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Zulgad: Wild’s decision to extend Mikko Koivu’s contract is a head-scratcher

Mar 20, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Minnesota Wild center Mikko Koivu (9) attempts to tip the puck in front of Chicago Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling (33) during the third period at the United Center. Minnesota won 3-2 in a shoot out. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

If Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher has learned anything in recent years, it’s that every bit of salary-cap room with which he has to work is precious. That’s because, unlike in the NFL and NBA, NHL executives can’t count on a year-to-year increase of any substance.

In part because there is never a large influx of national television-related income, the cap has gone from $71.4 million in 2015-16, to $73 million last season, to $75 million for the coming year.

This makes it difficult to make significant additions, especially when Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are entering year six of 13-year, $98 million contracts that carry annual cap hits of $7.5 million through 2024-25.

The assumption here was that because the cap had increased so little in recent years Fletcher would be excited by the opportunity to see some of his veteran’s contracts begin to expire. Especially after younger forwards, such as Nino Niederreiter (five years, $25.3 million) and Mikael Granlund (three years, $17.3 million), were rewarded this offseason.

The best example of an expiring contract that could help the Wild upgrade after his coming season involved 34-year-old center Mikko Koivu. The sixth-overall pick in the 2001 draft by Minnesota, and the Wild’s captain since 2009, Koivu is entering his 13th season with the team.

He also was entering the final season of a seven-year, $47.25 million contract that will pay him $5.4 million in 2017-18. Allowing Koivu to play out that contract made perfect sense. If he had productive 2017-18, he might be brought back but there also was the potential that his money could have been used on a younger, more attractive talent.

Only that won’t be the case.

On Monday, the Wild announced they had signed Koivu to a two-year, $11 million deal that will extend through the 2019-20 season. That means Koivu is signed for three more years and will make $5 million in 2018-19 and $5.5 million in 2019-20. He will be 37 years old when the extension to his contract ends.

Perhaps most galling about all of this is Michael Russo of The Athletic tweets there is a no-move clause in Koivu’s extension. Why on earth would Fletcher agree to include a no-move clause in an aging player’s contract? It’s bad enough when you give a no-move clause to a productive player who suddenly hits the cliff but in Koivu’s case there was no reason to do this.

Heck, there was no reason to give him any type of extension in the first place.

Koivu is coming off a productive 2016-17 season in part because he was able to move from first- to second-line center playing behind 32-year-old Eric Staal. Koivu had 18 goals and 58 points and was a plus-27 in 80 games, spending much of the season with Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker on his wings.

Like many Wild players, Koivu didn’t do much in the Wild’s five-game first-round playoff loss to the Blues. He had one goal, one assist and was a minus-1. All of this set up Koivu with the opportunity to return this season and prove he could remain a productive and durable player. When it came to Koivu’s contract, the Wild finally was in an ideal spot.

That is no longer the case.

Instead, the Wild has Koivu locked up for three more years and, thus, put themselves right back in the type of salary-cap situation they should be trying to escape.

The question is why? I, for one, have no idea.


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