MONTREAL - With his one-year contract expiring at season's end and unrestricted free agency looming, Saku Koivu was only months away from potentially going to the highest bidder and choosing from any of the league's 29 other cities. By opting to instead re-sign with Montreal, the Canadiens' captain made it clear that there was no place like home.
In inking Koivu to a three-year deal that will see No. 11 remain with the Canadiens through the 2008-09 season, GM Bob Gainey also ensured that his captain's tenure would surpass his own. Gainey, who wore the "C" for eight of his 16 NHL seasons - all spent in Montreal - has now paved the way for Koivu to find himself at the doorstep of Jean Beliveau's team-record 10-year term as captain of the Canadiens by the time his new deal ends.
"I think those are things that you realize when you're done playing hockey, when you're sitting home when you get a little bit older. But, obviously it's something I'm really proud of," said Koivu, who has worn the "C" since winning a players vote at the beginning of the 1999-2000 season.
Koivu made no secret what the deal-breaker was in his recent negotiations with Gainey.
"I've been here for 10 years already now and Montreal has become my second home," said the 31-year-old Finnish centerman, whose 543 games played with the Canadiens trails only buddy Craig Rivet's total of 573 on the current roster. "The bond that I have with the people here and with the city, we didn't see any reason to move.
"So much has happened here for me both on and off the ice, like with my cancer. The response and support I got from the team, the fans and the city still amazes me," added Koivu. "My family feels really comfortable about staying here and hopefully being a part of something special over the next few years."
The shared philosophy of both Gainey and coach-in-waiting Guy Carbonneau has not gone unnoticed by Koivu.
"On the hockey side of things with Bob now, and having Carbo becoming head coach soon, I think we're really on the right track with the approach they're taking towards the game," admitted Koivu. "Knowing that they're both behind me just makes a huge difference. They're some of the greatest leaders you'll find anywhere. There's so much I can learn from them that can hopefully make me a better player, a better person and a better captain. Having those two guys behind the bench is something that makes me really confident and I think this team is headed in the right direction. I just knew that I wanted to be a part of it."
After doing whatever it took to get Koivu to put pen to paper this weekend, it's apparent Gainey feels the same way.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com