Eleven months after Roberto Luongo unscrewed the cap from a bottle of water, took a sip and declared, “my contract sucks, that’s what the problem is,” the 34-year-old was finally offered a solution. He has been traded away from the Vancouver Canucks, and away from one of the longest-running melodramas in Canadian sports.
The move was finally made on Tuesday, one day before the NHL’s trade deadline, and it sends Luongo and his hefty contract to the Florida Panthers. Luongo, who spent parts of five seasons with the Panthers before joining the Canucks, said the move caught him by surprise — though it was clearly a pleasant surprise.
“Was not expecting it,” he told reporters in Phoenix, in audio posted online by the Team 1040 radio station. “Go figure, right? I mean, I don’t have many words right now. You caught me off guard. Just happy for myself and my family, and obviously a little bit sad to be leaving Vancouver.”
Florida sent 24-year-old goaltender Jacob Markstrom and 26-year-old forward Shawn Matthias to Vancouver for Luongo and Steven Anthony, a 22-year-old forward who has never appeared in an NHL game. Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said the move was “great for our franchise.”
Tallon said trade talks began with a casual conversation on Monday afternoon, “kicking tires,” and grew quickly. Luongo is in the fourth season of a 12-year deal worth US$60-million, and Tallon confirmed reports the Canucks would retain 15% of the salary.
“We needed to make a statement,” Tallon said in a conference call on Tuesday. “I just like what he brings to the table, giving us stability, and his experience, and a chance for us to win … you have to pay a price to get guys like this. You don’t get Roberto Luongo for nothing.”
Tallon said he spoke with Luongo, but only briefly.
“He’s excited,” he said. “He’s just over the moon about coming back to Florida.”
Luongo has been the subject of trade rumours for the better part of two years. Debate and controversy have become his orbit. He lost his job to understudy Cory Schneider two seasons ago, only to have Schneider — instead of Luongo — traded away. And over the weekend, Canucks coach John Tortorella reignited flames by starting Eddie Lack ahead of Luongo in the Heritage Classic at B.C. Place.
The Canucks lost on Sunday, falling 4-2 with Lack on the bench for an extra attacker as the Ottawa Senators scored the final goal at B.C. Place. The crowd was chanting for Luongo, who had been subjected to one final indignity before being moved away.
“[Luongo] wasn’t benched — I decided to play Eddie Lack over him,” Tortorella told reporters. “Before this game the way Eddie was playing, I thought it was our best chance to get two points.”
Did the snub in the Heritage Classic play a role in the move?
“Obviously, it hurt that I didn’t play that game, but at the same time, I was ready to play tonight,” Luongo told reporters in Phoenix, where the Canucks were preparing to play the Coyotes.
Moving to Florida would put Luongo on the same roster as Tim Thomas, the 39-year-old goaltender with whom he shared a spotlight in the 2011 Stanley Cup final. It was a tense encounter — won by Thomas and the Boston Bruins, sparking a riot in Vancouver — and it was only one page in a binder filled with dramatic moments of Luongo’s time in British Columbia.
Tallon said he was planning to speak with Thomas on Wednesday to find a way to “make this work,” but did not offer any contingencies. He said backup Scott Clemmensen would likely be moving down to the American Hockey League.
Luongo, a week removed from winning a gold medal as a member of the Canadian team at the Sochi Olympics, was traded to Vancouver from Florida in 2006.
“All in all, it was a great run,” he told reporters, of his time in Vancouver. “It was a lot of stuff that happened in between, but nothing but good things to say about the fans who were really supportive, especially toward the end.”
It almost looked like the Canucks had traded him last spring. The team pulled him from the ice before the trade deadline, stoking speculation, only to end the day with him still on the roster. Luongo held a memorable press conference, blaming his contract for the team’s inability to move him: “Unfortunately, it’s a big factor in trading me, and it’s probably why I’m still here.”
He posted farewell messages to his Twitter account on Tuesday.
Goodbye my Italian Prince <3
WORST GM IN CANUCKS HISTORY GOES TO MIKE GILLIS... However my brother has a good conspiracy theory. He thinks since one of the Aquilini brothers (The Owners) is getting divorced he is trying to cheapen the team... I'm so upset, I literally feel like my dog got run over. I know its for the best cause he has been jerked around so much but I am so so sad.
And LOL Gillis' Wikipedia temporarily