ANAHEIM, Calif. – Playing in Montreal wasn’t always easy but Saku Koivu says he enjoyed every minute of being a Canadien.
Still, hockey is a business and when it became clear the Canadiens were not going to offer him a new contract this season he had no option but to sign a one-year deal worth US$3.25 million with the Anaheim Ducks.
“I enjoyed every moment there,” Koivu said in a telephone conference call from Finland. “It’s a great place to play hockey. Not an easy place always, but a very interesting place.
“I think and I know I’m a better person after these years. I’ve learned a lot from Montreal. I will never forget the years I spent there.”
Koivu took a cut in salary to join the Ducks. He was paid US$4.75 million with Montreal last season, where he finished third on the team in scoring with 50 points from 16 goals and 34 assists in 65 games.
The diminutive forward was deemed expendable after the Canadiens acquired Scott Gomez from the New York Rangers and signed free agent Mike Cammalleri earlier this month.
“We knew the team was going for changes and they were going to try and find some new players,” Koivu said.
“After being all these years in the NHL I know it’s part of business. Sometime, everything ends. Now it’s a new time and a new chapter in my life. A new challenge.”
The move to Anaheim reunites Koivu with fellow Finnish player Teemu Selanne. The duo helped Finland earn a silver medal at the 2006 Olympic Games in Turin, Italy.
Koivu, a native of Turku, Finland, played 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, equalling Jean Beliveau as the longest-serving captain in Canadiens history.
The two-time all-star finishes with 191 goals and 450 assists in 792 career games with the Canadiens. His 641 points as a Hab rank him 10th all-time in franchise history.
“Saku Koivu’s character and leadership qualities are unquestioned,” Ducks GM Bob Murray said in a statement. “He is a skilled playmaker and we are thrilled to add him to our team.”
In 2001 Koivu was diagnosed with cancer but battled back to rejoin the Canadiens before the end of the season.