Ducks GM Bob Murray announced Thursday that goaltender Jonas Hiller and forwards Saku Koivu and Daniel Winnik will not be returning for the following season. All of the three are set to become unrestricted free agents July 1st but can now scratch their current team off their lists.
Murray admitted the decision to move on from Koivu was difficult.
Montreal and Anaheim are the only two teams he has ever played for in his 18-year career, over which he has amassed 1124 games and 832 points. Koivu is one of 23 currently active NHLers with over 1100 games under his belt. Since signing with the Ducks in 2009, he has played in 332 games and put up 191 points with a +20 rating. Despite not wearing the “C” he carried a major leadership role in Anaheim as he did in Montreal. Koivu is one of the Canadiens’ two longest-serving captains in club history. The other is Jean Beliveau and they were each captains for 10 years. Like Beliveau, Koivu is one of the most respected men in the game. He has been a true gentleman over the course of his career and has carried himself with utter class throughout.
One of most memorable and touching moments in NHL history is his return to the ice at the Bell Centre after a successful bout with cancer.
Saku Koivu was my favourite hockey player growing up. I was fortunate enough to attend his first game back in Montreal with the Ducks. It was January 22, 2011 and was probably the best Habs game I have ever been to. All throughout the opening and the national anthems, there was a buzz as “Saku” chants echoed throughout the Bell Centre. The Canadian anthem faded out toward the end because fans could not wait to chant his name. They put a live shot of him up on the jumbotron prior to puck drop so the crowd could thank him for all his years in Bleu, Blanc et Rouge.It was a very special moment and I remember hoping it would go on forever. Although there was a game going on that night, the only thing the fans could focus on was Koivu. His attitude captivated an entire city during his time here and he is always welcome back in any way, shape of form.
So is it too far a stretch to even discuss the idea of Koivu returning to Montreal?
Probably. These dreams seldom come true. The Finn is 39 years-old and could be contemplating retirement once again. Bob Murray said he has gone home to think about — home presumably meaning Finland.
He very well could find a spot on a number of teams this summer should he decide to continue playing. Whether it would be here, I do not know. I would sign Koivu because he can only be good for a team. He could play fourth-line minutes and would bring immeasurable leadership and irreplaceable experience to a relatively young team. His cap hit would likely be marginal. He made $2.5M last season and would probably sign for around $2M. Perhaps he would take a “former hometown” discount.
The love affair between Koivu and the city of Montreal will always exist. I would love to see his number hang from the rafters one day for all he gave to the Canadiens and to this city. In the meantime, I would sure welcome him back for a final hoorah.