The Vancouver Canucks have finally traded goaltender Roberto Luongo, moving him to the Florida Panthers on Tuesday.
Vancouver traded Luongo and forward Steven Anthony to Florida for goalie Jacob Markstrom and forward Shawn Matthias.
Luongo has been the subject of trade rumors since losing his starting job to Cory Schneider during the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"Stunned I think. I was not expecting it," Luongo told reporters in Phoenix. "It caught me off guard. [I'm] just happy for myself and my family and obviously a little sad to be leaving Vancouver."
Luongo is 19-16-6 this season with a .917 save percentage and a 2.38 goals-against average. He has 367 NHL victories, which places him 16th on the all-time list. Luongo, who turns 35 years old a month from Tuesday, is second on the active wins list behind New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur (683 before play Tuesday).
This is the fourth season of a 12-year, $64 million contract Luongo signed in September 2009. It carries an average annual value of $5.33 million and runs through 2021-22. Florida general manager Dale Tallon said during a conference call that the Canucks are picking up 15 percent of Luongo's salary for the remainder of the contract.
"It is huge. He's a big name down here and it sets the tone for our franchise," said Tallon, who said he had discussions with Vancouver general manager Mike Gillis about Luongo last season before rekindling talks Monday. "[We] want to win the Stanley Cup, and talk is cheap, so we're acting and we're following up on what we said we would do."
It was shortly after watching Schneider finish Vancouver's first-round playoff loss to the Los Angeles Kings in 2012 that Luongo reportedly first requested a trade. He and Schneider spent the entire 2012-13 season together, and Luongo started the first two games of the first-round series against the San Jose Sharks because Schneider was injured. Schneider started the final two games of the four-game sweep by San Jose.
Schneider was traded to the New Jersey Devils at the 2013 NHL Draft for a first-round pick (No. 9), which was used to select forward Bo Horvat.
"It's tough for everybody," Luongo said. "Everybody involved in this process had some tough decisions to make and I can understand that. I understand that management had some tough choices to make, and when they were made I tried to handle them the best way I could and move forward, and just when I was starting to let my guard down a little bit, wouldn’t you know, the trade happens."
Luongo reclaimed the No. 1 spot on Vancouver's depth chart when Schneider was traded, but another controversy about his playing time developed in the past week. Eddie Lack has started all of Vancouver's games since the 2014 Sochi Olympics ended after Luongo lost his final five starts before the break. The Canucks are in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2007-08 and after five consecutive division championships.
Canucks coach John Tortorella named Lack the starter for the 2014 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic on Sunday, a decision that was controversial at the time and disappointed Luongo.
"Listen, I thought my contract was untradeable. Obviously it hurt that I didn’t play that game, but at the same time I was ready to play [Tuesday night]," Luongo said. "I had moved on and was ready to go. I wasn't expecting this to happen, especially not today."
Markstrom, 24, was a second-round pick (No. 31) by the Panthers in the 2008 NHL Draft. He's been considered one of the best goaltending prospects in the world for a couple of seasons but has yet to prove he can be consistent at the NHL level. He is 11-25-5 in 43 appearances with an .898 save percentage.
The Swedish netminder finished the 2012-13 season as Florida's No. 1 goaltender, but the Panthers added free agent Tim Thomas during training camp. Markstrom is 1-6-3 in 12 NHL appearances this season with an .874 save percentage.
"We're getting a great goaltender, a proven commodity," Tallon said. "You have to pay the price to get guys like this. You don't get Roberto Luongo for nothing. You have to pay the price, and obviously we paid a big price. Jacob is a great young goaltender with a lot of potential, but that's what you have to pay sometimes to get value."
Matthias has nine goals and 16 points in 59 games. He has played all 312 of his NHL games for the Panthers.
Luongo played five seasons for the Panthers from 2000-01 through 2005-06. Florida traded him to Vancouver on June 23, 2006.
Canucks GM Mike Gillis said the ownership change in Florida made the deal possible.
"Roberto made it clear he wanted to return to Florida," he said. "There is a new owner in Florida now, the financial situation is now stabilized, and it brought financial opportunities that weren’t there before."
Gillis also said the deal was not an indication Canucks management was giving up on this season and retooling; in fact, he said, the opposite is true.
“I think the players now know we’re not satisfied about what has happened this season," Gillis said. "We are not happy about what has happened this season and we haven’t met the expectations we’ve had as a group, all of us. In the clear light of day this is a wakeup call that we are not performing at the level we expect."
The trade unites Luongo with Thomas, the goaltenders from the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. Thomas and the Boston Bruins won Game 7 in Vancouver against Luongo and the Canucks.
Luongo, asked if he thought about being teammates with Thomas, said with a laugh, "Yeah, I did. So we’ll see how that goes."