Thursday, 24 November 2011

Saku Koivu: By the Numbers

(Written on July 7th 2010)

Earlier this week, abit of controversy arose when Scott Gomez decided that beginning with next season he would wear the #11 for the Montreal Canadiens.
Some feel, like the GM, "why not", and some feel "how dare he" - in an oversimplified manner.

I am 29 years old. I remember the Stanley Cup run in 1993. I have a vague recollection of the runs in '89 and '86, however I was quite young then.

For me, and for those younger then me certainly, Saku Koivu was not only the best player we saw in our generation. He is the ONLY player we saw. Was he as good as we may think? maybe. Was he as mediocre as others think? perhaps.

Memory is a funny thing, people remember things how we want to. The only accurate record's are numbers. So, let's take a look, how does Saku Koivu stack up?

With 641 points, Saku Koivu ranks 10th on the Canadiens all-time scoring list. His 450 assists ranks him 6th. Whereas his 792 games with the Habs drops him down to 19th on the list of most games played.

It's very hard to compare eras, but that's what the numbers do. If you look at points per game, Koivu averaged 0.81 Points per game. The closest comparison to him in points-per-game would be "The Roadrunner" Yvan Cournoyer who averaged 0.89 Points per game. Those aren't identical numbers, but they are fairly close. I never saw "The Roadrunner" play, so all I can look at are numbers and contemporaries. I may be mistaken, however I do believe that Cournoyer played with multiple future hall-of-famers in his career, whereas no offense to Brian Savage, Richard Zednik, Dainius Zubrus, Juha Lind and Xavier Deslile - none of them will be mistaken for Hall-of-famers. In fact, Mark Recchi and Alexei Kovalev aside, I'd argue that Saku Koivu was never given first line talent to play with in Montreal. (Does Pierre Turgeon for 1 game count?).

Koivu was an undersized centreman charged with being the teams' #1 option on Power Play, Penalty kill, 5-on-5 offense AND often was asked to keep the other team's best forwards in check as well. In being asked to fulfill all of these roles Koivu was a target for other teams, leading to multiple injuries. After his first knee Injury (in his sophomore season, while leading the NHL in scoring) Koivu was asked to forego surgery and just re-hab the knee because the team needed him.

From 1995-2001 (with the emergence of Jose Theodore and Doug Gilmour filling in admirably) there was no player more important to the franchise than Saku Koivu. He often led the team in scoring - even while missing massive amounts of games.

Koivu made the players around him better. Brian Savage (0.62 Points per game with Habs, 0.35 PPG with others) Michael Ryder (0.66 PPG with the Habs, 0.55 PPG with others) Richard Zednik ( 0.57 PPG with Habs, 0.46 with others) Christopher Higgins (0.54 PPG with Habs, 0.25 PPG with others) and the list goes on.

Koivu's 7 Overtime game winning goals ranks 1st on the team since the league started tracking the stat.

Koivu's tenure as Captain is tied with Jean Beliveau as the longest in the 100 year history of the team.

Was he the greatest player the team ever saw? No. His contributions on and off the ice however show him to be the best player of his generation - bar none. The only thing missing from his resume is a Stanley Cup, and I do believe it could be argued that had he won that prize just once his number would be hanging in the Bell Centre rafters along with the other greats.

Should it be retired? maybe. Will it be? probably not.

For the people under the age of 30 however, Koivu's the best player we ever saw represent the team, so Scott Gomez has alot to live up to by comparing himself.


  1. Let him have it koivu is the reason why we were so mediocre as he never made anyone better.

  2. Gomez has won cups, rookie of the year and his career highs were higher. Nothing wrong with him wearing #

  3. Extremely well thought out and your point is a very valid one. I'm only five years older than you, and while I feel Mats Naslund and Patrick Roy were the best I've seen and cheered for, Koivu is definitely up there. I agree with you that Koivu was the best Habs player of his generation and was probably cheated out of being considered one of the best of his generation, period, by injuries and illness and horrible management. His place in team history is solid. But I don't think his number should be retired, because the bar is simply set too high. Steve Shutt's number isn't retired, considered by many to be the greatest natural goal-scorer of his generation. Guy Lapointe's number is not retired, considered part of the greatest defensive threesome in NHL history. Hell, Butch Bouchard and Elmer Lach needed a change in ownership to have their numbers retired. The list of worthy Canadiens players who do not have their numbers retired is almost too long to list. And that's the only reason Koivu's doesn't belong in the rafters. If he had played for any other franchise in the league, I think he'd be a shoo-in. But he had the misfortune of playing for the greatest franchise in history during its darkest era, where he was often its only shining light. You will not meet anyone who had more respect for Koivu, and I was honoured to have covered his final eight years with the team. He was a stand up guy, one who wanted to win above all else, and one who competed the hardest when it was warranted. I hope his name is remembered by future generations of Canadiens fans, but it won't be by looking up at the rafters.

  4. Adam O'Brien-Locke24 November 2011 at 21:38

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. that is a bang on email...i agree with you one hundred percent. It's a little odd how they let it happen so quickly. I am really surprised. Great email tho

  6. Just reading this now Ian. Good stuff and I agree.

  7. Nice article. Koivu as you may know was/is my favorite player.
    Not surprised he stuck around in Anaheim. Good for him.