Saku Koivu’s career as a member of the Montreal Canadiens effectively came to an end yesterday, when General Manager Bob Gainey announced that Koivu was not among the team’s potential unrestricted free agents to receive a contract offer from the Habs. That honor went to Mike Komisarek and Alex Kovalev. More on those two, in a moment.
By not extending a new deal to Koivu, Gainey essentially told the Habs’ captain not to sit around waiting for the phone to ring with an offer from the Canadiens. Certainly not before July 1st. Gainey suggested that his stance did not preclude the possibility of a discussion with Koivu, or any of the other pontential UFA’s on this team, after July 1st. But the GM’s words rang hollow. The reality is, after 13 years as a member of the Montreal Canadiens, the only team he’s known during his NHL career, Saku Koivu has played his last game with the Habs.
I’m not surprised that Koivu will not be back as a member of the Canadiens. However, I AM surprised with the way this scenario played itself out.
At the conclusion of last season, Koivu said that he needed some time to assess his situation as a potential UFA, and the opportunities that unrestricted free agency have to offer. As I walked away from Koivu, and Koivu walked away after the team’s nightmare season came to a close, I was convinced that Koivu had played his last game with this organization.
I would have understood had Koivu, at the end of the day, made the decision to continue his career elsewhere. Perhaps in Minnesota; with an opportunity to play with little brother Mikko, for example. Perhaps with a Stanley Cup contender, which the Canadiens clearly are not. I would have understood if Koivu left Montreal, on his terms.
Gainey, however, insists that Koivu would have been interested in listening to an offer from the Canadiens, although that’s not to say the offer would have been accepted. That the Canadiens have decided not make number 11 an offer, at this point at least, is surprising to me. At a time when the Canadiens are woefully thin at centre, with no Vincent Lecavalier in sight, why would the Habs effectively shut the door on their top centre, a player who brings it, game in and game out, season in and season out?
I don’t know the answer to that question. But I don’t have to know the answer to that question. Bob Gainey does. And when it comes to pursuing the players who might be able to best help this club, and the dollars available to spend on them, Gainey felt that Koivu and the Canadiens were no longer a match.
Count me among those who will be sorry to see Koivu go. Count me among those who feel, as Gainey himself does, that Saku Koivu is a champion who has yet to win a championship. Count me among those who believe, like Guy Carbonneau does, that if someone like Steve Yzerman deserves to have his jersey number retired by the Red Wings, then Saku Koivu deserves the same honor from the Canadiens’ organization.
However, that’s a conversation for another time.
As a result of Gainey’s decision not to talk contract with Koivu, the door is now wide open for the Canadiens to hand the Captain’s “C” to Alex Kovalev on a full-time basis. The Canadiens want Kovalev, and Kovalev wants to remain in Montreal. It’s a no-brainer; a marriage made in heaven.
As for Mike Komisarek, once thought to be next in line to wear the “C” on his Habs’ jersey, the contract offer made to the big defenceman is worth less than the paper it’s written on, through no fault of Gainey’s. Mike Komisarek is represented by Matt Keator, who does not believe in players accepting “hometown discounts.” If there is a single dollar more to be made by playing somewhere else, Komisarek will be on the first plane out of Montreal. Someone will pay Komisarek $5 million-plus per season, for a good many seasons, to patrol the blueline.
However, that “someone” will not be Bob Gainey.