but the jist of the three aforementioned videos is that each of those guys stood up and laid themselves on the line for their teams.
Then there are guys like Owen Nolan. Drew Remenda, who does analysis for San Jose Sharks games, joined the Marek vs. Wyshynski Podcast to talk about Nolan, who had retired earlier that day. Remenda had a lot of good things to say about Nolan and how he handled himself on and off the ice, particularly the locker room- more specifically how he kept his teammates accountable, and made it clear to every one of his teammates that losing is completely unacceptable.
We saw some of this crusty desire to win in Nolan's short stint here in Minnesota, and to a certain extent, the same sort of leadership from John Madden, who is currently plying his trade for the surprising Florida Panthers. Or even a guy like Chris Pronger (#15.)
In a "quiet" locker room, and on a team that can seem to get off of skid row, and for a franchise that has the promise of better days ahead, its important to get that sort of presence in the locker room because Mikko Koivu doesn't seem to be that guy. Of course the balancing act is now upsetting the balance of who is "the guy" (the Pronger/Mike Richards
power struggle would be the precedent) but the fact of the matter is that this team has been in the SAME SITUATION THIS TIME OF THE SEASON THE LAST 4 YEARS- a fragile team that just wastes away and crumbles when the ears should be pinned back because its nut cutting time.
Whose to say that Mikko Koivu isn't done learning how to be a leader; there are always lessons to be learned and applied as not just a hockey player, a person in a role of responsibility, but also as a human. But maybe getting in guys faces and demanding their best every night just isn't in his nature- there's nothing wrong with leading by example and speaking up when it matters, but with a lot of stake now and going forward with a new "in-house competition" model of development in place, its important to find the requisite leadership to accompany Koivu's role in order to get this franchise over the hump.