BROSSARD - After suiting up for 981 regular season games in a Canadiens uniform, Tomas Plekanec is moving on.
On Sunday morning, the 35-year-old Czech centerman was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs along with Kyle Baun in exchange for forward Kerby Rychel, defenseman Rinat Valiev and a second-round pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.
Before heading to the airport to join Mike Babcock's contingent on their current road trip in Florida, Plekanec addressed being dealt from the club that drafted him all the way back in 2001.
"I knew the situation, but I'm very excited to be going to the Toronto Maple Leafs. It's a talented team that's going to be in the playoffs and I've got to turn the page just like that in a day, which is obviously hard. But, I'll do my best," said Plekanec, who met with members of the media at the Bell Sports Complex ahead of his departure.
Video: Tomas Pleakanec on being traded to Toronto
Plekanec leaves the Canadiens currently ranked seventh on the franchise's all-time games played list, and also sits 13th in assists (373) and points (605), and 17th in goals (232).
Needless to say, bidding the only NHL home he's ever known goodbye on such short notice wasn't easy, especially with his wife, Lucie, and two young boys at home - six-year-old Matyas and two-year-old Adam.
"It's 15 years of my life. It's my home. My kids go to school here. They speak French. Their first language is French. But, I'm going to a team that's going to be in the playoffs and has a chance to play for a Stanley Cup. It's awesome," said Plekanec, on the bittersweet nature of Sunday's transaction. "The good thing is that it's pretty close. It's an hour flight, so any couple of days off or whatever it is, they can come and see me."
Plekanec also had a message for Habs fans across the globe who watched him grow both on and off the ice season after season.
"I can't thank the fans enough. I enjoyed every second. It's a cliché for some people, but it's just so true that Montreal Canadiens fans are unbelievable. I enjoyed every single second of it. They were very respectful towards me," praised Plekanec, before sharing some kind works about his teammates, too. "I had so many great teammates over the years, a great bunch of guys that I enjoyed playing with. I can't say enough from my experience here."
Video: Plekanec thanks the fans, the Habs and his teammates
Now, Plekanec is hoping to be a difference-maker with the Canadiens' Atlantic Division rivals down the stretch and on into the postseason.
It's an opportunity the veteran forward is eager to seize and make the most of.
"You get to the playoffs and anybody can win it these days. With the talent they have on that team, the organization, they're all winners. They've all won Stanley Cups before. They've won the Olympics. They know how to win those games and I'm very excited to be a part of that right now," said Plekanec. "I'm excited to meet those guys and experience what it's all about."
Neverthless, Plekanec isn't ruling out a return to Montreal at some point down the road.
"It's a possibility, definitely. We touched on that," said Plekanec, who is slated to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. "Playing 1,000 games [with the Canadiens] would be pretty special, of course."