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July 14, 2009
Driving To The Net
Koivu to the Ducks, Part 1: “Upea, upea juttu”

by Timo Seppa

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If you’re a North American hockey fan, the free agent signing of Saku Koivu with the Anaheim Ducks may have slightly piqued your interest, but with the decline in production of the long time Canadiens’ captain (0.73 Points per Game Played in 2007-8 and 0.77 P/GP in 2008-9 after 0.81-0.93 P/GP in previous 4 seasons), you probably figured that there was more to the Habs’ non-tender than just the long-standing issues of not speaking la langue de la provence with the local media. If you gave it a second thought, that is.

If you’re a hockey fan in Montreal –and who isn’t?– then maybe you were following along for the soap opera aspect, to see how the hero’s final act in town played out. Remember? He was a hero. He received a hero’s welcome upon his return from battling non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, in the final three games of the 2001-2 season. Now that the speculation is over, there’s not much to report. Nice enough career, respected captain, no hardware to show for it.

If you’re one of the interested few in Southern California, then you may even have some rooting interest in the move, wondering if Koivu has anything left in the tank, perhaps even noting that another Finn will join the Ducks roster along with 2006-7 Stanley Cup winner Teemu Selanne.

All of you have no clue how big a deal this signing is…

“I haven’t really been into watching the NHL for years, but I’m definitely up for next season.”

…in Finland.

Check out what the jääkiekko diehards been saying on the hockey message boards:

“It’s awesome that our boys will get to play together.”

“It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing. A shame, though, that it came about 10 years too late.”

“This is a helluva interesting signing. I’ve always wanted to see Saku and Teemu play together.”

“Particularly in regards to the Olympics, this is a brilliant move.”

“I didn’t believe for a moment that Koivu would end up in Anaheim, before I read it in black and white. It just would have been too good to be true.” “It’s great to see these two icons of Finnish hockey together on the same team and as linemates.”

“Teemu and Saku finally on the same team...”

Posts on keskustelu.jatkoaika.com on July 8, 2009. Translations by Timo Seppa.

It’s not just the fans who were excited about the signing, and the Selanne angle. Here’s what an enthusiastic Koivu had to say to Finland’s MTV3 television: “It’s a relief and a wonderful feeling. Anaheim was my number one choice from the beginning. The organization and the team are outstanding. As a bonus, Teemu Selanne is in Anaheim. Hopefully, I’ll play on the same line with Teemu.” On a more basic level, Koivu is clearly looking for a situation where he can win a championship. As the 34-year-old center explained: “Most importantly, I want to join a team that is ready to compete, not an organization that is in rebuilding mode. At this point in my career, I’d like to play for a team that can succeed”.

Most hockey observers, including the Finnish media, were caught off guard by his move to Anaheim, but some were not. Flyers’ defenseman Kimmo Timonen didn’t seem the least bit surprised, stating “I’m pretty good friends with Saku, so I was kind of expecting this signing.” Many had speculated that Saku would sign with the Minnesota Wild, where his younger brother Mikko is captain. “That would have had the ingredients of a real fairytale story, but signing with Minnesota would have been risky,” the elder Koivu explained. “We weren’t fully ready to do it – at least not yet.” That last “at least not yet”, of course, provides food for thought of a future move to the Wild, fueling speculation for next offseason.

While Koivu himself focused on discussing the impacts of his joining Anaheim, everyone else in Finland seemed at least as interested in the ramifications of having the national team linemates prepare together for a full season, ahead of the upcoming Vancouver Olympics. “I’m very positive about the signing,” national team coach Jukka Jalonen stated. “I’m happy on Saku’s behalf, that he will truly be able to contend for the Stanley Cup. As coach [for the Finnish national team], I’m also pleased that he will be able to play with Teemu.” Jalonen went on to explain the chemistry between the two Finnish legends: “Both players see the game in a similar way and they are quick thinkers. They are able to anticipate scenarios better than the average player. Teemu is a speedy player who knows where on the ice to go to score goals. Saku’s passes, in turn, find Teemu quickly and cleverly. Their personal chemistry is also important, and they have clicked together off-ice from the beginning.”

What do Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu have to offer the Anaheim Ducks and the Finnish national team? Let’s take a look at the two new teammates’ careers, as measured by Goals Versus Threshold, or GVT. GVT is a measure of a players’ contribution in excess of that of a marginal player, on offense, defense and overall.

Teemu Selanne – Career stats, including offensive GVT, defensive GVT, total GVT

								
Team	Season    Age    GP    G    A    P    +/-    Val O    Val D    Total
WIN	1992-3	  22	 84    76   56	132    +8    +23.0     +2.6    +25.6
WIN	1993-4	  23	 51    25   29	 54   -23     +6.2     +0.5     +6.7
WIN	1994-5	  24	 45    22   26	 48    +1    +13.8     +2.1    +15.9
WIN	1995-6	  25	 79    40   68	108    +5    +17.0     +3.0    +20.0
ANA	1996-7	  26	 78    51   58	109   +28    +22.7     +4.6    +27.3
ANA	1997-8	  27	 73    52   34	 86   +12    +22.0     +4.3    +26.3
ANA	1998-9	  28	 75    47   60	107   +18    +26.6     +4.2    +30.7
ANA	1999-0	  29	 79    33   52	 85    +6    +14.0     +4.8    +18.8
SJS	2000-1	  30	 73    33   39	 72    -7    +11.5     +2.4    +13.9
SJS	2001-2	  31	 82    29   25	 54   -11     +9.0     +0.0	+8.9
SJS	2002-3	  32	 82    28   36	 64    -6    +10.1     +2.4    +12.5
COL	2003-4	  33	 78    16   16	 32    +2     +3.5     +1.7	+5.2
ANA	2005-6	  35	 80    40   50	 90   +28    +15.1     +4.1    +18.9
ANA	2006-7	  36	 82    48   46	 94   +26    +20.3     +4.5    +24.9
ANA	2007-8	  37	 26    12   11	 23    +5     +4.1     +1.2	+6.8
ANA	2008-9	  38	 65    27   27	 54    -3     +8.9     +1.2    +10.8
Total		       1132   579  633 1212   +89   +227.7    +43.7   +273.3

Teemu Selanne had a disappointing postseason, but the Koivu signing indicates that I’m not the only one who thought that he was hamstrung by poor linemates. Over his career, and as recently as the Stanley Cup winning season of 2006-7, the Finnish Flash has been an elite level performer, posting GVT’s of +18 or greater in 10 seasons. Chances are good that Saku will register the assist on Teemu’s 600th NHL goal.

Saku Koivu – Career stats, including offensive GVT, defensive GVT, total GVT

									
Team	Season    Age    GP    G    A    P    +/-    Val OG    Val D    Total
MTL	1995-6	  21	 82    20   25	 45   -7      +4.6	+1.6	 +6.3
MTL	1996-7	  22	 50    17   39	 56   +7      +9.8	+1.7	+11.5
MTL	1997-8	  23	 69    14   43	 57   +8      +8.9	+3.1	+12.0
MTL	1998-9	  24	 65    14   30	 44   -7      +3.5	+2.6	 +6.1
MTL	1999-0	  25	 24     3   18	 21   +7      +3.0	+1.6	 +4.6
MTL	2000-1	  26	 54    17   30	 47   +2      +6.3	+3.2	 +9.5
MTL	2001-2	  27	  3     0    2	  2   +0      +0.3	+0.1	 +0.3
MTL	2002-3	  28	 82    21   50	 71   +5     +11.6	+2.5	+14.1
MTL	2003-4	  29	 68    14   41	 55   -5      +5.6	+2.4	 +8.0
MTL	2005-6	  31	 72    17   45	 62   +1      +6.9	+2.6	 +9.6
MTL	2006-7	  32	 81    22   53	 75  -21     +10.2	+1.1	+13.0
MTL	2007-8	  33	 77    16   40	 56   -4      +7.5	+1.5	+10.3
MTL	2008-9	  34	 65    16   34	 50   +4      +6.4	+2.3	 +7.6
Total			792   191  450	641  -10     +84.7     +26.1   +112.7

In comparison to the high-flying seasons of the Hall Of Fame-bound Selanne, Koivu has never posted a season of +18 GVT in his career. It has still been a solid career though.

The question is – Can they make each other better, even in the latter stages of their careers? Part of the answer to this question involves who else will take the ice with them. We’ll return to Koivu and Selanne next time, to discuss who will be tabbed to skate on their left wing. Joffrey Lupul? Bobby Ryan? Petteri Nokelainen? How about a blast from the past, Ville Peltonen?

Timo Seppa is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Timo by clicking here or click here to see Timo's other articles.

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