Saturday, February 16, 2008

Sacking Saku

Last week, I was asked to take part in a radio debate about the future of Saku Koivu. The question: should he stay a Hab or should he go elsewhere? I confess, my first reaction was why? I saw no reason to discuss the possibility of the good captain's departure from the city and the team he's made his own. But I dutifully sat down and thought about it. My position was clear: of course he stays. So then I listed all the reasons why I feel that way. I didn't get time to express them was, after all, only a half hour program! So, here they are now: the top ten reasons why Saku Koivu should remain a Hab. (If you had any doubts about it yourself.)

10. He carried the team during lousy times...some of the lousiest in the nearly one hundred year history of the franchise. For ten years, he was the team's brightest light and only star. Now that the team is turning around, he deserves the chance to enjoy success for the first time in his career.

9. He had a career season last year, which proves he's not washed up just yet.

8. Kovalev. Remember last year? Everyone in the city and in Habdom in general wanted to pitch him under a bus. Now he's the best player on the ice every night...often for both teams. So, if Koivu's having a less-than-stellar year on the scoresheet, remember Kovalev and have patience.

7. Chris Clark. There's an argument that the captain should have to be the best player on the ice, and lead by numbers and performance. Clark is proof that a captain doesn't have to be the best guy...just a heart and soul guy who works hard every game. Like Clark does for the Washington Ovechkins, Koivu does that and does it well.

6. The kids. With a slew of rookies and sophomores on the team this year and likely in the next couple of years as well, there must be some veteran balance in the room and on the ice. Who better than the man who's the face of the franchise in recent memory to show the kids the ropes?

5. The return. If Gainey *were* interested in trading Koivu, he'd get little for him right now. The only teams looking to pick up veterans at the moment are playoff teams. That's why you don't often see deals between two buyers at the deadline. If the Habs traded a guy like Koivu, it would be for something to help the team right now, like a big forward who can score, or a strong fourth defenceman. Those are assets with which playoff teams won't part, so there's not much of a market for a fair return for Koivu.

4. The playoffs. Every year around Christmas, the wear and tear grinds Koivu down and he becomes invisible for a stretch of time up until the all-star break. Then, as spring approaches, he starts to rev it up again until he's dominant in the playoffs. That's the kind of player every team wants as a leader in the post-season. He's there when it counts.

3. His linemates. Rarely has Koivu ever had a pair of wingers to compliment his style. This year, with the slumping Ryder and the intermittent Higgins, he's not had much chance to pile up the points. He's making the plays, but the guys on his wings aren't finishing. You have to think that, given better wingers, he's due for a big year.

2. His role. Many offensive players are done when their numbers start to dwindle. But Koivu has proven, with stellar PK work and some nice play in his own zone this year, that he's more versatile than previously thought. He's the type of player who can change roles as he ages, still contributing something of value to a winning team.

And, the number one reason why Saku Koivu should remain a Hab until he quits:

1. The players on the team elected him as captain at 24 years of age. We don't know what goes on in the room, but if the majority of his teammates decided that a 24-year-old kid had something special enough to make him captain of the Montreal Canadiens, then that's good enough for me.

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