The Columbus Blue Jackets found the perfect replacement for Brandon Dubinsky.
Sure, Dubinsky was no longer the player he once was – a player who averaged 40.8 points for a decade – but he remained one of the linchpins of a really good Blue Jackets teams coming off a disappointing first-round exit versus the eventual champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning. Even at an albeit overpriced $5.85 million, Columbus’ assistant captain likely would have remained a viable contributor capable of providing some grit in a reserve role.
But now? If Dubinsky shows up at the Nationwide Arena at all – or wherever the NHL’s teams ultimately play in 2021 – it’ll likely be in street clothes.
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While one could wax poetic ad nauseam about how Dubinsky’s arrival back in 2012 helped to set up a decade of success in Columbus, I’d rather talk about the player who, in all likelihood, will serve as his replacement: Mikko Koivu.
A 37-year-old left-handed center from Turku, Finland, Koivu spent the first 15(!) years of his NHL career as a member of the Minnesota Wild, where he served as a permanent captain since October of 2009.
Fun fact: Koivu holds the distinction of being the first, and as of right now, only captain in Wild history.
Though Koivu isn’t the player he once was, as he too averaged over 40 points per season – 50 actually – for the first 13 years of his NHL career, he remains the sort of steady, solid contributor that any team would love to have on their third or fourth line.
And with Dubinsky’s career effectively over, Koivu is a natural replacement at a very reasonable $1.5 million.
Even if Koivu lacks Dubinsky’s attitude on the ice, he’s a similarly aggressive shooter and a willing passer. He’s also one of the more respected leaders who know how to win and play hockey the right way – even if the game’s ultimate prize has ultimately eluded him thus far. For a team like the Blue Jackets, who are fiercely locked in a four-way battle with the Washington Capitals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and my hometown Philadelphia Flyers for the soul of the Metropolitan Division.
Koivu’s addition could also be an incredible mentor for Pierre-Luc Dubois, the team’s 22-year-old cornerstone. Like Koivu, Dubois is a former top-10 pick who is already averaging 53-plus points per season. With a mentor like Koivu around for what should be a weird, weird NHL season, Dubois could take his game another step forward and potentially establish himself as one of the league’s premier two-way centers for the next decade-plus – just like Koivu and even Dubinsky did a decade earlier.
While it’s never fun to see a player lose their livelihood before they are ready to go, general manager Jarmo Kekäläinen deserves a ton of credit for identifying Mikko Koivu as a viable replacement for Brandon Dubinsky both on and off the ice. Even if he only averages 15-ish minutes of on-ice time a night, Koivu’s leadership might be just what the doctor ordered to propel the Columbus Blue Jackets forward in the playoffs – that is, assuming they don’t have to play the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round for the third season in a row.