When discussing the criteria for a Most Valuable Player award, someone will inevitably offer this theory: That you can measure a player's worth by theorizing how terrible his team would be without him in the lineup.
To that end, Mikko Koivu might as well be a Hart candidate. With their captain, the Wild are 22-19 (including OT losses); without him, they're 3-9.
Koivu is expected back in the lineup for the Wild on Thursday night against the Vancouver Canucks, playing for the first time since Jan. 14 after separating his left shoulder. From the Star-Tribune, Coach Mike Yeo expects him to skate with Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley:
"We have to make sure with Mikko coming back, he's such an important part of our team, that we surround him the right way," Yeo said. "Putting him with Seto and Heater gives us a chance to get that line going and contributing."
Koivu said his conditioning feels good and he has regained strength in his shoulder, but his timing with Heatley and Setoguchi might require some work. "Obviously when you come back from an injury, you've got to be patient," he said. "There are a lot of ways you can help your team. You have to take it step by step and try and help as much as I can. But if we play as a line, it's our job to be good offensively and create momentum for our team and obviously score some goals as well."
Key word: Setoguchi.
As Bryan Reynolds of Hockey Wilderness notes, it's not been the best ride for Setoguchi:
Devin Setoguchi is on pace to have the worst full season of his career. A former 65 point, 30 goal scorer, Setoguchi has never approached those numbers since. Whether he can ever put them up again has yet to be seen, but it certainly will not be this season.
At the current pace, he will score just 15 goals, and add twelve assists. Both would be career lows.
As Reynolds notes, Setoguchi started the season with Koivu and Heatley before his lack of production played him off the line. On those rare occasions when he has scored, it's been with Koivu on the ice: 12 of his 18 points this season, in fact (via Dobber).
So maybe Koivu gets him going as the Wild try to improve on being the second-worst offensive team in the NHL (thanks, LA!). Then again, Setoguchi is a riddle wrapped in a conundrum wrapped in a player that Joe Thornton couldn't even carry to consistency.
The Gooch aside, the Wild actually didn't bottom out with Koivu out. They were eighth in the West when he went out and remain there. With him back, perhaps Minny can find some positive moment to lift off the bubble.