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Alex Kovalev led the Canadiens last season with 65 points. ((Jim McIsaac/Getty Images))

Alex Kovalev says his No. 1 choice was to remain a part of the Montreal Canadiens franchise so he wouldn't have to uproot his family.

The 36-year-old  right winger spoke on a conference call Tuesday from Russia, one day after he left the Canadiens to sign a two-year, $10-million US deal with the Ottawa Senators.

"We always choose what's best for our lives and for our families," Kovalev said. "When you're 19, it's different. Now, you have a family; it's the first thing you think of."

Kovalev says the most difficult part of the move will fall on his kids, Nikita, 7, and Ivan, 5.

"That's the only way I look at it," he said. "I'm disappointed and feel bad for the kids."

The 16-year NHL veteran, who led the Canadiens last season with 26 goals and 65 points, thanked Montreal fans for their support over the past five years.

Fans started an online petition asking for Kovalev to be named captain that attracted more than 8,000 names by the time he'd signed with Ottawa. About a hundred fans also staged a rally Sunday to show their support for bringing back Kovalev, an unrestricted free agent at the time.

"I saw the email that a lot of fans sent, and I saw the pictures [of the rally]. I definitely appreciate it," Kovalev said. "I can't find the words to say to the fans in Montreal. They gave me a lot of support."

Canadiens and Senators offered same deal

It was revealed Monday, after Senators general manager Bryan Murray announced he'd signed Kovalev, that Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey offered Kovalev the exact same deal to stay.

Gainey said when Kovalev didn't get back to him on the opening day of free agency last week, he pursued other deals, signing Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta and Mike Cammalleri, leaving no money for Kovalev.

"Everything happened so quick," Kovalev said. "We didn't have much time, and they went in the other direction."

The star forward now changes his focus to bringing the Senators in a new direction.

Something's missing in Ottawa

Ottawa missed the playoffs for the first time in 11 seasons this past spring, and star left winger Dany Heatley has requested a trade.

"I think Ottawa is a pretty good team," Kovalev said.

"I just felt that maybe something's missing, and maybe I can bring something to help them be competitive and try to win the Stanley Cup," he added. "They have one really good line ... maybe I can be part of giving them a good second line and third line. I'm not a big believer that one line can do the damage on the way to winning a Stanley Cup.

"I'm not a young guy anymore, and I'm looking forward to trying to win another Stanley Cup before I retire."

Kovalev won his only Stanley Cup with the Rangers, who, along with the New York Islanders and Los Angeles Kings, were believed to be interested in signing him.

Now he'll join the likes of Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza to try to make it happen in Ottawa.  

"I'm not trying to be the superstar and try to be a hero," Kovalev said. "I'm just trying to do my best to help the team win the Stanley Cup."

With files from The Associated Press