Minnesota Wild Look to Mikko Koivu to Help Rebuild Franchise

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Minnesota Wild Look to Mikko Koivu to Help Rebuild Franchise It?s Year 2 of the reboot in Minnesota, as the Wild enter their second season after cutting ties with coach Jacques Lemaire and general manager Doug Risborough, who had both been in place since the franchise began play in 2000.

The Wild hadn?t achieved much success under their stewardship, missing the playoffs in five of the franchise?s first eight seasons and losing in the first round on two other occasions. The only playoff victories Minnesota enjoyed was a pair of series wins over Colorado and Vancouver in 2003 when they reached the conference final before falling in four straight to Anaheim.

Things didn?t get much better last year under new coach Todd Richards and GM Chuck Fletcher, as Minnesota missed the playoffs again. It will take time to shift from Lemaire?s trapping style to a more up-tempo approach, but the Wild has begun to assemble some talent for the transition.

2009-10 Record: 38-36-8, 84 points (fourth Northwest Division, 13th Western Conference, did not qualify for playoffs)

Bruins record vs. Wild: Boston trails in the all-time series 2-8-0-0, but the Bruins did win the lone meeting last year 2-1 in a shootout in Minnesota on Nov. 25. The Bruins have never beaten the Wild in Boston, losing all five meetings while being outscored 16-5.

When to watch: The Bruins will try to earn their first home win against Minnesota when the Wild come to town on Thursday, Jan. 6. The Bruins do not play in Minnesota this season.

Familiar faces: Former Bruins Shane Hnidy and Andy Hilbert are unsigned unrestricted free agents after playing in Minnesota last year, but ex-Boston College star Chuck Kobasew remains in Minnesota after being traded to the Wild by the Bruins last year. Petr Kalus also remains Wild property, though he?s played primarily for their AHL affiliate in Houston since being traded for Manny Fernandez in 2007. The Wild also signed UMass-Amherst star Casey Wellman last year.

Key additions: F Matt Cullen (free agent); F John Madden (free agent); F Eric Nystrom (free agent); F Brad Staubitz (trade with San Jose); F Warren Peters (free agent); D Drew Bagnall (free agent)

Key losses: F Derek Boogaard (signed with Rangers); D John Scott (signed with Chicago); D Jamie Sifers (signed with Atlanta); F Nathan Smith (signed with Augsburger Panther, Germany)

Burning question: Will Mikko Koivu be worth the investment the Wild made in him?

After losing star Marian Gaborik to the Rangers as a free agent last summer, the Wild weren?t going to take any chances with franchise center Mikko Koivu, who was due to enter the final year of his deal this season. Minnesota locked him up long term at a hefty cost, signing Koivu to a seven-year, $47.25 million extension that more than doubles his cap hit from $3.25 million to $6.75 million. Is Koivu, who set career-highs with 22 goals and 49 points last year, worth that kind of investment? His offensive numbers don?t scream franchise player, but he?s also a superior defensive forward, team leader and one of the league?s top face-off men (56.9 percent last season).

Sound a little like someone the Bruins will have to negotiate with soon? Patrice Bergeron has a similar skill set, and the Bruins will have to decide how much they can afford to keep him around after this season. The Wild have already decided on Koivu, now it?s up to him to prove he?s worth the hefty payday and live up to Fletcher?s lofty praise. The GM proclaimed when he signed Koivu that "you could argue quite persuasively that he?s the best player to ever play for the Minnesota Wild."

2010-11 outlook: Koivu is the centerpiece of Minnesota?s rebuilding project, but he does have some decent complementary parts in place around him. Andrew Burnette (25-36-61) and Martin Havlat (18-36-54) are productive veterans up front, and Minnesota added Matt Cullen (16-32-48) this summer. Former Hab Guillaume Latendresse (27-13-40) revived his flagging career with the move to Minnesota last season, while Antti Niettinen (20-22-42) has shown promise. The defense is led by Marek Zidlicky (6-37-43), but Minnesota will need Brent Burns to stay healthy and a strong year from Cam Barker. Goaltending shouldn?t be an issue with the strong duo of Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding.

One big change will be the loss of imposing tough guys Derek Boogaard (6-8, 257) and John Scott (6-8, 258). Brad Staubitz (6-1, 215) was acquired from San Jose to take over the pugilistic duties, but he?s more of a cruiserweight than a heavyweight. Matt Kassian (6-5, 245) could be ready to move up from the AHL if needed.  

Did you know? Wild forward Cal Clutterbuck certainly isn?t shy about initiating contact on the ice. In his first two seasons in the NHL, he?s led the league in hits both times. He amassed 356 hits as a rookie in 2008-09 and added another 318 last year. Including a two-game cameo in 2007-08, he has 678 hits in 154 games, an average of 4.4 hits per contest. The Bruins might want to keep their heads up when Clutterbuck steps on the ice in their January meeting this season.

Next: We?ll finish our look at the Northwest Division by checking out what?s in store for Vancouver this season on Wednesday.

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