The Ducks have signed unrestricted free agent center Saku Koivu to a one-year, $3.25 million contract. After spending all of his 14-year career with the Montreal Canadiens — the last ten years as captain — Koivu said he was lured by the chance to play with fellow Finn Teemu Selanne, as well as a more laid-back environment in Southern California.
“At this point in my career, it’s a perfect fit,” the 34-year-old Koivu said. “The first thing for me when we were trying to find a team was to find a team that’s going to be compeitive, that has a realistic chance to win the Stanley Cup. After being 14 years in Montreal and being the focus point, in a way it’s a relief to be in an environment where hockey’s not as big.
“When you look at (Ryan) Getzlaf’s line and the way they played in the playoffs, it’s going to take pressure off me. I like the chemistry and the core guys they have.”
Koivu, 5-foot-10 and 182 pounds, remained the top center in the Canadiens’ attack throughout an injury-plagued career, notably a battle with cancer that cost him nearly all of the 2001-02 season. He missed 17 games in the middle of last season with a high ankle sprain, finishing with 16 goals and 50 points.
His team fell well short of expectations in the playoffs, losing to the Boston Bruins in a first-round sweep, and Canadiens GM Bob Gainey squeezed Koivu out of the picture by investing in free-agent forwards Scott Gomez, Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta.
On the market for the first time in his career, Koivu compiled a short list of destinations which was believed to include the Ducks and Minnesota, where his brother Mikko is the captain. However, Saku Koivu had reservations about how that experiment would play out.
“I can’t deny, if you think about the possibilities, the positive side, it would have been a pretty exciting thing,” he said. “But I looked at it in, I guess, a more negative way. What if things won’t work out? Right now we have such a great relationship. I was too afraid to challenge that. You never know what was going to happen. To me, this is a safer option.
“When I spoke to Mikko today, he understood totally. I guess I look at things as more of an older brother. I wanted to protect him.”
Saku Koivu’s career statistics indicate he is a consistent 15- to 20-goal scorer, and consistently among Montreal’s team leaders in assists. What the stats don’t show is a renewed emphasis on defense, to the point where Koivu confidently described himself as “a strong two-way player that competes and makes it hard to play against.”
Not least among general manager Bob Murray’s selling points was the opportunity to play with Selanne. Both are spending the summer in their native Finland, but Koivu said he was convinced to sign with Anaheim on his own.
The two were linemates on the Finnish Olympic teams in 1998 and 2006, and in the 1998, 2003 and 2008 World Championships. Koivu said his chemistry with Selanne was evident from the time they first skated together in Nagano, Japan.
“Our styles fit well together,” Koivu said. “For myself, I’m more of a playmaking style. It’s incredibly enjoyable playing with a player who can find those open spots and knows how to score the goals.”
In 792 career NHL games, Koivu has collected 641 points (191 goals, 450 assists) with 623 penalty minutes.