The Saku Koivu era, in Montreal, is officially over. Sadly, he went out with a whimper and not a roar. Left unsigned and not tendered an offer by the only organization that he had ever played for, Koivu had no choice but to ride off into the sunset. Not by his choosing, of course, as Saku would still be a part of the Montreal Canadiens organization if it was up to him.
The decision for Koivu to leave the Canadiens started with Bob Gainey and the rest of the Habs braintrust. I just cannot help thinking that the way his era has come to an end is somehow wrong. That there should be at least one more chapter to the Saku Koivu story, in Montreal. It just doesn't feel right. It leaves me, and many other Montrealers with an empty feeling of sadness. Sadness at the loss of a great player. Sadness at the loss of a great captain and leader. Sadness at the loss of a great Montrealer. And above all, sadness at the loss of a great human being.
Classy is the best way to describe Saku Koivu. I know everyone keeps saying it, but it is true that Koivu was a class act, through and through. He is likely one of the classiest people to ever don the fabled Montreal Canadiens sweater, and he wore it with pride and dignity as an example for all that follow.
Through good times and bad times, triumph and adversity, Koivu remained a beacon of light in an era of relative darkness, for the Habs. While Saku was blessed with leadership skills, hockey ability and a dogged determination, he was unfortunatley never really given the team that could win it all. During his time with the Canadiens, Saku's team was largely filled with second rate players, thrust into top tier roles. In addition, the management, coaching and to a certain degree ownership, all played their role in the lack of success for this team.
As a result of the team's ineptitude, Koivu, as captain, often bore the brunt of the blame. Koivu would be criticized. Some would say that he wasn't a good leader. Some that he should lose the captaincy because he did not speak French. None of this stopped him, though. Saku was always the hardest working player on the ice, game in and game out. He always inpired everyone around him to be better, to try harder....whether on the ice or in life.
Speaking as someone who was born and raised in Montreal, I can truly say that throughout my 35 years of life in this city, there has never been another member of the Montreal community who I have seen generally held in such high regard. I am not talking about in the hockey sense, either. Sure, there have been other players, more talented players, players who won championship in Montreal, but none have touched the city and the community as profoundly as Saku did. From his fight with cancer, to his hours of charity and volunteer work. From him raising money to buy a local Montreal hospital a PET scan machine, to his yearly visits to the Montreal Children's Hospital, Saku was as influential a member of the Montreal community as any other and he will be missed.
Saku is, and always will be, an example of what it means to be a good person. Saku examplifies determination and perseverance, and shows that it is ALWAYS possible to overcome adversity. I hope that Saku will serve as an example to people, because if more of us could be more like him, our world might be a better place.
I am happy for Saku and glad that he no longer has to deal with the ridiculous criticism that he faced in Montreal. I am also happy that he will be playing with his good friend Teemu, as those two have always had great chemisty together (my money says that, barring injury, Koivu will have a career year playing next to Selanne). I hope he goes out and wins the Stanley cup this year, because of all the players in the league, I can't think of any that are more deserving.
Good luck, Saku. We miss you already...