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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.
"Stunned. I was not expecting it," Luongo told TSN Radio. "I'm happy for myself and my family but a little sad to be leaving Vancouver."
It's a bold move for the Panthers, who almost certainly will wind up missing the playoffs for the 13th time in the past 14 seasons.
"It was really out of the blue. I was not expecting it at all," Luongo said. "I thought my contract was immovable. I would never thought I would be traded before the deadline."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 a huge deal, and bring back a three-time Vezina Trophy finalist and two-time Olympic gold medalist.
"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.''
Luongo voiced his gratitude for Vancouver via Twitter.
Thank you Vancouver for a great 8 years! Really appreciative of all the support especially the last little while. I will miss the LOOO'ing!!- Strombone (@strombone1) March 5, 2014
Luongo, who is under contract through the 2021-22 season, is 19-16-6 with a 2.38 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage in 42 games this season with the Canucks. Vancouver will take on some of his remaining contract, a league source told ESPN.com.
Luongo spent parts of eight seasons with Vancouver, which acquired him from Florida in 2006. His time with the Canucks was often rocky, and now he heads to Florida -- where Tim Thomas, the goalie who beat Luongo when Boston topped Vancouver in the Stanley Cup finals in 2011, is also on the roster, a quirk that surely will make for interesting conversation.
Thomas, after the Panthers lost 4-1 in Boston on Tuesday night, was jovial and humorous when asked about Luongo.
"I did have one good line that probably somebody else has already thought of: It looked like Dale went kicking some tires and found one that needed pumping," Thomas said with a laugh, referring to a comment Luongo made during the 2011 Stanley Cup finals.
During that series, the opposing goaltenders traded verbal jabs with Luongo first saying of Thomas, "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."
|Roberto Luongo was 19-16-6 with a 2.38 GAA for the Canucks this season.|
Thomas responded by saying, "I didn't realize it was my job to pump his tires."
The Cup finals in 2011 also ended with Thomas earning the Conn Smythe trophy.
"It'll be interesting, but you know what, I don't know how things are going to work out, but assuming I'm staying in Florida, it'll be interesting," Thomas said. "I'm looking forward to it. It'll be fun."
Thomas stressed that he does not consider Luongo an enemy.
"No, not at all," Thomas said. "I wasn't an enemy with him even [in 2011]. I was so focused on playing and doing my job and that's the way I was looking at it. So, yeah, we're both pros, both been in the league a long time. I have a few more years on him, obviously, but we both have a lot of experience to bring to the team."
Luongo, who signed a 12-year extension in 2009 in a deal paying him about $64 million through 2022, had been expected to start for Vancouver in Phoenix on Tuesday night. A few hours before that 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 has long considered home.
A three-time All-Star, the 34-year-old Luongo spent five seasons earlier in his career with the Panthers.
Matthias, 26, had nine goals and seven assists in 59 games this season for the Panthers.
Markstrom, 24, is 1-6-3 with a 3.52 GAA in 12 games this season. He was a second-round pick in the 2008 draft.
The Panthers also traded defenseman Mike Weaver to Montreal for a fifth-round draft choice in 2015.
Information from ESPN The Magazine's Craig Custance, ESPNNewYork.com's Katie Strang, ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun, ESPNBoston.com's Joe McDonald and The Associated Press was used in this report.