Mikko Koivu

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PHT Decade in Review Roundtable: Favorite goals; best, worst NHL jerseys

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As 2019 comes to a close, we’re using this final full week of the year to take a look back at the past decade. We’ll remember the best players and teams, most significant goals, and biggest transactions that have happened since 2010. Let us know your memories in the comments.

Player of the decade

SEAN: I’m going to chicken out here and allow Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin to each get a piece of the award. They both achieved so much in the decade and still have a number of years left in the NHL to add to their Hall of Fame legacies.

Let’s start with Crosby, who ended 2009 by winning his first Stanley Cup and then began 2010 by scoring the golden goal in overtime for Canada at the Vancouver Olympics. He continued bulking up his resume with another Olympic gold medal, gold at the World Cup of Hockey and the IIHF World Championship, two more Cups, two Conn Smythe Trophies, a second Hart Trophy, two Richard Trophies, and two Ted Lindsay Awards, among numerous other honors. To think his never-ending list of awards could have been even greater had he not missed so much time dealing with various injuries.

Moving on to Ovi, since Jan. 1, 2010, the Capitals captain has scored 435 goals in 765 games, 73 more than Steven Stamkos, who has the second-most over that span. When you shoot as much as he has (3,447 total shots, 844 more than Phil Kessel) you’re going to score at a rate that he does.

What else has Ovechkin done this decade? He finally won his Cup, was named winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy, picked up his third Hart Trophy, won the Ted Lindsay Award, scored his way to six more Richard Trophies, and won two golds at the Worlds. He also has a good chance at hitting 700 goals this season as he marches his towards Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894.

JAMES: Honestly, it feels like it would be facetious to name anyone except Sidney Crosby. Maybe if Connor McDavid was born a few years earlier? Perhaps Roberto Luongo if you weigh funny tweets heavily?

Crosby’s piled up some of the best numbers of the last 10 years, even as concussions made the beginning of the decade look like a possible premature end-of-the-line. Thankfully, aside from the occasional hernia hiccup, Crosby’s been able to remain on the ice. He’s collected all of the individual and team accolades one can ask for, and while others enjoyed dominant stretches, Crosby ranks the highest by just about every objective measure.

Would it kill him to crack a few jokes, though?

JOEY: It might be the easy answer, but it’s hard not to go with Sidney Crosby. He captained the Pittsburgh Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cups this decade and he won the Conn Smythe Trophy in both those years too, He won a Hart Trophy in 2014. He took home an Art Ross Trophy, a Rocket Richard Trophy, two Ted Lindsay Awards and he was named a First-team All-Star three different times. On the international stage, he took home Gold Medals at the 2010 and 2014 Olympic Games. How do you argue with that? Yes, a lot of these accomplishments are team accomplishments, but it’s no coincidence that Crosby’s teams tend to do well. He’s a great player. Clearly the player of the decade.

ADAM: It is the same answer that everyone else is going to give, but how can it be anyone else other than Sidney Crosby? He added two Stanley Cups, two Conn Smythe Trophies, another scoring title, another goal-scoring crown, and another MVP to his individual trophy case and was the most productive player of the decade. He is only 20 points behind Patrick Kane for most total points since the start of the 2010-11 season, but you have to keep in mind that Crosby has played in 104 fewer games because of injuries, with his peak offensive years in the league being crushed by injuries and a lockout. I want to see what he would have done offensively with 82-game seasons between the 2010 and 2014 seasons. 

SCOTT: Sidney Crosby will be a popular choice, but Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks has been a joy to watch this decade. Three Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe and a Hart trophy are just some of the awards Kane has gathered this decade. Additionally, No. 88 should finish the decade with the most points of any NHL player.

Kane is an electric player and has proven that he can thread a pass in the tiniest of windows and can snipe the smallest of corners from any angle. The NHL is a better sport when a player as special as Kane is on the ice.

Favorite goal from the past decade?

SEAN: Bobby Ryan once scored a goal with Mikko Koivu’s stick, then taunted the Wild forward in response to Koivu swiping his stick moments earlier. It was unique, petty, and just so damn wonderful.

JAMES: Tomas Hertl‘s fourth goal in a blowout against the Rangers in 2013 wasn’t just astounding because it happened during game action, rather than a shootout or practice. It was also astounding because it prompted an incredibly dirty bit of analysis from Joe Thornton, and perked your ears up if Thornton got off to a quick two-goal-or-so start in a given game afterward.

(On a related note: R.I.P., Jason Botchford.)

JOEY: I’m going to have to go back to the start of the decade. Patrick Kane’s Stanley Cup winning goal in overtime in 2010 wasn’t a highlight goal, but it was a funny way to end an incredibly long Stanley Cup drought. Kane was the only person in the world who knew that his shot from a sharp angle went into the Flyers’ net. His reaction was priceless and the fact that everyone else is just looking around made it even more memorable. Again, it wasn’t the prettiest goal, but it’s one that I’ll never forget just because of how unique it was.

ADAM: Two words for you: Butt goal. Buffalo Sabres vs. Arizona Coyotes. Overtime. A loose puck gets deflected in the air, falls into the back of Mike Smith‘s pants, and he then slides his entire body across the goal line into the back of the net and inadvertently gives the Sabres a free overtime win. Easily the most unique, absurd, and ridiculous goal of the decade. Many players have scored Stanley Cup clinching goals or playoff series clinching goals, but how many butt goals do you see? Will also give honorable mention to the three goalie goals of the decade — Cam Ward, Martin Brodeur, and Smith. Smith gets extra credit because his was one he actually shot into the net (not an own-goal by the other team where the goalie was most recent player to touch it). It also came just two months before his butt goal. It was an eventful season for Mike Smith. 

SCOTT: John Tavares’ wraparound in double overtime of Game 6 to lead the Islanders to their first playoff series since 1993. The Islanders needed to get the monkey off their backs and to see a captain deliver in the clutch was a special sight.

Favorite hockey memory from the past decade?

SEAN: Scott Foster wasn’t just your run of the mill emergency backup goaltender, he actually got into a a game, made seven saves and became a legend in Chicago. 

Accountant by day, EBUG by night, Foster played 14 minutes of a Blackhawks win in 2018 as his beer league buddies watched. He wasn’t scored on by the Jets and can forever tout a 0.00 goals against average and 1.000 save percentage … until he’s called upon again.

JAMES: As many great things happened on the ice, I’d be a liar if I said it wasn’t meeting my future wife at the NHL Awards.

(Besides, while I followed her to Canada, I’m not yet ready to betray my American brethren by choosing Crosby’s golden goal.)

JOEY: I was thrilled to see. Alex Ovechkin finally win a Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals. There was all this silly talk about him not being able to lead his team to a cup, and for a moment it looked like their window had closed. Once they dropped the first two games of their first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, everyone got that “here we go again” feeling, but the Capitals managed to prove everybody wrong.

ADAM: I have been writing about the NHL for more than a decade now and have attended several outdoor games, many Stanley Cup Final games, saw the Blackhawks win it in Boston and get to walk out on the ice during their celebration, and was at the Penguins’ double-overtime Game 7 win against Ottawa in the 2017 Eastern Conference Final. All of those memories are amazing. If I am being honest, though, my favorite memory of the past decade is another completely absurd one. Mainly because I love celebrating the absurdity and chaos of sports. It is being in the building the night an angry Henrik Lundqvist flipped the net over during play in a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. That was a huge turning point game for the Penguins because at the time they had not won the second Stanley Cup in the Crosby-Evgeni MalkinKris Letang era and were trying to change the “disappointment” narrative around them. Lundqvist had owned them for a couple of years and eliminated them in back-to-back years in the playoffs. When he flipped the net everyone in the building was completely bewildered in a “what did we just see?” sort of way, and no one could believe it after. It was all surreal. Lundqvist was never the same against the Penguins after that, the Penguins won the Stanley Cup a few months later after going through the Rangers in Round 1, then repeated the next season. 

SCOTT: Mother’s Day 2014. Martin St. Louis scored one of the more emotional goals of the decade. The Hall of Fame forward lost his mother earlier in the week but returned to the New York Rangers to help them overcome a 3-1 series deficit against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Best and worst NHL jersey of the past decade

SEAN: Best: As much I hope more teams add some color to their jersey designs, I’ve always had a soft spot for the Sharks’ stealth jerseys. The combination of the black with teal looks real sharp and comes across so nice on HD TVs.

Worst: The Sabres’ Turdburger jerseys were bad, yeah, but what was up with those red Atlanta Thrashers thirds with THRASHERS in that odd font and the number right on the belly? The shoulder patch logos were fine, but altogether it was just a mess.

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JAMES: Considering the Sabres’ checkered history of bad logos and design choices (note: the Hurricanes are the organization that actually dominates literal checkers), it’s refreshing that their gold-encrusted anniversary duds rock so, so hard. Really, anything classic and simple-looking will probably produce some drool, so I will hear your arguments for slick stuff like these Flames sweaters. (The Sabres’ gloves break the tie for me, for what it’s worth.)

While I’m sure there are uglier looks than the Lightning’s “stealth mode” jerseys, that moniker brings about unintended consequences, because frankly, there are times when it’s tough to read players’ numbers. Form is important, designers, but functionality matters in cases like these, too. I’d rather grimace at a bad design than squint. No Robert De Niro impressions here.

Also, as a colorblind person, I a) should probably be disqualified from this discussion anyway and b) would like to gently request that “color vs. color” stays a novelty rather than becoming a regular thing.

JOEY: Worst: It has to be those brutal black New York Islanders jerseys that had the grey shoulders, the world “Islanders” in orange letters on the front and the player’s number on the front of the shirt. Thankfully the Isles retired those a while ago. If we never see those uniform, we’ll all be better for it.

Best: I’m always a fan of the classics. The Montreal Canadiens and Chicago Blackhawks will always be my favorites, but if I had to give another one, I’d go with the Vancouver Canucks black “skate” jersey. I was so happy to see them bring those back this year for their 50th anniversary. Those things are incredible. I don’t really buy jerseys anymore, but that’s one I might have to purchase in the near future. It’s incredibly gorgeous.

ADAM: Worst: The Los Angeles’ Kings stadium series jerseys, the ones with the silver on the top part and plain white on the bottom. Hated them from the minute I saw them and they have never grown on me since.

Best: Probably an unpopular opinion because everyone prefers their teal look, but the San Jose Sharks’ stealth jersey is near the top of my list. I also have no real reason for liking it, but the New York Rangers’ 2012 Winter Classic jersey is one that always appealed to me.

SCOTT: Worst: The Islanders’ black alternate jerseys. They were not the ugliest looking sweaters but were extremely out of place for a franchise that wore blue and orange throughout their history. The organization was not ready to embrace a move to the Barclays Center and the black jerseys did not help the situation.

Best: The Maple Leafs have a classic sweater to begin with, but the white jerseys they wore during the 2018 Stadium Series against the Washington Capitals were super sharp.

One bold prediction for the NHL’s next 10 years

SEAN: The NHL gets fully on board with the idea load management and slashes the schedule to 70 games, beginning the season in mid-September and handing out the Stanley Cup in mid-May. Players get more time to rest; teams get more time to practice; and we’re not worrying about ice conditions deep into June.

Where do the players and owners make up for that lost revenue from the 12 fewer games? Welcome back, World Cup of Hockey. Hello, increased presence of gambling sponsorships. How ya doin’, China market cash cow.

(OK, maybe this is a wish rather than a bold prediction?)

JAMES: Canadian NHL teams will win at least four Stanley Cups, with Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews finishing the decade with at least one Stanley Cup victory apiece.

JOEY: By Dec. 31, 2029, I believe we’ll see a European branch of the NHL. I’m not sure how it’s going to work, but I can see the NHL wanting to go global. I don’t think they’ll expand in North America after Seattle, but I can see them add more than one team in Europe/Asia before the start of the next decade. Leagues are looking to expand their reach. The NFL will be heading to London full-time sooner or later, so it wouldn’t shock me to see Gary Bettman make a similar announcement. Imagine if a Finnish team taking on a Swedish team in the Stanley Cup Final. That might be closer than you think.

ADAM: Connor McDavid plays for a team that is not the Edmonton Oilers not only within the next decade, but within the next five years. I am going big with this bold prediction. I do not trust the Oilers to ever get it right around him and he is going to want to eventually win.

SCOTT: Player tracking will be taken to a whole new level and play a crucial component for NHL teams to use when making roster management decisions.

MORE PHT DECADE IN REVIEW FUN:
• Top NHL players in fantasy hockey
• Most significant goals
• Best players of the decade
Best NHL teams of the decade
Biggest NHL trades

The Buzzer: More astounding numbers from McDavid, Draisaitl, Pastrnak

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Three Stars from three games

1. Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

Sunday night was quite the night for players putting up the sort of numbers you’d expect halfway through the 2019-20 season, not reaching such totals by the first night of December.

First up: the duo of Draisaitl and Connor McDavid.

The two scored two points apiece, with Draisaitl scoring two goals and McDavid providing two assists. With that, McDavid (51 points) and Draisaitl (50) became the first players to hit the 50+ point mark this season. Draisaitl scored the Oilers’ second and third goals of a 3-2 win against the Canucks, both on the power play (so, in case it escaped you, Draisaitl nabbed the GWG).

Draisaitl now has five game-winners so far this season, which would also translate into a lofty half-season total, and really not a bad mark over 82 games, either, for that matter. In fact, five GWGs matches Draisaitl’s career-high.

2. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins

It was David Pastrnak, not Rask, who best fits into the storyline of reaching the sort of numbers you’d expect from a league leader at the halfway mark. Pastrnak’s swaggery goal marked his 25th goal of 2019-20, which is pretty absurd since he’s only played 27 games.

[MORE: Can anyone catch Pastrnak for the Maurice Richard?]

When you zoom in and focus on Sunday’s specific stories, Rask played a big role in the Bruins winning their seventh straight game, thus handing the Canadiens a painful eighth consecutive loss.

Rask made 28 out of 29 saves against the Canadiens, only allowing a Joel Armia goal off of an odd bounce about two minutes into the game. The veteran goalie is now on a personal six-game winning streak, and he’s putting together some of the best work of his impressive career with a sparkling .933 save percentage in 2019-20.

3. Kevin Fiala, Minnesota Wild

Through the first eight games of the season, Fiala only had a single assist.

Maybe Fiala just needed to work his way through horror movie season, because he’s been lights-out since November, generating 13 points in his last 14 games.

Sunday marked one of the speedy sniper’s better performances during that span. Fiala scored a goal, grabbed a primary assist, and nabbed a shootout tally as Minnesota narrowly beat Dallas. Fiala was busy overall, with a robust eight shots on goal.

Highlight of the Night

Again, ouch, harsh. The celebration from Pastrnak really dug the knife deeper:

Factoids

  • If you want to be sentimental and give Mikko Koivu the third star after he scored a goal and the shootout-winner during his 1,000th NHL game, that’s fair. Also, Koivu probably deserves to have a Selke on his resume, so maybe a nudge toward the third star is in order?

(The Wild note that Koivu hit point 700. By using my unparalleled math abilities, I estimate that Koivu’s scored points in 70 percent of his NHL regular-season games.)

  • McDavid and Draisaitl tower over contemporaries, so you have to roll things back and channel Wayne Gretzky to keep them humble at 50 points before everyone else. Gretzky hit 50 before anyone else for seven straight seasons, according to NHL PR. There’s a lot of Gretzky, Gretzky + Mario Lemieux, and some Jaromir Jagr/Peter Forsberg sprinkled into the various milestones McDavid and/or Draisaitl have managed.
  • Speaking of Lemieux, Pastrnak is the first player to hit 25+ goals by Dec. 1 since Mario did it in 1992-93, according to NHL PR. Pastrnak is one of 11 players to manage this feat … and yes, Gretzky is also on that list. Sportsnet specifies in games played rather than by a date: Pastrnak’s 25 goals in 27 games is the best start since Jaromir Jagr in 1996-97.
  • Also via Sportsnet: this eight-game losing streak is the third-worst in Canadiens’ history, and their worst since losing nine in a row 1940. The worst mark was 12 in a row, set in 1926.

Scores

MIN 3 – DAL 2 (SO)
BOS 3 – MTL 1
EDM 3 – VAN 2

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Do Wild have short-term path back to playoffs?

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Before the 2018-19 season went sideways, the Minnesota Wild had a five-year run where they were a mostly outstanding and consistently underrated hockey team.

They had three 100-point seasons in a four-year stretch and even though they had limited success once they made the playoffs, they were at least always there.

All of that disappeared this past season when the team missed the playoffs for the first time since 2011-12 and finished with one of the worst records in franchise history (the .506 points percentage was fourth-worst in their 18-year existence). A lot of things went wrong and resulted in the shocking decision to fire general manager Paul Fenton after just 14 months on the job.

Unfortunately for the Wild, they are still stuck in a brutally competitive division with Nashville, Colorado, Winnipeg, Dallas, and a (potentially) improved Chicago team ahead of them. On top of that they were seven points back of a playoff spot last year in what was one of the weakest Western Conference playoff races ever, are relying heavily on big-money players in their mid-30s this season, still do not have a general manager to call the shots, and could probably use a rebuild that the owner does not seem to want to fully commit to.

Not exactly a great set of circumstances.

So is there a path back to the playoffs this season? Let’s take a look at three key factors that might help.

[MORE: 2018-19 review | Under Pressure | Three Questions | X-Factors]

Better Health

While injuries were not a huge factor in the Wild’s regression, they did have a couple of significant ones with the loss of Mikko Koivu (48 games) and defender Mathew Dumba (only 32 games).

Koivu is one of the many mid-30 players on the roster and is not the same player offensively that he was a few years ago, but he’s still an excellent two-way player and key part of their forwards.

Dumba, on the other hand, was the big one. Losing him was a significant blow to the team’s blue line, especially since he was in the middle of a breakout season offensively at the time of his injury. Getting a 23-minute, potential 50-point blue-liner back in the lineup would be significant.

Jason Zucker is still there

Zucker was nearly traded on two separate occasions over the past year and it is probably fortunate for the Wild that both deals fell apart before they could be completed. He is still one of the best all-around players on the team and seems to be a prime bounce-back candidate. He was still a great possession-driver for the Wild last year (they had a 53 percent shot attempt share when he was on the ice) and finished with one of the lowest shooting percentages of his career. The return of a healthy Koivu and Dumba, as well as a bounce-back from Zucker, would help a lot.

Some new faces

Zuccarello is a long-term risk because of his age, but he is still an outstanding playmaker and will upgrade the roster that ended the regular season in Minnesota.

Then you have the young players acquired by former general manager Fenton at the deadline, specifically Ryan Donato and Kevin Fiala. There are a lot of reasons to question the direction Fenton sent the team in at the trade deadline, but now that they trades are done all the Wild can do is hope for the best. While there seems to be little hope the Nino Niederreiter trade can produce positive results for them, Donato and Fiala do at least have the potential to become useful.

There is absolutely something that can be salvaged there.

Donato looked promising after the trade from Boston, while Fiala is just one year removed from a 23-goal, 48-point season, is still only 23 years old, and is coming off of a tough shooting percentage and PDO (on ice shooting percentage plus save percentage) year while also posting strong possession numbers. There is potential for a bounce-back there.

More consistent performance from Devan Dubnyk

This might be the most important potential development.

From the moment he arrived in Minnesota during the 2013-14 season Dubnyk has been one of the best, most productive goalies in the league and finished with two top-five finishes in the Vezina Trophy voting. But the 2018-19 season was far from his best as he struggled with consistency, went through one of the worst slumps of his career, and faced yet another heavy workload.

If he is able to return to his previous Minnesota form that is a season-changer for the Wild.

That is a lot of “ifs,” and even if they all go perfectly it still probably will not be enough to make them a Stanley Cup contender. It could, however, get them back in the playoffs.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Boudreau needs to get Wild turned around quickly

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Minnesota Wild. 

Most head coaches in the NHL don’t get to stay on the job longer than two of the organization’s general managers, but Bruce Boudreau clearly isn’t “most head coaches”. Boudreau, who was hired by former GM Chuck Fletcher in May of 2016, got to stay on staff when Paul Fenton took over in the front office last summer.

Now, Fenton’s gone and the Wild are still looking for their next general manager. We know that GMs will typically bring in their own head coach, but it would be mildly surprising to see the next person replace Boudreau with someone else so deep into the offseason. That doesn’t mean that the next GM will hesitate to fire the veteran coach if the team gets off to a bad start in 2019-20.

Based on what we saw from Minnesota last season, it’ll be difficult for them to get themselves on track quickly. The Wild finished outside of the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-12 season and they were also last in the Western Conference’s Central Division.

[MORE: 2018-19 review | Three Questions | X-Factor]

The other thing that won’t play into Boudreau’s favor, is his lack of playoff success since taking over in Minnesota. Since he took over behind the bench, the Wild have not made it beyond the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs (they were eliminated by the Blues and the Jets in five games). Combine that with the Wild’s recent difficult campaign and their search for a new general manager, and you can easily understand why Boudreau is very much on the hot seat.

So what has to happen for them to become one of the eight best teams in the West?

“Our lack of scoring was probably the biggest difference I think, from the two previous teams we’d had,” Boudreau told NHL.com last week. “It wasn’t any one thing. You can take Jason Zucker and say he had an off year production wise, but he had as many chances as he’s had in the previous years, he just hit 13 more posts than he did the year before. Things just weren’t going in and that happens.

“A lot of people are counting us out, and that’s great. I’m really happy they are counting us out because I think we’re going to come more mad and with a chip on our shoulders. We’ve got a lot to prove to a lot of people and I think we’re going to do it.”

Technically, he has a point. The Wild ranked 11th in the NHL in CF% and third in high danger CF% behind the Vegas Golden Knights, who made the playoffs, and the St. Louis Blues, who won the Stanley Cup. Unfortunately for them, their high danger GF% was 46.39 percent, which was 24th best last season. So they clearly didn’t convert on their high number of high danger chances.

When their backs are against the wall, a lot of coaches prefer to rely on veteran players and that’s exactly what Boudreau will be able to do during the pressure-packed time. Whether you think it’s good news or not, Minnesota has a long list of veteran players that they’ll have to rely on this season.

Mats Zuccarello, who was their big free-agent acquisition this summer, will be 32 next month. They also have Zach Parise, Eric Staal, Ryan Suter, Mikko Koivu, and Devan Dubnyk, who are all at least 33 years old right now. Whether or not that helps them remains to be seen, but this is an older group with some injury concerns. How will Koivu look once he returns from a knee injury? Can Parise stay healthy? Are the Wild good enough? Can Boudreau survive a slow start?

Those questions are all legitimate (the PHT team will tackle them throughout the day).

We don’t know how things will shake out in Minnesota this year, but they’re definitely a team to keep an eye on right now.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Koivu ‘totally confident’ in return from ACL surgery

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Leaning on his crutches, just six days after reconstructive surgery on his right knee, Mikko Koivu was asked if he had concern about his ability to return to the Minnesota Wild next season at age 36.

Just as if he were corralling a puck with a quick flick of his stick on a faceoff, Koivu didn’t flinch.

“Yes, I’m totally confident. I think those are just numbers,” Koivu said. “I think it’s about your effort, the way you take care of yourself on and off the ice, and at the end, it’s going to be a battle. But if you’re strong enough, you’re going to be able to do it.”

Koivu’s determination and strength has never been in doubt, but the torn anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus cartilage he suffered in a game at Buffalo on Feb. 5 has raised a question about the Wild captain’s future considering this major late-career injury. Koivu will enter the final year of his contract this summer, with a $5.5 million charge against the salary cap.

Factoring in the typical ACL recovery timetable, the chance is slim that Koivu will be ready to join his teammates for on-ice drills at the start of training camp.

“I think it’s too early to talk about it too much, but that’s definitely my goal,” Koivu said Thursday after the Wild’s practice, his first public comments since the collision with Sabres forward Tage Thompson .

Receiving medical clearance for the 2019-20 season opener will be an additionally hefty challenge, but Koivu, who was drafted sixth overall in 2001 by the Wild out of Finland and has topped the franchise leaderboards in several statistical categories over his 14-year career, cast his familiar steely gaze toward the daunting rehabilitation that’s ahead.

“It’s a fact that this knee will be stronger than I’ve ever experienced,” Koivu said. “The rest of it is up to me.”

The Wild are just 1-4-2 this month and 1-3 without Koivu, currently clinging to the eighth and final postseason spot in the Western Conference . They host the New Jersey Devils on Friday night, the only team they’ve beaten in February.

“We’re going to make the playoffs. That’s about as elaborate as I’m going to get,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “You want me to predict how many wins we’re going to have? Not going to happen. But we’re going to make the playoffs.”

Joel Eriksson Ek has been a productive fill-in over the last four games, but Koivu’s absence requires more than simply replacing a second-line center.

“In the locker room, outside the locker room. The little things of playing against every team’s top center, every faceoff that’s important, every time you need something,” Boudreau said.

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