Big Wild extension for Koivu is justified, a salute to Sydor, more
Mikko Koivu will earn more than Jon Toews, but he's the Wild's franchise player
The Wild staved off a Gaborik-like defection, but must get Koivu some help
Darryl Sydor played under the radar for 18 years, but no one was gutsier
Let's play a little game. Think about an NHL team and try to name a player who epitomizes everything the franchise stands for.
The Boston Bruins? Cam Neely. (I'd also accept Terry O'Reilly.)
The Red Wings? Steve Yzerman.
The Avs have Joe Sakic.
Montreal? Jean Beliveau. Guy Lafleur. The Rocket. Yeah, they've got a long list.
Thing is, not every team has that one guy, that stalwart against whom all others are and will be measured. But the Minnesota Wild might. And that's what makes yesterday's signing of captain Mikko Koivu to a seven-year, $47.25 million extension entirely justifiable.
Granted, the money sounds Mel Gibson-crazy. Forget for a moment that it's more than Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Ryan Getzlaf and Pavel Datsyuk will be paid. There are extenuating circumstances in each case that impact those deals. But even with those stars out of the equation for argument's sake, it's tough to justify a $6.75 million cap hit for a guy who has never scored more than 22 goals or 71 points in a season. It becomes even tougher when seemingly comparable deals like the one signed recently by Vancouver's Ryan Kesler (five years, $25 million) or last year by Travis Zajac (four years, $15.5 million) seemed to suggest a less onerous contract was there for the Wild to give Koivu.
Without going into minutiae that might make Kesler, Zajac or Koivu more preferable, all three are solid centers with outstanding defensive games at the core of their skill sets. They all have solid, if unspectacular, offensive capabilities.
But it's worth noting here that unlike Zajac, who benefits from having Zach Parise patrolling his wing, and Kesler, who played with Mikael Samuelsson and Alex Burrows at various times last season, Koivu is saddled with a pair of nags in Andrew Brunette and Antti Miettinen. That can't be overlooked. Armed with a couple of sidewinders, Koivu could easily hop into the 80-85 point bin.
So it was widely assumed that Koivu would come in north of Kesler, probably somewhere in the $5.5 to $6 million range. But to see him reset the economic bar like that was entirely unexpected.
But that doesn't mean this wasn't the right deal for the Wild. And not just because GM Chuck Fletcher avoided another Marian Gaborik-style defection. This was a statement to the fans and the future of the franchise. This is the model. This is who we want to be. For all the effort being expended to upgrade this team to a state resembling offensive competence, the Wild are what they are: a club that takes care of its own zone first and last and always, and if they happen to pop in a couple of goals along the way, that's swell.
And that model aptly describes Koivu. He's not opposed to scoring, but he'll only seize the opportunity if it arises out of defensive discipline. There are no shortcuts in his game. Whatever's taken is earned. That is what the Wild are about. That's why last season he became the first permanent captain in franchise history. And that's why this was the best deal that Fletcher could have made.
Were there a few extra ladles of gravy poured on top? Maybe...but there will never come a day when the Wild are unhappy that Koivu is wearing their uniform. And now that Fletcher has made this investment, he has to go all in. That means upgrading Koivu's wings. It won't happen overnight, but at least one should be replaced next season. Anything less and Fletcher is sabotaging his own commitment.
That would be something Wild fans could get ticked about.
Even 18 years of honorable NHL service won't earn Darryl Sydor's retirement much more than a line or two in most outlets. Fair enough. Despite contributing to Stanley Cup wins in Dallas and Tampa, earning a pair of All-Star Game berths and helping Canada to an historic World Championship in 1994, Sydor's game was never one to garner much in the way of headlines.
The seventh overall pick in 1990 (by the Kings) played almost 1,300 games for six teams and picked up 507 points and 755 penalty minutes. Respectable totals, but not the sort that will be remembered for long after he settles into his new role as an assistant coach with the AHL's Houston Aeros.
Still, Sydor left me one unforgettable moment. It was early in Game 6 of the 2000 Stanley Cup Final, a night that would see the Devils skate the Cup at Reunion Arena in Dalllas. Might have even been Sydor's first shift of the night. Moments after Scott Gomez entered the Dallas zone with the puck, Sydor drew a bead on the New Jersey forward and went in for the big hit. Gomez, sensing the impending impact, dodged at the last moment and the two ended up colliding at the knee. Gomez was fine, but Sydor was left writhing in agony. The situation was obvious, but the refs couldn't blow the whistle with the Devils controlling the puck.
This is where it got good.
Sydor knew he wasn't going to get a whistle. And with his knee torn, he wasn't making it back to the bench, either. Some players would have just laid there and hoped for the best. Not Sydor. To the amazement of everyone in the crowd, but no one on the ice, he began heading for the net. Unable to skate, or even crawl, he painfully dragged himself by sheer force of will in the hope that his broken body might, at best, get in the way of a Devils shot. It was a play they still talk about in Dallas a decade later and it was, arguably, the single gutsiest moment I've witnessed in nearly two decades of covering the game. See for yourself.
They say you can't teach courage, but if anyone can, it's Sydor. Those kids in Houston will be lucky to have him.
Interesting change of direction by Jim Rutherford in Carolina. After failing last summer with a pair of defensive-minded free agents -- Aaron Ward and Andrew Alberts -- the Hurricanes GM was expected to take another stab at adding a little grit on the back end this July. Instead, he surprised observers by bringing back Joe Corvo.
It says here, though, that this was a solid move. The money was right -- $2 million next season and $2.5 in 2011-12 -- and there's a good chance that Corvo will re-discover the solid chemistry he enjoyed with partner Tim Gleason before being dealt to Washington at the deadline. As far as value goes, Rutherford couldn't have done much better, and these days you almost can't have too many puck-moving defenders.
That said, the move also suggests that a deal might be coming. Rookie Jamie McBain impressed in a limited run last spring and will be given every opportunity to seize a full-time role this fall. So will Bobby Sanguinetti, the former Rangers first-rounder acquired by Rutherford at the draft. If either passes the test, Anton Babchuk could be the odd man out, although Joni Pitkanen may go on the block if the right deal is on the table. Either way, Rutherford has re-invigorated a blueline that played a significant role in last season's early struggles. The 'Canes aren't contenders, but they're better situated to take a real run at the postseason.
A tip o' the cap to my old -- and I do mean old -- linemate Rick "No Stick" Porter for passing along this bit of video gold. It's the guy from the Old Spice commercials explaining what he would do if given the Stanley Cup for a day. Some real crazy head writing here: