- Associated Press - Thursday, July 15, 2010

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - This time, Minnesota Wild fans don’t have to fret about losing the franchise player.

Captain Mikko Koivu signed a seven-year, $47.25 million contract extension on Thursday, keeping the versatile center with the team through the 2017-18 season.

“You could argue quite persuasively that he’s the best player to ever play for the Minnesota Wild,” said general manager Chuck Fletcher, who watched the organization’s original first-round draft pick, right wing Marian Gaborik, leave for riches and the New York Rangers as a free agent last summer.

The Wild weren’t about to let Koivu get that far, and the 27-year-old Finland native was quite happy to stay with the team that took him in the first round in 2001, one draft after Gaborik.

Fletcher went so far as to call this deal a “monumental signing” and an “historic day” for the franchise. Koivu, picked as the Wild’s first permanent captain last October, had 22 goals and 49 assists last season. In addition to being a leader in the locker room, Koivu is arguably their best offensive player and best defensive forward.

“Truly our franchise player,” Fletcher said.

Reached on a conference call with local reporters, Koivu _ at 2:30 a.m. local time in Finland _ called himself “a lucky guy” and said he was “very excited to work for this contract.” He didn’t want to play the season with uncertainty about his status.

“It was easy and kind of very fast, and I think that’s the way we both wanted,” Koivu said.

Koivu has one season left at $3.7 million on the four-year, $13 million contract he signed with the Wild three summers ago. When his new deal kicks in next season, Koivu’s annual base salary will be $5.4 million with bonuses of $1.89 million paid every other year and a double installment to raise the figure to $9.18 million in the final season.

“How many centermen are really better than Mikko, when you break it down?” Fletcher said, later adding: “I think it’s a very fair contract. Let’s not kid ourselves. If he got to July 1, 2011, he would’ve had several teams making very lucrative offers to him. I’m not sure there’s been a centerman like him on the open market since we’ve had the new CBA.”

Koivu has led the Wild in points for two straight seasons. He was second in the NHL last season in faceoffs won. This contract, assuming he stays healthy, should allow Koivu to overtake Gaborik for the franchise’s career offensive records.

“We look forward to working with Mikko to building a championship-caliber club here in St. Paul,” Fletcher said.

Koivu had arthroscopic surgeries on his right shoulder and his right knee in April, but he said his rehab is going well.

“I can tell you that I feel good to be healthy again,” Koivu said.

Fletcher didn’t rule out adding another player or two before the fall, though he indicated he’s not trying to trade anyone.

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