For many Canadiens fans my age, it's tough to imagine an NHL without Saku Koivu. For years, he was the lone bright spot in the leanest era of Canadiens hockey. A leader as hard working as any, Koivu never had it easy. Whether it was a career threatening knee injury, a retina damaging high stick, or cancer, it always seemed like Saku had to fight to stay on top.
For those who followed his career closely, most would be surprised that he played until the age of 39. Koivu was never large or particularly durable, but he played a physical game, never shying from the tough areas of the ice, earning the respect of teammates and opponents alike.
Though he was effective in his career in Anaheim, he will be remembered as a Hab, where he continually led poor teams to upsets over good teams, just ask Bruins fans. Koivu finishes his career tenth all time in points among Canadiens players with 641, sixth all time in assists with 450, and the second longest tenured captain in team history after the great Jean Beliveau.
League wide, Koivu is also 130th all time in points with 832, and 89th all time in assists with 577. He also finishes his career as the 3rd most productive Finnish player of all time, bested only by his friend Teemu Selanne, and legend Jari Kurri.
Koivu was rarely given the appreciation he deserved as a player in Montreal, partly due to his supporting cast being so dreadful, but I know he's very loved here on EOTP. Please share your favourite Saku moments in the comments.
Saku Koivu's statement via the NHLPA
"Looking back at my 22 years of pro hockey first in Finland and then in the NHL I feel truly blessed and fulfilled. I have been contemplating retirement for quite some time and am very confident in my decision at this time and place.
Making it in hockey is not only about talent and hard work on the part of the athlete. You cannot do it alone no matter how determined you are. I am grateful to so many people along the way that have facilitated and made my career possible.
I am eternally grateful to Vladimir Jursinov and the TPS organization for recognizing and feeding my strengths at a key time in my youth.
I want to thank the Finnish Ice Hockey Federation and the coaches, staff and my teammates. It has been an immense privilege for me to represent Finland in international hockey. The successes we achieved together gave me confidence and fueled my ambitions as a player.
To the late Don Baizley, my agent and friend. You provided me with unmatched professional help, wisdom and genuine friendship rarely experienced in life. You were an example to me of the kind of man I aspired to be. You are and will be missed.
I want to thank Serge Savard, the late JC Tremblay and the Montreal Canadiens organization for drafting me, believing in me and providing a wonderful place to begin my NHL journey. I also would like to extend special thanks to the Molson family, George Gillett and his family, Bob Gainey and Pierre Boivin. Thank you to my former teammates, coaches and the Montreal Canadiens staff.
I feel I was truly lucky to have a chance to play for the legendary Canadiens for so many years and serve as captain, and share that great honor with many truly legendary captains from before my time.
My time in Montreal was special beyond playing hockey. Thank you to the fans and lovely people of Montreal for your support and love, and for providing my family and me with wonderful memories that we will always cherish as well as the immense support during my illness. Thank you with all my heart to Dr. and Mrs. David Mulder and Dr. and Mrs. Blair Whittemore and the staff at Montreal General Hospital for saving my life.
I am thankful to the Anaheim Ducks organization, Henry and Susan Samueli and Bob Murray for welcoming my family and me to Orange County and giving me an opportunity to play for an amazing organization and a truly great team. I am grateful to them for allowing me to experience NHL hockey in California. Thank you to my teammates, coaches and the Anaheim Ducks staff and to the Ducks' fans. Orange County has truly been a blessing for us.
All in all it has been a dream come true but what I value the most in hockey is the feeling of being part of a team and the friendships I have made along the way.
I could not have made it without the loving support of my parents and family. I was blessed with a wonderful childhood and an upbringing that provided me with all I needed to make my career and life what it is today. Thank you Hanna, Ilona and Aatos for loving me as a man and father and supporting my career and sharing the ups and downs of it all. I love you."