Vancouver Canucks trade Roberto Luongo to Florida Panthers
Stephen Whyno, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, March 4, 2014 5:00PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 9:14PM EST
The Vancouver Canucks have traded goaltender Roberto Luongo to the Florida Panthers, ending a roller-coaster saga that has gone on for almost three years.
Luongo's unhappiness in Vancouver since the 2011 Stanley Cup final included being usurped as the starter by Cory Schneider, demanding to be traded, complaining that his US$64-million, 12-year contract "sucks" and seeing Schneider being dealt away.
Coach John Tortorella added another chapter by choosing not to start the 34-year-old in last weekend's Heritage Classic, opting instead to go with backup Eddie Lack.
Now Lack could split duties with Jacob Markstrom, acquired from the Panthers as part of the Luongo deal along with forward Shawn Matthias.
ECHL-based forward Steve Anthony also heads to Florida.
"This caught me off guard," Luongo said, as quoted by the Canucks on Twitter in a post that was then quickly deleted. "But I'm excited. I'm going home."
Luongo returns to the Panthers with eight years left on his contract beyond this season. The Montreal native makes his off-season home in South Florida and had been linked in trade talk with the Panthers for at least two years.
"We've talked to Florida for a long period of time -- they had a lot of financial issues and different things that impacted their ability to do things," Vancouver GM Mike Gillis said Tuesday night on a conference call. "They've always been on our radar, and we've always been on their radar. It seems now that they've gotten new ownership that's really supportive and try to move in the right direction that they were able to do things."
When Gillis found it difficult to trade Luongo's contract last summer, he instead shipped Schneider to the New Jersey Devils at last year's draft in exchange for the No. 9 overall pick. At the time, he said it was the organization's plan to develop Schneider and trade him for a high pick and did not think Luongo would still be unhappy with the Canucks.
"He signed a long-term contract with our club for a lot of money and was very happy to do it," Gillis said last June. "I don't anticipate there being issues."
Luongo changed agents from Gilles Lupien to J.P. Barry and Pat Brisson of CAA Sports about a month later. He told reporters in Arizona that there was no bitterness toward Gillis for what happened over the past couple of years.
"It's tough for everybody," Luongo said. "Everybody involved in this process had some tough decisions to make. I can understand that. I understand that management had some tough choices to make, and when they were made I tried to handle them the best way I could and move forward."
This season in Vancouver, Luongo went 19-16-6 with a 2.38 goals-against average and .917 save percentage.
But it was the game Luongo did not start that seemed to be the final straw. Luongo was unhappy at Tortorella's decision not to put him in net against the Ottawa Senators in the Heritage Classic, a game the goalie had been looking forward to all season.
Gillis said the Heritage Classic did not have anything to do with this move.
Finally traded long after first putting in that demand, Luongo celebrated by tweeting a picture of a palm tree. Panthers GM Dale Tallon spoke to Luongo briefly and said he was "over the moon about coming back to Florida."
"We needed to make a statement," Tallon said on a conference call. "Luongo's numbers are terrific. He's already been in this community and is a very popular figure in the South Florida area. I just like what he brings to the table giving us stability and his experience and a chance for us to win."
Luongo -- at least temporarily -- joins Florida's Tim Thomas, the goalie who beat him in the 2011 Stanley Cup final while with the Boston Bruins. Thomas is on a one-year contract and his name has been involved in trade rumours leading up to Wednesday's trade deadline.
The two goaltenders were involved in a famous exchange during the Cup final. Luongo criticized Thomas's playing style before saying: "I've been pumping his tires ever since the series started and I haven't heard one nice thing he had to say about me, so that's the way it is."
Thomas later quipped he didn't know he was supposed to praise Luongo.
Tallon said he was set to talk to Thomas on Wednesday about plans moving forward and also confirmed he had not yet asked the 39-year-old about waiving his no-trade clause ahead of the deadline.
The Panthers' GM confirmed that the Canucks picked up 15 per cent of the remainder of Luongo's contract, which Gillis said the team was "reluctant" to do but ultimately conceded on.
The Canucks have also been at the forefront of other rumours, including centre Ryan Kesler, who apparently also wants out of Vancouver and to be traded to a U.S.-based team.
By Tuesday, Luongo's departure came as a bigger shock than if Vancouver had just traded Kesler. He had become a fan favourite in Vancouver, from his part in the 2011 Cup run through the Heritage Classic, when chants of "Loo" rang out through B.C. Place to protest Tortorella's decision.
Luongo's Vancouver tenure included at least 30 wins in six of his eight seasons in a Canucks uniform. In two of those seasons, he recorded more than 40 wins.
Although he often came across as aloof with media, Vancouver players regarded him as the ultimate teammate, and management viewed him as a model player.
In September 2008, he was named as Vancouver's 12th captain following Markus Naslund's departure to the New York Rangers via free agency. Luongo became the first goaltender to captain an NHL team since Montreal's Bill Durnan in 1947-48.
But the captain's public role contrasted with the insular nature of the goaltender position. Because of NHL rules governing goaltender captains, Luongo was limited in what he could do on the ice, such as questioning officials, and he refused to criticize his team off the ice. A captain is expected to critique his team on a regular basis, especially in a Canadian market full of fickle fans. But Luongo vowed that he would never throw teammates "under the bus."
Consequently, he never appeared comfortable in the captain role, and the team's leadership qualities were questioned. Prior to training camp in 2010, Luongo surrendered the captaincy and Henrik Sedin took it over.
No longer feeling an added burden, Luongo appeared to be refreshed, although he still struggled with slow starts to the season. Still, almost everything he did was considered major news.
Social media, especially Twitter, gobbled as much information as possible about him and sent out info, often speculative, as though it were gospel.
He had a testy relationship with reporters at the best of times, although he appeared to mellow as he prepared for what he thought would be his final season with the Canucks.
Also, more of his adoring fans jumped off the bandwagon, and he struggled at inopportune times. In the 2010-11 playoffs, Vancouver almost lost to Chicago in the first round, winning in overtime in the seventh game after squandering a 3-0 series lead.
In the Stanley Cup final, Luongo helped the Canucks get out to a 2-0 series lead, but allowed eight goals in Game 3, was pulled in Game 4 and after posting a shutout in Game 5 surrendered three goals in just over three minutes and was pulled again in Game 6. He got the call in Game 7, but the Canucks did little in a 4-0 loss as they surrendered the Stanley Cup to Boston on home ice.
Last spring, Luongo was in goal as Vancouver dropped its first two opening-round games to Los Angeles. Then-Canucks coach Alain Vigneault inserted Schneider in place of Luongo.
Vigneault insisted Luongo could not be faulted, and the move was made just to kick-start the club. Luongo watched the rest of the series from the bench as the Canucks lost 4-1.
It appeared his reign as Vancouver's No. 1 goaltender was over. After the season, he said he would waive his no-trade clause if asked, and reporters shook his hand, expecting they had seen him in the Canucks dressing room for the last time.
The NHL lockout got in the way of trade efforts, and so did the new collective bargaining agreement. But on Tuesday Luongo's tenure in Vancouver finally ended.
"At the end of the day I think when I look back on it, it all worked out well," Luongo told TSN 1050. "But it would've been nice to have a Cup ring."
With files from Monte Stewart in Vancouver