Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin granted Ilya Kovalchuk his wish of playing for a Stanley Cup contender.
Kovalchuk says Bergevin received better offers from different teams, but the GM wanted to give the veteran winger a say in the matter.
Bergevin dealt Kovalchuk to the Metropolitan Division-leading Washington Capitals for a 2020 third-round pick late Sunday night. Montreal is six points out of a playoff spot.
"He could have sent me somewhere else, I know that," Kovalchuk said. "He asked me actually, and I said Washington would be good. I know he got better offers from other teams. He was really professional and I appreciate the way he handled the situation. That says a lot about the guy."
Kovalchuk stopped at Montreal's practice facility to say farewell to his former Canadiens teammates on Monday before heading to the airport.
The 36-year-old Kovalchuk told reporters he spoke to Capitals star and fellow Russian Alex Ovechkin on Sunday and was excited to join team with a chance at winning the Stanley Cup.
"Like I said from Day 1, when I came back to the NHL, that's my dream," he said. "Hopefully."
A fan favourite in Montreal, Kovalchuk had six goals and 13 points in 22 games with the Canadiens on Jan. 3 after being waived by the Los Angeles Kings a month earlier.
The veteran did not rule out the possibility of returning to Montreal as a free agent on July 1.
"(Montreal is) one of the destinations that will be on my mind," he said. "The fans here, the younger players, the direction this team is going. I like it a lot. It's not goodbye, for sure.
"(The future) is really bright. They have all the right pieces. It's a great team. They will have good results."
Meanwhile, the Canadiens traded pending unrestricted free agent forward Nate Thompson to the Philadelphia Flyers for a fifth-round pick on Monday.
The move came hours before the NHL's 3 p.m. ET trade deadline.
"It's bittersweet," Thompson said. "I loved my time here. Great group of guys, great organization, coaching staff, management. I have nothing but great things to say. It's tough, but at the same time, to get a chance to play for a really good hockey time that should make the playoffs and make a nice run, I'm going to relish that opportunity and go in and have some fun and play my game.
Traded to the Habs by the Los Angeles Kings last February, the 35-year-old Thompson had four goals and 10 assists in 63 games with Montreal this season.
The Flyers will be Thompson's eighth NHL team, following runs with Boston, the New York Islanders, Tampa Bay, Anaheim, Ottawa, L.A., and Montreal.
"Just to say that I've got to play for the Montreal Canadiens in my lifetime, that's right there a feather in my cap," Thompson said. "Where this team's headed, what Marc Bergevin is doing here, the core group of guys, you want to be a part of it and it's the place to be. When you come to Montreal, you realize what this city's all about. This is definitely a spot where I would tell guys to come."