In a move that general manager Bob Gainey said will boost both teams for the playoffs, the 32-year-old Rivet was dealt to the Sharks on Sunday for 22-year-old Josh Gorges in a swap of defencemen.
Rivet, who was about to return from a bout of pneumonia, had spent is entire 12-year NHL career in Montreal but had an inkling that he would be moved. He is to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
Going to San Jose, one of the strongest teams in the Western Conference, suits him fine.
"It was something that I was preparing myself for," the North Bay, Ont., native said. "It's something that's difficult because I've been in Montreal a long time.
"I have a lot of roots here. But at the same time I kind of saw the writing on the wall. I was thinking in my mind that change would be good. I feel great about it."
The Canadiens will also receive a first-round draft pick in 2007 while the Sharks get a fifth-rounder in 2008.
It may appear a stiff price for Rivet, but the Sharks already held New Jersey's first-round pick for 2007 from a previous deal.
"We acquired that pick for this purpose," said Sharks GM Doug Wilson. "I would rather get exactly what we want and pay a price than to have to chase your tail and get something that maybe doesn't fit as well."
Gainey said San Jose wanted an experienced defenceman who is a right-handed shot.
Montreal wanted a fit, young defenceman who could step into the lineup right way and help with their playoff push. The Canadiens sit ninth in the East, one spot out of playoff position.
"We are still a team that isn't a selling team," Gainey said. "We want to make the playoffs and we're in position to make the playoffs."
Gorges is to arrive in Montreal on Monday but will not play before a game Tuesday night against the Rangers in New York.
Gainey said the deal gives Montreal "a full, healthy player in the next week or 10 days when it's going to be critical for us.
"Craig may have been in the lineup (Monday) night after an absence of two weeks, so you'd expect it will take him a bit of time to find his game shape and to be comfortable and productive again.
"The Sharks look like they're locked into a playoff position and they can allow him the time to get his full form back."
Rivet has 39 goals and 112 assists in his regular-season career.
He was not expected to remain with the Canadiens after a dispute with coach Guy Carbonneau that began Jan. 16 when he was made a healthy scratch for a game against Vancouver.
But Rivet said - and Gainey confirmed - that he did not ask for a trade.
"Guy made that decision that night and I don't think it was solely directed at me," said Rivet. "I think it was more that he wanted to get a major jolt out of the team to get them going in the right direction."
Gorges, 22, has a goal and three assists in 47 games this season, his second. The six-foot-one blue-liner played on Canada's silver medal-winning squad at the 2004 world junior hockey championship.
The Kelowna, B.C., native was never drafted, but signed as a free agent with San Jose in 2002 when he was with the Kelowna Rockets, with whom he served as captain and won a Memorial Cup in 2004.
The Sharks finally added a veteran defenceman to one of the NHL's least experienced groups.
"We were looking for a Mike Grier-type player to play on our back end," Sharks GM Doug Wilson said. "Mike Grier has had a big impact up front and we look to get that from Craig on defence. He's obviously been well-coached coming from the Canadiens' organization."
Rivet has six goals, 10 assists and 57 penalty minutes in 54 games this season as a quietly dependable presence on Montreal's blue-line.
He has been out of the Canadiens' lineup since Feb. 8, missing nine games with pneumonia.
Hours before the trade, Rivet was looking forward to getting back into action against Toronto on Monday night, even if he had not yet regained top form.
"It will take time to be 100 per cent, but I've worked hard all week with the trainers to try to open up my lungs a bit and get into the best shape possible," said Rivet. "I feel pretty good on the ice now."
Rivet was drafted by Montreal in the third round in 1992 and went on to become a dependable defensive player who could play on the power play if needed. He also played for Canada at the 2003 IIHF world championship.
"I have so many memories here in Montreal," Rivet said. "Not all good, but I've enjoyed every single minute that I've been here in Montreal. It's a fantastic city, it's a very passionate hockey city. Even the good and the bad, I take it all in stride."
Last season, he had a career-high 34 points, but he struggled at times this season, which led to his being pulled from the lineup for a game.
"I really enjoyed my time in Montreal, but it's my unrestricted year and I was going to look at all my options," he said.
The Sharks desperately needed a playoff-tested defenceman to help lead a blue line that has been criticized this season despite the club's strong record. San Jose gave up 29 goals on its just-completed eight-game road trip, including seven in a loss to Calgary on Saturday night.
"I would not have felt very comfortable if we had gone through the trade deadline and not addressed this area," Wilson said.
Rivet says he is excited to play for the Sharks.
"I know they have a very, very strong team," Rivet said. "I think they have a great future, I think they have a team that can really do some damage."
The 32-year-old Rivet becomes the oldest player on one of the NHL's youngest rosters. San Jose general manager Doug Wilson has consistently resisted the temptation to ship out his stable of young forwards and goalies to supplement his defence, insisting the Sharks' youngsters deserved the right to play.
Gorges was among those youngsters who earned an opportunity, but he had just four points this season while struggling in his own end.
Gainey said he only discussed Rivet with the Sharks. Canadiens defencemen Sheldon Souray, Andrei Markov and Janne Niinimaa can also be unrestricted free agents this summer.
He did not say if he was pursuing further deals before Tuesday's NHL trading deadline, but added that "we'll be alert. We'll be prepared to respond to anything that comes along."