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Roberto Luongo returns to Panthers

  • Article by: TIM REYNOLDS
  • Associated Press
  • March 4, 2014 - 9:25 PM

Roberto Luongo thought he was untradeable. The Panthers found a way to bring him back to Florida.

After nearly eight years apart, Luongo was the centerpiece of a four-player trade between Florida and the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday. The Panthers sent goalie Jacob Markstrom — once considered their future in net — and forward Shawn Matthias to the Canucks for Luongo and forward Steven Anthony.

It's a bold move for the Panthers, who almost certainly will wind up missing the playoffs for the 13th time in the last 14 seasons.

"We're getting a great goaltender, a proven commodity," Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said. "Jacob has got great upside but we needed to make a statement and Luongo's numbers are terrific. He's already been in this community and is a very popular figure in the South Florida area. And 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 the price to get guys like this."

And the Panthers paid a big price.

Markstrom's potential had been spoken about for years and he certainly could have been a more affordable option than Luongo, whose $64 million deal doesn't expire until the end of the 2021-22 season.

"Jacob's a great young goaltender, with a lot of potential, but that's what you have to pay sometimes," Tallon said.

So now the question in Florida becomes what to do with Tim Thomas — the winning goalie when Boston topped Luongo and Vancouver in the 2011 Stanley Cup finals.

Thomas was with the Panthers, ironically enough in Boston for Tuesday's game, when the deal for Luongo went down. Thomas has a no-trade clause, and Tallon expected to meet with him no later than Wednesday morning to see how the 39-year-old wanted to proceed.

Thomas started in net for Florida on Tuesday night in a 4-1 loss to the Bruins. Around the start of that game, Luongo tweeted that he and Thomas would be a "dream team" together.

Thomas said after the game he felt he could work in tandem with Luongo, but was also open to the possibility of going to a contender. He said a lot would depend on his upcoming conversation with Tallon.

"I don't know what their plans are. I don't really know anything at this point," Thomas said. "I've got to see the situation and see what they're thinking."

If Thomas was on the market, there would likely be buyers, and Tallon certainly knows Florida needs plenty of pieces to eventually become a contender. The NHL trade deadline is Wednesday afternoon.

"I'll see what he would like us to do," Tallon said. "Goaltending's pretty solid with those two guys."

Tallon also said Matthias and his agent both expressed that they would prefer a change of scenery, and that the Panthers had no issue in making that happen.

Florida already has undergone a coaching change this season from Kevin Dineen to Peter Horachek, and the big trade comes one day after longtime team president and CEO Michael Yormark announced he was leaving the organization to work for rap mogul Jay Z and his Roc Nation agency.

Nonetheless, the Panthers found a way to make the huge deal, and bring back a three-time Vezina Trophy finalist and two-time Olympic gold medalist with 367 career victories and a 2.51 goals-against average.

"Go figure, right?" Luongo told reporters before leaving Phoenix. "I'm really out of words right now."

Luongo told Canada's TSN Radio that he thought his contract would make him untradeable. He was napping when he got word, preparing to play for Vancouver against Phoenix on Tuesday night.

Instead he quickly boarded a flight to South Florida.

"He's over the moon," said Tallon, who was busy Tuesday, also trading defenseman Mike Weaver to Montreal for a fifth-round draft choice in 2015 and signing forward Brad Boyes to a two-year contract extension.

Luongo spent parts of eight seasons with Vancouver, which acquired him from Florida in 2006. His time with the Canucks was often rocky, and it's almost become a rite of summer in recent years for speculation to ramp up about when Luongo would be leaving Vancouver.

A few hours before Tuesday's Canucks game would have started, he posted a palm tree icon on his Twitter feed.

The message was simple: He's going home, or at least to the place he's long considered home.

© 2014 Star Tribune