After spending his entire 13-year career in Montreal, Saku Koivu will be calling Orange County his home as the Anaheim Ducks have signed the free agent centre to a one-year, $3.25 million contract.
Koivu, 34, had been the Canadiens' second-longest serving captain. His nine seasons with the 'C' trailed only the legendary Jean Beliveau, who was captain for 10 seasons.
The move to Anaheim reunites Koivu with fellow countryman Teemu Selanne. The duo helped Finland earn a silver medal at the 2006 Olympic Games in Turin, Italy.
"I'm very excited to join the Ducks this coming season," Koivu said in a statement. "I'm also looking forward to a full season with Teemu Selanne as a teammate."
Koivu, who was drafted by the Canadiens with the 21st overall pick in the 1993 draft, hoped to stay with Habs but realized if a deal did not get completed quickly, he would likely look elsewhere.
"If I'm not signed by July 1, I don't think I'll be back in Montreal," Koivu said after the Canadiens were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Boston Bruins. "Finishing your career with one team would be awesome in a way, but it's too early to say because I don't know what the team's plan is."
Koivu, one of the Canadiens' most celebrated players in their 100-year history, endeared himself to Montreal fans for all the challenges he endured since joining the club in 1995. In the 1996-97 season, he was one of the league's leading scorers before a knee injury sidelined him for most of the campaign. For the next couple of seasons, knee and shoulder injuries kept him out of the lineup for long stretches, with many questioning his durability in the NHL game.
In 1999, the club made Koivu their first-ever European-born captain, succeeding Vincent Damphousse who was traded the previous season.
"I enjoyed every moment there," Koivu said Wednesday in a telephone conference call from Finland. "It's a great place to play hockey. Not an easy place always, but a very interesting place.
"I think and I know I'm a better person after these years. I've learned a lot from Montreal. I will never forget the years I spent there."
Koivu also left an impression with Canadiens fans at the start of the 2001-02 campaign, after being diagnosed with intra-abdominal non-Hodgkins lymphoma. His treatment left him off the roster for all but three games that season and his return to the lineup in April of 2002 was considered one of the club's most memorable moments. In his comeback game against the Ottawa Senators on home ice, the 21,273 fans in attendance gave him an eight-minute standing ovation - a local honour shared only by the late Maurice Richard.
Koivu's courageous battle with cancer and his return to the game earned him the Masterton Trophy that season.
"Saku Koivu's character and leadership qualities are unquestioned," said general Manager Bob Murray in a team statement. "He is a skilled playmaker and we are thrilled to add him to our team."
In 13 NHL seasons, Koivu has suited up in 792 games and has scored 191 goals with 450 assists. He played in only 65 games for the Habs in 2008-09 after dealing with a foot injury. He scored 16 goals and posted 36 assists.