Wild pursuing Saku Koivu to fill hole at center
MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—The Koivu brothers could be united in Minnesota.
After committing $30 million over six years to Martin Havlat(notes) during the flurry of the first day of free agency, Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher turned his focus Thursday to Saku Koivu(notes), the top center currently on the NHL’s open market. Koivu would fill a glaring need at a critical position for Minnesota and, in turn, be able to play with his younger brother, Mikko.
In a conference call, Fletcher confirmed the team’s desire to sign Koivu, who has played his entire career for the Montreal Canadiens. Saku is 34, eight years older than Mikko, who is the franchise’s clear cornerstone now that Marian Gaborik(notes) has signed with the New York Rangers.
“Certainly, we’ve expressed some interest,” Fletcher said. “He’s a great hockey player. There aren’t a lot of centermen on the marketplace.
“There’s certainly nobody of Saku’s caliber out there.”
Don Baizley, who serves as the agent for both brothers, declined to comment on the situation until “Saku’s contract is done.”
That doesn’t mean a deal will be done with Minnesota, of course, as Fletcher acknowledged.
“I’d be surprised if 10 or 15 teams haven’t reached out to him by this point,” the GM said. “I’m not sure where the process will go, but he’s a terrific hockey player.
“I certainly sense some interest, but there’s a lot of good situations out there for centermen.”
Koivu has been with Montreal since 1995. He had 16 goals and 34 assists last season, right around his career averages for full seasons. He missed most of the 1999-2000 season because of a shoulder injury and most of the 2001-02 season while recovering from abdominal cancer.
Koivu’s parents, who live in Finland, certainly have their preference among Saku’s many options.
“It’s one of their dreams for their kids to play on the same team,” Mikko said earlier this week in an interview with the Star Tribune newspaper. “There’s no doubt it would be special for all of us if it can happen, but we’ll see.”
If the Wild can’t get him, they could try to trade for a center, though Fletcher indicated that’s not likely. Returning players James Sheppard(notes), Eric Belanger(notes), Pierre-Marc Bouchard(notes) and Benoit Pouliot(notes) are candidates to fill the other center spots.
“It’s a difficult commodity to find,” Fletcher said, acknowledging he discussed with Mikko the possibility of playing with Saku.
The Wild’s new boss said he’s evaluating other free agents, too, but said the process could stretch over the next couple of weeks.
Also signed Wednesday was defenseman Greg Zanon(notes), to a three-year contract worth $5.8 million, but there’s likely an opening for another blue-liner on the roster.
“We could still land somebody in the next day or two, or it may be a case where there’s not much more in free agency and we wait to fill some holes via trade,” Fletcher said.