Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo will be reunited with the Florida Panthers thanks to a trade Tuesday that sends him back to the Sunshine State in exchange for netminder Jacob Markstrom and forward Shawn Matthias.
According to TSN's James Duthie, Luongo confirmed news of the trade himself as he was signing the papers to make it official:
Roberto Luongo confirms he has been traded to Florida. Signing papers right now. #Tradecentre— James Duthie (@tsnjamesduthie) March 4, 2014
Gord Miller of TSN reports that the Canucks will retain part of Luongo's salary as part of the deal:
Vancouver retains part of Luongo's salary as part of the deal with Florida.— Gord Miller (@GMillerTSN) March 4, 2014
TSN insider Darren Dreger summed up the deal. He also heard that there were as many as three different trade scenarios between the Canucks and Panthers, with Tuesday's transaction being the culmination of both sides' efforts to get a deal done:
Luongo and Steve Anthony to Panthers for Markstrom, Mathias and the Panthers retain 15% of Luongo's salary for rest of his contract.— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) March 4, 2014
Was told...at one point there were at least 3 different trade scenarios between the Panthers and Canucks. Sounds like Luongo knew yesterday.— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) March 4, 2014
Luongo discussed the trade via Iain MacIntyre of The Vancouver Sun and Ben Kuzma of The Province:
Loungo: "Stunned. I was not expecting it. I'm happy for myself and my family but a little sad to be leaving Vancouver. "— Iain MacIntyre (@imacVanSun) March 4, 2014
Luongo: "I thought my contract was untradeable. Just when I was starting to let my guard down, the trade happens. Go figure. "— Iain MacIntyre (@imacVanSun) March 4, 2014
Luongo: "The fans were really supportive to the end and it didn't go unnoticed for sure. The organization brought my game to another level."— Ben Kuzma (@benkuzma) March 4, 2014
The New York Islanders drafted Luongo as the No. 4 overall pick in 1997, making him the first goalie in league history to be selected that high. However, after a turbulent rookie campaign in 1999-2000, the Islanders shipped Luongo to the Panthers and drafted Rick DiPietro No. 1 overall in the 2000 entry draft as his replacement in net.
It soon became clear that the Islanders had made a mistake, as Luongo shined in Florida. Despite playing on some putrid teams and never making the playoffs, he became the most prolific goalie in Panthers franchise history.
He experienced similar success with the Canucks after the Panthers traded him to Vancouver before the start of the 2006-07 season. He nearly delivered a Stanley Cup to Vancouver, but the Canucks unfortunately fell in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals to the Boston Bruins in an epic, seven-game thriller of a series.
A strong 2.38 goals-against average in 2013-14 wasn't enough to keep the 34-year-old veteran Luongo around. Over the past few seasons, a combination of gaudy expectations and persistent trade rumors weighed down the netminder.
CBC Sports summarized the long-lasting Luongo saga:
Luongo has been involved in trade rumours for nearly two years, especially after then coach Alain Vigneault started Cory Schneider in a critical 2012 playoff contest. Canucks general manager Mike Gillis tried to move Luongo, but the player's lengthy contract proved one of the obstacles. Last summer, it was Schneider who was dealt, to New Jersey.
Luongo will now be teammates with fellow goaltender Tim Thomas—the ex-Boston Bruin who out-dueled him in those finals.
Thomas spoke of the edge he felt he had against Luongo in the Stanley Cup Finals. Per WEEI.com's DJ Bean in a December 2011 interview:
As far as Luongo goes, actually, all that did was give me confidence that his head was in the wrong place, because I was focused on stopping the puck and he was thinking about my style. I realized that I had an advantage over him...The challenge on my end was to keep that advantage.
The Canucks are in danger of missing the playoffs and now will move forward with rookie Eddie Lack between the pipes. He's played well, posting a 2.09 GAA this season, but his inferior experience and the Canucks' underachieving offense may cost Vancouver a shot at the postseason in the short term. Even Luongo's presence likely wouldn't have been enough to turn the team around now.
Yet again the Panthers are near the cellar of the league and have a lot of rebuilding still to do. They're the best non-contender Luongo realistically could have hoped to be sent to, but he won't turn Florida's fortunes around on his own.
Amid persistent trade speculation and pushing from young hotshot goaltenders in current New Jersey Devils goalie Cory Schneider and Lack, Luongo remained composed and continued to play at a high level in Vancouver. That should aid his sturdy legacy regardless of how his career finishes on the ice in Florida or elsewhere.