July 15, 2010
This was a stunner: Minnesota Wild center Mikko Koivu(notes), a 27-year-old 70-point player who is among the best two-way forwards in the NHL, signed a $47.25 million contract over the span of seven seasons with a no-trade clause.
This is not an offensive superstar or a stat-collector or a player that can net 40 goals, is it?
"How do you know?" said GM Chuck Fletcher on a conference call Thursday night.
Fletcher said Koivu's 71-point year last season showed the promise of an offensive upside statistically, calling him one of the top 25 players in the NHL. But he knows that number-obsessed observers are going to see that Koivu will have a higher annual cap hit in 2011-12 than Datsyuk, Nicklas Backstrom(notes), Jonathan Toews(notes) and Henrik Sedin(notes), and they will question the money.
So Fletcher was adamant about the intangibles: The leadership, the two-way game, the stuff off the stat sheet. Obviously, they'd expect a 70-point minimum for this money; but they also feel he brings so much to the team that the numbers aren't the sole measurement.
"You look around the league at all the No. 1 centers in the league, and you ask yourself honestly, 'How many players are better than Mikko?'" said Fletcher.
Michael Russo of the Star Tribune reported that the contract, that has an annual cap hit of $6.75 million starting in 2011-12, has a base salary annually of $5.4 million and $1.89 million signing bonuses spread across five years (2011, 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2018).
Russo said the Koivu camp was adamant about seven years and convinced he would be a $7 million player annually on the open market as an unrestricted free agent. The Wild either agreed or bought the bluff; Fletcher said Koivu not only would have been coveted on the open market, but might have been the best center to go unrestricted in recent memory.
As for Koivu, he said getting the extension done now was important for next season. "It's not good for a team [to have that unresolved]," he said. "But both sides had to be happy."
He also mixed some messages: Giving the Wild a vote of confidence as a contending team ("If I didn't believe in the organization, I wouldn't have signed a long-term contract") while at the same time saying things like "Minnesota is my home" and that he wanted to stay. You wonder how heavily those facets each were weighed; but he said, in the end, it's about winning.
It's a daring contract given the uncertainty with the cap in the next CBA negotiation, and it's a bold move to bestow Franchise Player status on Koivu both in words and in deeds, as Fletcher did today.
The Wild aren't exactly cheaply built. As of this signing, they only have $8,957,223 in cap space for the 2010-11 season with 17 players signed, according to Cap Geek. But Fletcher said the team won't be handcuffed by this lucrative deal; not that it matters, because he said Koivu's worth the investment, no matter what the box score says.
"To define Mikko by his statistics is to miss the point of what he's all about," he said.