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Friday, June 23, 2006
Canucks swap Bertuzzi for Luongo in multiplayer deal

Associated Press

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The Florida Panthers acquired forward Todd Bertuzzi in exchange for goaltender Roberto Luongo as part of a five-player trade with the Vancouver Canucks on Friday night.

The Canucks also sent promising young goaltender Alex Auld and defenseman Bryan Allen to the Panthers in exchange for Lukas Krajicek and a sixth-round pick in Saturday's draft in Vancouver.

Roberto Luongo

Todd Bertuzzi

Canucks general manager Dave Nonis said it was time for a change for scenery for Bertuzzi, who was suspended for the end of the 2003-04 season and playoffs after his on-ice attack left Colorado's Steve Moore with fractured vertebrae in his neck and a concussion that has so far prevented him from returning to the NHL.

"Todd will be better off in a new city," said Nonis, noting Bertuzzi never asked for a trade but they talked about it. "Todd never said 'I'll never play in Vancouver again,' but I think he recognized and we had some discussions that if there was a situation that worked for him elsewhere, then maybe it was better for him to move on. He's been really unfairly hammered in this market and I think he'll be better off in Florida."

Bertuzzi was also given a year's probation and sentenced to 80 hours of community service after pleading guilty in a Vancouver court to criminal assault and receiving a conditional discharge. He still faces a civil suit launched by Moore.

"I think coming to our organization is going to be somewhat of a relief for him," Panthers general manager Mike Keenan said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

Bertuzzi had 25 goals and 71 points last season, a drop from his best season in 2002-2003, when he scored 46 goals and 51 assists. Bertuzzi has one year left on his contract for $5.2 million and will be an unrestricted free agent next summer.

"I think a lot of Todd Bertuzzi and I think he's going to have a very good year next year," Nonis said.

The 27-year-old Luongo could also become a free agent next summer after turning down several offers from the Panthers, most recently because he wants a no-trade clause, something no team can offer under the new CBA until after the upcoming season.

"I think it was a bit of a shock for him," Nonis said of Luongo. "But he seemed very excited about coming here, and we're going to do our best to get him signed and have him in Vancouver for a long time."

Luongo was 35-30-0 with a 2.97 goals-against average and .914 save percentage last season, but was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the league's best goaltender two seasons ago with a .931 save percentage.

"I think it's a very good day for the Florida Panthers," Keenan said. "We tried and worked very hard at resolving a contract situation with Roberto Luongo. As an organization, we made a decision we had to move forward and doing so satisfied a lot of the needs that we had."

The Panthers had until Monday to make Luongo a qualifying offer for the 2006-07 season, but -- since they were never able to agree with Luongo on a long-term extension -- would likely have sent the goaltender elsewhere anyway before next season's trade deadline.

Without that long-term deal, or a trade, Florida conceivably could have lost Luongo and gotten nothing in return. And the Panthers -- who offered Luongo a $30 million, five-year deal in January -- simply couldn't afford to let that happen.

"I never said I wanted to leave, and I love it here in Florida," Luongo said in April, shortly after the Panthers finished their regular season but again missed the playoffs. "If things go the way they're supposed to, there shouldn't be any reason why I'm not going to be here.

Krajicek, a 23-year-old defenseman, had two goals and 16 points in 67 games last season.

Auld, 25, is also a former Panthers' draft pick, taken in the second round in 1999. He was traded to Vancouver in 2001 and was the Canucks' MVP this season after taking over for injured starter Dan Cloutier, finishing 33-26-0 with a .902 save percentage in his first full NHL season.

Cloutier is expected to be ready for next season, and since the Canucks also have Mika Noronen, a goalie was expendable. Cloutier is slated to make $2.5 million contract next season, a hefty price to pay a backup goaltender.

"When you have an opportunity to get arguably one of the best goaltenders in the game," Nonis said of Luongo, "you try to do it."

Auld figures to be Florida's starter next season.

"He's an individual that stepped into a difficult situation this year and proved he's a No. 1 NHL goaltender," Keenan said. "When you look at them side-by-side, his numbers are very close to Roberto's, although I'm not making comparisons between one goalie and the other."

Earlier this month, the Panthers did not pickup the contract option year on Jamie McLennan, Luongo's backup last season.

Allen had seven goals and 17 points in 77 games last season.