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Koivu glad to be reunited with Selanne in Anaheim

by Eric Stephens
Saku Koivu might still be wanted in Montreal, but not by the Canadiens, who decided their longtime captain was no longer in their plans.

With a long, meaningful chapter in his career now closed, Koivu is about to write a new one some nearly 3,000 miles away. One of the NHL's most respected leaders decided that his fresh start will be in Anaheim, where he signed a one-year, $3.25-million contract on Wednesday.

"Sometimes you need a new challenge," Koivu said during a conference call from his home in Finland. "This is going to be a new chapter in my life."

Despite playing with a high ankle sprain that cost him 17 games in 2008-09, the playmaking center still reached 50 points (16 goals, 34 assists) for the sixth consecutive season. It was the eighth 50-point season of his career.

They came during 13 NHL seasons in Montreal the only city he's called home during his NHL career. Koivu became one of the most admired Canadiens in the franchise's storied history. His stirring comeback from a battle with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2002 and his willingness to play through injuries endeared him to fans in La Belle Province and throughout hockey.

So entrenched with the Canadiens was Koivu that he wore the "C" for 10 years, tying Jean Beliveau as the longest-serving captain in team history. But that all changed just a week ago when General Manager Bob Gainey let him know that they were moving on without him.

"I spoke to him briefly before the draft," Koivu said. "He explained what their plan was for the next few days before the draft and they would get back to us either [June 29] or the day before. At that point they wanted to see what was out on the market.

"He explained that it was more of a business decision. I totally understood that. I appreciated that he called me and he explained it to me. It was nice to hear from him than the media."

However, Koivu said he was still surprised at Gainey's decision, though he had already braced himself for a possible change after a celebrated centennial season for the Canadiens ended as a major disappointment -- capped by their first-round playoff sweep to rival Boston.

"They said publicly, after the new owners came in, that they were looking for a new era for the team," he said. "Obviously, I kind of read between the lines. If they want to change the image of the team, it would probably start with not signing myself."

Though many people thought he would join his brother Mikko in Minnesota, Koivu instead took the opportunity to play alongside longtime friend and countryman Teemu Selanne in the short term as he turned down a reported multiyear offer from the Wild to go to Anaheim.

As much as Mikko, Minnesota's captain, relished the idea of suiting up alongside his older brother, 34-year-old Saku didn't want to impede his younger brother's progression into the leader of the Wild.

"It was an interesting choice," Saku said. "We spoke to Minnesota a few times. All the talks went very well. It was more for personal reasons that I didn't feel comfortable. I kind of felt Minnesota is Mikko's place at this point. I wanted him to have his own privacy in a way, make his own name and his own career.

"I just felt there were too many risks for us as brothers and as family members to join the same team and compete for the same ice time. I felt we were better off playing somewhere else."

For his career, Koivu has 641s point, including 191 goals, in 792 games. He has made it to the Stanley Cup Playoffs eight times, including this past spring, and has 48 points in 54 playoff games. He also won the Bill Masterton Trophy for his dedication to hockey after his 2002 comeback and received the King Clancy Trophy in 2007 for his work with the Saku Koivu Foundation, which helps raise funds for cancer-fighting equipment.

The Ducks are hoping that Koivu is the battle-tested veteran who will fill the No. 2 center role -- something they've been unable to find since dealing Andy McDonald to St. Louis midway through the 2007-08 season. Neither Doug Weight nor Brendan Morrison was able to do the job.
Anaheim GM Bob Murray said publicly that the lack of a productive second line kept his team from beating Detroit in a tough seven-game Western Conference semifinal. Murray now has a potential line of Selanne, Koivu and Joffrey Lupul to complement Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan.

Murray said Koivu is "our type of guy," and that he felt fortunate to land a proven point-producer who brings character to the locker room and was willing to leave more years and money on the negotiating table.

"I think he is a good fit," Murray said. "He's been a No. 1 and a No. 2 for years. And he's been a captain. We're now in a position where we've got two good forward scoring lines."

The potential pairing of Koivu and Selanne is what enticed everyone involved with the signing. The two Finnish legends have been longtime linemates in international competition; they starred in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, helping Finland advance to the gold medal game against Sweden.

Koivu and Selanne each tried to get the other to become a teammate in the NHL. Koivu once tried to sell Selanne on playing for Montreal but realized he could never get him out of Southern California.

"Teemu and his family love the sun too much," Koivu said jokingly.

About the chemistry he has with Selanne on the ice, Koivu said, "For whatever reason we had that from the beginning from first time we played together, 1998 in Nagano. I can't really explain why it happened and why it worked so well.

"For myself, I'm more of a playmaking guy," he continued. "It's incredibly enjoyable to play with a player like Teemu, who can find those open spots. He can find that spot on the back door and score goals. Our styles fit well together. I think if we can play on an everyday basis for a while, I think we can even learn more from one another and I think it's going to be better."

Most of all, Koivu is glad to be wanted again.

"We're extremely happy," he said. "If it was up to me, I would start the season next week."


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