March 04, 2014 - 3:10 PM
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" 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, reportedly acquired from the Panthers as part of the Luongo deal along with forward Shawn Matthias.
"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.
"It wasn't a difficult decision," Luongo told Toronto radio station TSN 1050 when asked about choosing to accept this deal.
Vancouver general manager Mike Gillis found it difficult to trade Luongo's contract and 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 TSN 1050 that there was no bitterness toward Gillis for what happened over the past couple of years.
"Everybody was put in a tough spot," he said. "They had some tough decisions to make."
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.
Finally traded long after first putting in that demand, Luongo celebrated by tweeting a picture of a palm tree.
Luongo — at least temporarily — joins Tim Thomas, the goalie who beat him in the 2011 Stanley Cup final while with the Boston Bruins, with the Panthers. 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.
Asked on TSN 1050 about being teammates with Thomas, Luongo laughed and said: "I don't know, we'll see how it goes when I get there."
It was not immediately clear how much salary and salary-cap hit the Canucks retained in the deal, though reports indicated it was at or around 15 per cent.
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
News from © The Canadian Press, 2014