The Ducks announced today they have signed center Saku Koivu to a one-year contract. Per club policy, no financial terms of the deal were disclosed.
“Saku Koivu’s character and leadership qualities are unquestioned,” said Executive Vice President/General Manager Bob Murray. “He is a skilled playmaker and we are thrilled to add him to our team.”
A native of Turku, Finland, Koivu has played each of his first 13 seasons in a Canadiens uniform. He was named team captain on Sept. 30, 1999 and held the title for the last 10 years, which ties for the longest serving captain in Montreal’s 100-year history (also Jean Beliveau). In 792 career NHL games, Koivu has collected 191-450=641 points with 623 penalty minutes (PIM). He reached the 600-point milestone with a goal in a 3-1 Canadiens victory on Oct. 20, 2008 vs. Florida. Koivu has also appeared in the Stanley Cup Playoffs on eight occasions, earning 16-32=48 points in 54 contests.
“I’m very excited to join the Ducks this coming season,” said Koivu. “I’m also looking forward to a full season with Teemu Selanne as a teammate.”
Koivu, 34 (11/23/74), scored 16-34=50 points in 65 contests with Montreal last season. The 5-10, 182-pound center has eclipsed the 50-point plateau in the last six straight seasons. In addition, Koivu has recorded 40-or-more assists in five of the last six NHL campaigns. He had a career year in 2006-07 when he set personal bests in goals (22), assists (53) and points (75). Koivu was also named to the 1998 and 2003 NHL All-Star Teams.
Selected by Montreal in the first round (21st overall) of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, Koivu won the Bill Masterton Trophy following the 2001-02 season, presented annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. This honor followed his battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, as he returned to the ice just seven months after he was diagnosed in September 2001. He helped Montreal advance to the Conference Semifinals that season, appearing in all 12 of the Canadiens’ postseason contests, earning 4-6=10 points. The following season in 2002-03, Koivu returned to establish a career best in games played (82) while setting a then-career high in goals (21), assists (50) and points (70).
Koivu is a two-time Olympian, having competed with Team Finland in both the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan and the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Torino, Italy. A teammate of Teemu Selanne
, he helped Finland capture the silver medal in 2006, scoring 3-8=11 points in eight games, which earned him a spot on the Olympic Tournament All-Star Team.
Koivu has also been honored with the 2007 King Clancy Memorial Trophy for his work with the Saku Koivu
Foundation, formed in 2002 to help raise funds for cancer-fighting equipment. The King Clancy Trophy is awarded annually to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution to his community.
Koivu spoke to reporters via conference call from his offseason home in Finland on Wednesday afternoon. Following is a transcript:
Good evening from Finland. I guess it’s lunchtime in sunny (hopefully) California.
It’s been an exciting day and an exciting last couple of days. After being in Montreal for the last 14 years and not experiencing anything else in the NHL, it’s the first time for me to become a free agent. When that happens there are a lot of question marks and you’re not sure what’s going to happen and where you’re going to end up. Now with me coming to Anaheim, my family and I are extremely happy and extremely excited about this new challenge. If it were up to me, we’d start the season next week.
On learning he would not be resigned by the Canadiens,
It was kind of a surprise when we heard. Before that, we went through different options and we know there would be some changes in Montreal. They said publicly after the new owners came in that they were looking for a new era for the team. Obviously, I kind of read in between the lines that if they wanted to change the image of the team, it would start with not signing guys like myself. We expected it in a way, but of course after being there such a long time, it was still a shock when we found out. Even before that, we started to see what was out there and saw teams we’d like to sign with and had interest. From Day 1, Anaheim was a priority. But obviously we had to wait until July 1 and see what was out there.
On the possibility of playing with his brother Mikko in Minnesota,
It was an interesting choice. We spoke to Minnesota a few times. All the talks went very well, but it was more for personal reasons that I didn’t feel comfortable going there. I kind of felt Minnesota was Mikko’s place in a way, and I wanted him to have his privacy and make his own name there for his career. I just felt there were too many risks for us as brothers and family members to play on the same team and compete for the same ice time. I just felt I was better offer playing somewhere else.
I think Mikko was really excited about the possibility for us to play on the same team. I can’t deny, if you think about only the positive side, it would have been a pretty exciting thing. I looked at it, I guess, in a more negative way, and thought, what if this happens and what if things don’t work out? Right now we have such a good relationship and I was afraid to challenge that. You never know what’s going to happen. I thought for me this was the safer option and I felt more comfortable. When I spoke to Mikko, understood totally. I guess I look at things like an older brother, and I want to protect him and I just felt there were too many risks for me to sign there.
On signing one-year deal,
I felt that for the sake of the team in Anaheim and for myself, a one-year deal was perfect. We’re going from one extreme in Montreal to a very different lifestyle, different weather and hockey not being as big as it is in Montreal. Being an older player, at this point in my career I felt I wanted to have control of our future. Obviously I’m hoping and I’m confident that things will work out and I’ll play many years in Anaheim. But I thought it was an easier decision to take one year at a time at this point and see how everything works out. We’ll see how we like it there, and if everything works out well, we can spend many years there to come.
Coming from Montreal to sunny beautiful California is going to be different. It’s been nothing but hockey in Montreal for 14 years, and I’m sure it’s going to be different. I’m fairly confident I’m going to like that. I think it was a good fit to sign a one-year contract to see how the life it going to be and if we like this different environment.
On the possibility of playing with friend and country mate Teemu Selanne,
I’m very excited about it. Obviously, at this point in July, I’m not going to start making lines. I’ll let the coaches do that job. I played with Teemu at the Olympics and World Championships and we really enjoyed it and had some success. That’s one thing that caught my eye. I wanted to play with Teemu and we’ll see how that works out. It’s a different environment than the Olympics, but I don’t have any doubts that if we play on the same line that it will work. Teemu was a factor in my decision to come to Anaheim.
Having the chance to play with Teemu was something I wanted. It made my decision fairly easy in the end. We’ve had some success playing for Team Finland.
On how much he communicated with Selanne during the process,
I spoke to him a number of times over the last couple of days. Last year we kind of joked about it, that if I become a free agent it would be cool to play together. But he didn’t want to push. He wanted me to make my own decision. And I didn’t even know if he would continue playing until not long ago. We spoke a few times in the last two or three days about Anaheim and about how I would fit on this team. And today, after this was done, we spoke a couple of times and he was obviously very happy when I told him the news.
On his chemistry with Selanne,
You never know if you’re going to have chemistry with another player. For whatever reason, we had that from the beginning, the first time we played for Team Finland in 1998 in Nagano. I can’t explain why it worked, but I play a playmaking style and it’s incredibly enjoyable to play with someone like Teemu who can find those open spots and knows how to score goals. I think our styles fit well together and if we can play together on an everyday basis, we can learn even more from one another and hopefully it will be even better.
On leaving Montreal,
I’m going to miss Montreal. I’ve made a lot of friend in hockey there and also outside of hockey. I’ve spent 14 years of my life there, since I was 20 years old. I’ve experience pretty much everything in my adult life there. Obviously, you remember your first game, your first goal, some of the playoff series. We didn’t go as far as we wanted to, but there were some great moments. I went through a battle off the ice with my cancer, and I’ll always remember coming back for that first game after the treatments. There were a lot of emotional moments and I loved my time in Montreal, there is no doubt.
Sometimes in life you need a new challenge and this is going to be a new chapter in my life. It will be a very special moment going back there for the first time in a different uniform and I’m looking forward to that as well.
On offers he got from other teams,
Before July 1, my family and my agent, we had a short list of a few teams we were interested in signing with. We spoke to those teams and got a few offers. But at this point, I don’t want to get into which teams those were and how close we were signing with everybody else. Obviously Anaheim was at the top of that list.
On playing in the Western Conference for the first time,
I think at this point felt I needed a new challenge and a new environment to really get the best out of me at this point in my career. I think it makes a difference that I play in the West rather than a familiar environment in the East. I think it’s going to be exciting to go back to Montreal, but in another way, it’s best to only face them once a year
On the appeal of signing with the Ducks,
The way I see it is, the first thing for me when we were trying to find a team was to find one that’s going to be competitive, that has a realistic chance to win a Stanley Cup. After being in Montreal for 14 years and being the focal point, in a way it’s a relief to get into this environment. When you have a line like [Ryan] Getzlaf’s line and you look at the way they played last year, especially in the playoffs, it’s going to take the pressure off of someone like me. I like the chemistry and the core guys they have on this team. If I can come in and help the team and hopefully take some pressure off on them at the same time, I think at this point of my career it’s the perfect fit and something that I wanted.
On speaking with Montreal GM Bob Gainey,
I spoke to him briefly before the draft and he explained what their plan was to go into draft week and see what happened there, and then they would get back to us either the Monday or Tuesday before July 1. At that point they wanted to see what was out on the market. He explained that it was more of a business decision and I totally understood that. I appreciated very much that he called me and explained where they were going. It was nice to hear it from him rather than the media.
On whether he tried to lure Selanne to Montreal when Selanne was a free agent,
We joked about it a few times and talked about it because we enjoyed our time with Team Finland. But to be honest with you, Teemu and his family love the sun too much and love California and Anaheim too much to get me to get him to come to Montreal. He said there was no way, and now with me coming there, we can make it possible.
On his strengths as a player,
One thing is experience. I’ve been in the league a long time. The character of competing every night and leading by example. Playing, for example, with Teemu, I know we can be effective offensively. I believe my strength is not just as an offensive playmaker, but being a two-way player who competes and is hard to play against. I’m hoping to be a piece of the puzzle that makes Anaheim even more successful than they were last year.
On how his game has changed over the years,
In the first couple of years of your career, you’re trying to prove you belong in the league. For a player like me who’s not very big, I was trying to get into every battle in the corner and prove I belong. After awhile, you know your spot and you play a lot smarter. When you’re young, you play more of a flashy style, but now I play more conservative. I think overall my game is a lot better than it was in the beginning of my career, especially defensively and in the faceoff circle. I think I’ve changed my style a bit, and I guess when you get older, you get a lot smarter too.
The one thing that happened when I got older is you pay a lot more attention to flexibility and quickness. We have a tendency to get slower when we get older and that’s something we pay a lot more attention to in the summers. I spend way less time in the gym lifting weights than I did maybe 10 years ago. Now it’s all about plyometrics, the quick feet stuff. You kind of learn more about your body and what’s good for you. The older you get, you work a lot smarter and better for yourself.