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Tallon: Panthers made statement with Luongo deal

by Alain Poupart

SUNRISE, Fla. -- For the Florida Panthers, bringing goaltender Roberto Luongo back to South Florida was about making a statement.

That was the message from general manager Dale Tallon, who said he consummated the four-player trade with the Vancouver Canucks after getting the go-ahead from owner Vinnie Viola, partner Doug Cifu, and new president/CEO Rory Babich, who took over on Monday.

"It is huge," Tallon said in a conference call Tuesday night. "He's a big name down here and it sets the tone for our franchise. Vinnie and Doug and Rory and I 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. We're just looking to get better every day to achieve our goal of winning the Stanley Cup."

As other examples, Tallon pointed to the recent trade for former Chicago Blackhawks second-round pick Brandon Pirri and the re-signing of veteran forward Brad Boyes to a two-year contract. But those moves paled in comparison to the trade that brought Luongo for a second stint with the Panthers.

"He's still one of the elite goaltenders in the League," Tallon said. "He was on the Canadian Olympic team. He won a gold medal. His numbers are phenomenal. He went to a Stanley Cup Finals, took his team to the Finals, got beat in Game 7. He's played very well the last couple of years. He's just a solid goaltender."

It also doesn't hurt that Luongo, who earned his first All-Star Game invitation during his six-year stay with the Panthers from 2001-06, is popular in South Florida.

Tallon had discussions with the Canucks about a trade involving Luongo last year, but the sides couldn't come to an agreement. When the deal was finally made, one of the players Tallon sent to Vancouver was Jacob Markstrom, who had long been seen as the Panthers' goaltender of the future.

Markstrom appeared in at least one game for the Panthers in each of the past four seasons but was marred by inconsistency. He has an NHL record of 11-25-5 with a 3.20 goals-against average and .898 save percentage.

Tallon gave Markstrom a vote of confidence on his way out.

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

Also headed to Vancouver is forward Shawn Matthias, who already was in a way connected with Luongo. Matthias was acquired by the Panthers in a February 2007 trade with the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for forward Todd Bertuzzi, who was the key player the Panthers acquired eight months earlier when they had sent Luongo to Vancouver.

A fast-skating forward with size, Matthias had his moments with the Panthers but never could play himself into a prominent role. As an example of his inconsistency, Matthias had 11 goals in 16 games in March 2013, but three goals in the other 32 games last season. This season, he had six goals in the first 57 games before scoring three times in Florida's first two games this March.

"I think it's time for a change," Tallon said of Matthias, who had been Florida's longest-tenured player (since 2007-08). "He's been here for a long time. He's had some great games and not-so-great games. Inconsistency has been the issue. I think he probably is welcoming a change. He's kind of intimated that this year a few times; his agent has. He's got a lot of upside. He's a good guy, he works hard, can skate, has a big shot, but needs to develop some consistency in his game. As I said, we're giving up two good young assets to get a highly talented goaltender."

With Luongo's arrival, the Panthers suddenly found themselves with not one but two goaltenders with lofty credentials. The other is veteran Tim Thomas.

After a one-year hiatus, Thomas joined the Panthers in September after going to training camp on a professional tryout and recently said he was receptive to the idea of returning for a second season in Florida. But with Luongo and his long-term contract, it's difficult to envision the Panthers bringing back Thomas for 2014-15.

Thomas has a no-trade clause and Tallon said he would sit down with the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner Wednesday before the NHL Trade Deadline (3 p.m. ET) and do his best to accommodate the goalie's wishes.

"I’ve got to see the situation and see what they’re thinking," Thomas said after a 4-1 road loss to the Boston Bruins on Tuesday night. "I’d like to check in with Dale before I really comment on anything.

"I don’t know how things are going to work out. But assuming I’m staying in Florida and everything like that, it’ll be interesting and I’m looking forward to it. It should be fun."

But Tuesday, it was all about Luongo and his return.

"We're excited about it," Tallon said. "I think it's great for our franchise."

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