You want to get Minnesota Wild fans really riled up? Utter any combination of the words "Mikko", "Koivu", "over-rated", "captain", "trade" and "value" in a sentence.
Wild fans polemicize about Mikko more than any other player on the team.
He's the captain. He's the most-talented player on the team. He makes the 2nd most money on the team (Heatley) and he's the face of the franchise. That's a pretty powerful argument the pro-Mikko faction has at its disposal.
Yet, no Wild team under Mikko has found success, say the anti-Mikko crowd. Worse, Wild teams under Mikko's captaincy have wilted, quitting on the season in each of his three seasons as full-time captain. If he's the leader - and he's paid like it and gets minutes like it - then why isn't he leading?
Back on the pro-Mikko side, they say 'Mikko can't make up for a lack of talent on his line or throughout the rest of the lineup'. Another very good point.
To which the anti-Mikko peeps respond 'But isn't that an excuse?' Which is also true.
My personal feeling is that Mikko's a second-tier top line center in the NHL. His dedication to defense, while admirable, means he's simply not offensive enough to be considered among the elite top line centers. While he might have top 3 defensive skills among NHL centers, you need offense from your top line. I think Mikko is a very good player, of whom the Wild asks too much.
But, that's pretty hard to prove. So I decided to try to take a look at it from a statistical perspective.
I surveyed nhlnumbers.com for each teams' full salary cap hit, highest salary cap (HSC) forward, and that HSC's cap hit as a percentage of the team's overall cap hit.
Then I went over to nhl.com and collected the total number of games each team has played, the total number of games each of those respective HSC forwards has played, the team's total points (goals and assists), the HSCs' total points, the HSCs' points ranking on the team, their points per game, and then their total points as a percentage of the team's total points.
Here's an example for Eric Staal:
CAR total cap hit: $50.508M
Staal cap hit: $8.25M
Staal % CAR cap hit: 16.33%
CAR total GP: 59
Staal total GP: 59 (100%)
CAR total pts (G+A): 375
Staal total pts: 46
Staal % CAR pts: 12.27%
Staal points rank: 1st (on team)
Staal pts/gm: 0.78
Some teams (ANH, CHI, NAS, PIT, VAN) had two forwards tied for HSC. They were each added to the list. There were a total of 36 players in the data.
The average player on this list looks like this:
cap hit: $6.39M
% team cap hit: 10.80%
team total GP: 58.028
total GP: 52.361
team total pts (G+A): 423.36
total pts: 42.55
% team pts: 10.07%
points rank: 3.44th
Mikko's line looks like this:
Mikko cap hit: $6.75M
Mikko % team MIN hit: 11.93%
MIN total GP: 58
Mikko total GP: 45
MIN total pts (G+A): 337
Mikko total pts: 37
Mikko % team pts: 10.98%
Mikko points rank: 2nd
Mikko pts/gm: 0.82
Here's where Mikko ranked relative to the other players on the list for the individual categories, out of 36 total players:
cap hit: 15th highest
% team cap hit: 10th
total GP: 33rd
total pts: 27th
% team pts: 19th
points rank: T17th
It's hard to ding Mikko for the total points, given how low he ranks in total GP. You can't hold his injuries against him, in other words. However, the points per game stat accounts for that, and he's 44th percentile there.
He's also expensive, coming in at the 27th percentile for cap hit as a percentage of team total cap hit.
As with total points, it's hard to ding him for his 52nd percentile ranking for points as a percentage of team points due to his injuries. Anecdotally, the Wild primarily getting offense from Mikko's line recently is telling, but on both sides of the argument: yes, Mikko produces when he plays, but not enough to get the team over the hump in the Win/Loss columns. (Enter the "he needs secondary scoring help" argument - which, again, is valid.)
After typing that out, I went back an added in plus/minus. While that's an imperfect stat, it does give some indication of defensive acumen. The average player is at a +2.13. Mikko's plus +10.
So what did I learn? Nothing definitive. From the stats I think it's fair to say that Mikko is a relatively high-paid player among the highest paid forwards in the NHL. He ranks lower among the group in scoring, however some of that is due to his injuries this season, so not definitive. His defensive value is profound.
I can't say my theory was disproven, but I can't say it was proven, either.
The bottom line is the Wild is not moving Mikko Koivu. I just can't see that happening. And he is a very good player. If the Wild could find a player to slot in above him on the depth chart - in an offensive capacity if nothing else - that would be great. But every team in the league would like to have Mikko Koivu centering the second line. We'll never be able to prove or disprove anything that questions his leadership ability or lack thereof.
So let's have it Wild fans. Where do you fall on the Mikko spectrum?