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Ducks land veteran center Saku Koivu

The longtime captain of the Montreal Canadiens wants to play alongside his countryman Teemu Selanne. The one-year deal is worth $3.25 million.

July 09, 2009|Lisa Dillman

Family harmony came first and last for Saku Koivu. So much so that he opted for a less lucrative deal with the Ducks, worrying that his presence in Minnesota could overshadow his brother Mikko.

Not would. But could.

Just the hint of that possibility had the longtime Montreal Canadiens captain signing a one-year contract worth $3.25 million, joining his Finnish countryman and friend, Teemu Selanne.

It was a seminal moment for Koivu. The 34-year-old free-agent center spent his entire NHL career with the Canadiens, and his departure signals a change in organizational philosophy in Montreal that he knew was coming. General Manager Bob Gainey had talked about "the business decision" before the free-agency period opened July 1.

Koivu's popularity in Montreal was never clearer than April 9, 2002, the night he returned for his first game after cancer treatment for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and received an eight-minute standing ovation.

"I'm going to miss Montreal," Koivu said on a conference call with reporters Wednesday. "I made a lot of friends, with hockey and also outside of hockey. I spent 14 years of my life there. I went there when I was 20 years old. I experienced pretty much everything in my adult life [there].

"Sometimes, in life, you need a new challenge. And this is going to be a new chapter in my life."

Shared with Selanne, who announced recently that he would play for another season.

Selanne, longing for an adequate replacement in the post-Andy McDonald era, already had spoken to Koivu about playing together, long before it became clear Koivu wasn't in Montreal's plans.

"Last year, we kind of joked about it, 'If you become a free agent, it'd be cool to play together,' " Koivu said. "But he felt he didn't want to push me. He wanted me to make my own decision. And obviously, I didn't know if Teemu was going to continue until not long ago."

And Selanne wasn't about to head east.

"Teemu and his family love the sun too much," Koivu said, joking. "I had to come and move all the way to California to play with him."

Though Ottawa and the New York Rangers were said to be interested, Minnesota appeared the only serious rival for Koivu's services. The Wild made a big push with a multi-year offer, but Koivu turned down the bid for personal reasons.

"I didn't feel comfortable," said Koivu, who had at least 50 points in six consecutive seasons. "I felt that Minnesota is Mikko's place at this point. I wanted him to have his own privacy and make his own name and career. I just felt there were too many risks for us, as brothers and family members, to play for the same team and compete for the same ice time."

General Manager Bob Murray has been able to retool the Ducks, adding much-needed scoring depth beyond their dynamic No. 1 line, centered by Ryan Getzlaf. It has come together quickly, starting with the blockbuster draft-day trade that sent Chris Pronger to Philadelphia for Joffrey Lupul, defenseman Luca Sbisa and two first-round selections.

"It's a good fit for both of us, at this point in time, where he is at in his career, what he has gone through in Montreal," Murray said. "This gives him, not that he needs it because he's handled it very well, but the pressure and the lifestyle in Montreal and intense scrutiny, and then he comes to a place where he can just play hockey.

"Again, it's just a good fit. There's no other way to say it."

Said Koivu: "After being 14 years in Montreal and being the focal point, in a way, it's a relief to be in a different environment where hockey is not as big.

"At the same time, when you have a line like Getzlaf's line, and look at the way they played at the end of last year, it's going to take some pressure off a guy like me. . . . If I can come in and help and hopefully take some pressure off them at the same time, I think at this point in my career, it's the perfect fit."

Murray said he was closing in on acquiring another defenseman, "a veteran type of guy," and that defenseman James Wisniewski, a restricted free agent, probably would end up going to arbitration.

Murray said he wanted to be sure Wisniewski "can be what we think he can be and he proves it. Arbitrations are ugly but that's probably where we're headed."

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lisa.dillman@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Koivu statistics

Saku Koivu, born Nov. 23, 1974, is a center. Shoots left; 5 feet 10, 182 pounds. Montreal's first-round choice, 21st overall, in the 1993 draft.

*--* YEAR GP G A PTS +/- 1995-96 82 20 25 45 -7 1996-97 50 17 39 56 7 1997-98 69 14 43 57 8 1998-99 65 14 30 44 -7 1999-00 24 3 18 21 7 2000-01 54 17 30 47 2 2001-02 3 0 2 2 0 2002-03 82 21 50 71 5 2003-04 68 14 41 55 -5 2005-06 72 17 45 62 1 2006-07 81 22 53 75 -21 2007-08 77 16 40 56 -4 2008-09 65 16 34 50 4 Career 792 191 450 641 -10 *--*

Source: espn.com

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