Koivu said he didn't want to get in brother's way; update on Sergei Zubov's future

July, 8, 2009

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For the record, the Montreal Canadiens bid adieu to Saku Koivu, not the other way around.

But the longtime Habs captain sounded at peace with the new chapter of his life Wednesday after officially exiting La Belle Province after 14 years and signing a one-year, $3.25 million deal with the Anaheim Ducks.

"Sometimes in life, you need a new challenge. This will be a new chapter in my life," Koivu said on a conference call.

The gutsy, two-way center from Turku, Finland, saw the writing on the wall in Montreal, kind of.

"We knew there were going to be some changes in Montreal, and they said that publicly after the new owners came in that they were looking for a new era for the team," Koivu said. "Obviously, I kind of read in between the lines that if they really wanted to change the image of the team, it would probably start by not signing myself.

"But, of course, after being there such a long time, it was a shock when we found out."

Canadiens GM Bob Gainey reached out to Koivu on the eve of free agency last week, and told him it was time to part ways.

"He explained that it was more of a business decision, and I totally understood that," said Koivu. "I appreciated that he explained where he was going, and it was nice to hear from him instead of the media."

After that, it was clearly a two-team race. Sure, there was interest from New Jersey and a few other teams, but it was always going to be about choosing between Minnesota, where he'd be playing alongside brother Mikko, or Anaheim, where he'd be skating with longtime buddy and Finnish Olympic teammate Teemu Selanne. Perhaps against the betting money, he chose the latter (the Ducks privately believed it was a long shot, at best).

"It was an interesting choice," said Koivu. "We spoke to Minnesota a few times. All the talks went well, but it was more for personal reasons that I didn't feel comfortable ... I felt that Minnesota was Mikko's place at this point. I wanted him to have his own privacy in a way, make his own name and his own career. I just felt there were too many risks for us as brothers and as family members to join the same team and compete for the same ice time. I felt we were better off playing somewhere else."

Koivu said his younger brother was excited about the idea of playing together.

"I can't deny, if you really think about the possibilities, only on the positive side, it would have been a pretty exciting thing," Koivu said. "But I looked at it, I guess, in a more negative way and said, 'What if this happens or what if things don't work out,' and right now we have such a good relationship, I was kind of too afraid to challenge that. For me, this was the safer option. I felt more comfortable with it. When I spoke to Mikko today; he understood completely."

Quite an interesting and thoughtful way to look at things. He loves his brother so much; he doesn't want to risk what they have now. That's about as unselfish as it gets. So it's off to Anaheim, where Selanna awaits.

"We've played together at the Olympics and world championships and really enjoyed it. We've had some success," Koivu said. "That was one thing that really was catching my eye. I wanted to play with Teemu. He was a factor in my decision in coming to Anaheim."

They spoke the last couple of days a "number of times" before Koivu sealed the deal. He also confirmed to me the rumors that he had first tried to get Selanne to come to Montreal as a free agent a couple of summers ago.

"But really, to be honest with you, Teemu and his family love the sun too much and Southern California for me to able to get him to come to Montreal a couple of years ago," Koivu said. "Now, with me coming there, we can make it possible."

Koivu said, at this point in his career, signing a one-year deal made sense so he could control his future. But I suspect Selanne announcing that the 2009-10 season would be his last had a strong bearing on his contract decision.

For the Ducks, they've now got six top forwards that can form two darn good lines. You could have Ryan Getzlafin the center, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan on one line and Koivu between Selanne and Joffrey Lupul on the other. Not too shabby.

The blue line has taken a hit with the losses of Chris Pronger and Francois Beauchemin. That puts more pressure on Scott Niedermayer, James Wisniewski and Ryan Whitney next season in terms of minutes. But I also think Ducks GM Bob Murray still hopes to find another defenseman in free agency, for the right price.

Sergei Zubov update
Like Koivu, it appears Zubov is ready for a new challenge. After 12 seasons with the Dallas Stars, the soon-to-be 39-year-old defenseman is talking to other teams, as many as six or seven, about continuing his NHL career. It's believed the New York Rangers are among those teams. (Zubov played his first three NHL seasons with the Rangers, including the team's Cup-winning campaign in 1993-94.)

"It's a process," Zubov's agent, Jay Grossman, told ESPN.com Wednesday. "This won't be happening right away."

Zubov missed all but 10 games last season recovering from hip surgery, so it'll be interesting to see exactly what he fetches on the open market. Because he's over 35 years old, teams can be creative with a bonus package that can account for 7 percent of the salary cap. If healthy, he's still a dynamite puck-mover and power-play guy, not to mention a future Hall of Famer.

Hurricanes move?
Quick, name the player who tied for fifth among NHL defensemen in goals last season at 16. That would be Anton Babchuk. The 25-year-old is a restricted free agent, but he's nowhere close to agreeing on a new deal with the Carolina Hurricanes. In fact, he may get dealt because of the stalemate.

"I told his agent that if he finds a team that is interested enough that I'd be willing to move him," Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

There is also the possibility of an offer sheet.

"I don't know, that's certainly within the CBA, and they're certainly within their rights to do that," Rutherford added.

Babchuk doesn't qualify for salary arbitration, so he's limited a bit in his options.

Stars move on
The Dallas Stars reacted quickly Wednesday after losing out in the Jonas Gustavsson sweepstakes, acquiring veteran netminder Alex Auld from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for a sixth-round pick next year.

The 28-year-old will back up Marty Turco. At times last season, Auld was the No. 1 guy in Ottawa, going 16-18-1 with a .911 save percentage and 2.48 goals-against average. The Sens acquired Pascal Leclaire to be their guy this past March, and Brian Elliott will back him up next season.

Auld has one year left on his deal paying him $1 million.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



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