NHL veteran Koivu announces his retirement

We look back at Saku Koivu's first career NHL goal with the Habs in 1995, and his final NHL goal with the Ducks in the final regular season game in 2014.

There will be no storybook homecoming in Montreal for Saku Koivu or a season spent elsewhere as a mentor.

The 39-year-old centre has decided against playing a 19th year in the NHL and announced his retirement Wednesday.

There is believed to have been some interest in Koivu after the Anaheim Ducks allowed him to become a free agent this summer, but he didn’t find a situation that was appealing enough to lure him back to North America for one more year.

He walks away as one of the most accomplished Finns in NHL history with 832 points in 1,124 games.

It is in Montreal where Koivu will be remembered fondest after serving 10 years as captain — tying him with Jean Beliveau for the longest stint in team history. He also memorably sat out the majority of the 2001-02 season while receiving treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, only to make a stirring Bell Centre return just before the playoffs.

The scene was similarly charged during two stops in the city as a member of the Ducks, including a game last October that many believed would be his last in Montreal. On that night, the fans stood and applauded throughout the final minute of regulation and took their enthusiasm to another level when he was later announced as third star.

“It was emotional,” said Koivu. “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.”

Part of Koivu’s motivation for signing in Anaheim in 2009 was to seek some shelter from the spotlight. The move also reunited him with countryman Teemu Selanne and offered a better chance to chase an elusive Stanley Cup.

The two Finns are good friends, but they are different in almost every way. Selanne is the “Finnish Flash,” a big personality that loved to score goals, while Koivu was an extremely reliable two-way centreman who was much more comfortable blending in to the pack.

Reflecting back, those differences were even evident during their final NHL season together. Selanne spent much of last year on a farewell tour of sorts — not his first, mind you — while Koivu quietly toiled in the background. After Anaheim was knocked out of the playoffs by Los Angeles, the retirement speculation centred on only one of the Finns.

It had been a difficult year for Koivu.

A concussion robbed him of the opportunity to compete at the Sochi Olympics and he managed just 11 goals and 29 points in 65 NHL games. The Ducks also looked to be legitimate Stanley Cup threats after a 116-point regular season but lost to the rival Kings, the eventual champion, in a seven-game, second-round series.

Those close to Koivu believe he had made peace with the fact that his career was unlikely to include a Stanley Cup by the time the summer arrived. Ducks general manager Bob Murray struggled with the decision not to extend the veteran another contract and hinted that it would likely lead to his retirement.

“He had a great career,” Murray said in late June. “We just have younger guys pushing for spots.”

Some fans had hoped that Koivu might find a way to finish his career in Montreal, but that was never in the cards. There were rumours linking him to other teams as well.

Ultimately, he is choosing to leave the NHL on his terms.

Koivu might be a soft-spoken man, but he casts a large shadow in his homeland after winning four Olympic medals and an unlikely gold at the 1995 IIHF World Hockey Championship.

He left an impression on this side of the ocean as well. From the time the Habs made Koivu a first-round draft pick in 1993 until he took his final shift for the Ducks in May, Koivu was nothing but class.

All the best, Saku.

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