If this is indeed the end, the hockey world didn’t get the chance to say a proper goodbye. That’s probably just the way Saku Koivu would want it.
The focus was entirely on Teemu Selanne when the Anaheim Ducks were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs last month, but as it turns out his countryman and good friend might be joining him in retirement.
All we know for sure is that Koivu’s time with the Ducks is up after five seasons. The team feels that it needs to go with more youth, according to general manager Bob Murray, and decided not to extend the 39-year-old centre another contract.
Where exactly that leaves the veteran Finn is unclear. Jeff Kowal, Koivu’s Winnipeg-based agent, told Sportsnet on Thursday afternoon that he’s not entirely sure what his client is thinking about the future right now. Koivu is currently back in Finland and recently indicated to Urheilusanomat magazine that he wanted a few weeks to consider whether he’ll continue playing.
Understated and a touch reserved, Koivu was never the kind of player who wanted to draw too much attention to himself — although that wasn’t always easy during a nine-year run as captain of the Montreal Canadiens that included a return from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
After spending his first 13 NHL seasons with the Habs, where he twice had 70-point campaigns, Koivu joined Selanne with the Ducks in 2009. They were never able to win a Stanley Cup together, but leave a team that is now a bonafide contender.
On Thursday, Murray told reporters in Anaheim that he is also walking away from goalie Jonas Hiller and forward Daniel Winnik, but noted that cutting ties with Koivu was “the hardest decision of the three.”
“He had a great career,” said Murray. “We just have younger guys pushing for spots.”
Koivu compiled just 29 points last season — his lowest total in a non-lockout year — and was hampered by a concussion that kept him out of the Sochi Olympics. There is some speculation that he may play for hometown TPS Turku next year, but those close to Finnish hockey circles believe it is unlikely.
No matter what happens next he will always have a special place in the hearts of Canadiens fans.
Koivu received massive ovations during his two return trips to the Bell Centre with Anaheim, including a game last October that many believed would be his last in the city. The fans stood and applauded throughout the final minute of regulation, including during a couple stoppages in play, and let out an ear-splitting roar when he was announced as third star.
“It was emotional,” Koivu said afterwards. “I had the whole building behind me. It was nice. A big thank you for that. I felt great before the game and obviously at the end, that was amazing.”
It was a well-deserved salute. Over 1,124 career NHL games, Koivu racked up 255 goals and 832 points. He also won four Olympic medals while representing Finland — three bronze and a silver.