Roberto Luongo has been traded from the Vancouver Canucks to the Florida Panthers a day ahead of the trade deadline.
The 34-year-old Luongo seemed to confirm the deal himself soon after reports emerged, tweeting a picture of a palm tree, while the team later officially announced the trade. Luongo played for the Panthers from 2000 to 2006, and his wife is from Florida.
Vancouver will receive 24-year-old netminder Jacob Markstrom and forward Shawn Matthias as part of the deal.
The Canucks also send to Florida minor league left wing Steven Anthony, a former seventh-round pick.
"Just when I was starting to let my guard down a little bit, what do you know, the trade happens," Luongo told reporters in Arizona. "So that's the way it goes."
Vancouver will pay 15 per cent of Luongo's salary, according to Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night in Canada, until the deal runs out. The Montreal native was signed to a 12-year extension worth $64 million US in 2009.
He later tweeted his appreciation to Canucks fans from his own account, @Strombone1.
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
And take good care of my boy Eddie Lack for me. He's a great talent and an even better person!— Strombone (@strombone1) March 5, 2014
"All in all it was a great run, man," Luongo told reporters in Arizona. "There was a lot of stuff that happened in between, but nothing but good things to say about the fans that were really supportive, especially towards the end — did not go unnoticed, for sure."
While the deal may have caught Luongo off-guard, it was a more of a relief for general manager Mike Gillis.
"Am I happy about resolution of the situation? Yes, I am," Gillis said on a conference call Tuesday night. "These are tough decisions. It takes a lot of courage to trade a player like Roberto Luongo and insert young players into your lineup, but we felt strongly that this was the right time frame to think that way, and this was the first opportunity to act on it."
The move comes two days after Luongo was passed over for the starting assignment in the Heritage Classic game at BC Place in favour of backup Eddie Lack.
But he appears to be getting a much warmer reception in Florida. General manager Dale Tallon is welcoming the goalie with open arms.
"We're getting a great goaltender, a proven commodity," said Tallon. "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 did not play for the Canucks since returning from Sochi, where he won a second consecutive gold medal with the Canadian team. His last game for the club stands as a 3-1 loss to Toronto on Feb. 8.
Gillis said the Panthers had always had interest in the veteran goalie, saying his new destination may not be much of a surprise.
"We've talked to Florida for a long period of time — they had a lot of financial issues and different things that impacted their ability to do things," Gillis said Tuesday night on a conference call. "They've always been on our radar, and we've always been on their radar.
"It seems now that they've gotten new ownership that's really supportive and try to move in the right direction that they were able to do things."
The deal ends a roller-coaster tenure for Luongo in Vancouver. He recorded 38 of the 65 shutouts in his career in a Canucks uniform, and was a Vezina Trophy candidate in 2006-07, his first season with the club.
Vancouver would ascend to the best record in the regular season for two consecutive years beginning in 2010-11, with Luongo leading the Canucks that season to the lowest goals-against total in the league.
The Canucks made it to the seventh game of the 2011 Stanley Cup final with Luongo in net before bowing out to Boston. Ironically, Luongo will now form a tandem in Florida with Tim Thomas, who was the Bruins netminder for that championship.
Luongo has been involved in trade rumours for nearly two years, especially after then-coach Alain Vigneault elected to start Cory Schneider in a critical 2012 playoff contest.
Luongo's mother, Lina, told CBC Radio that Tuesday's news caught their family off guard.
"We were Vancouver Canucks fans for the last eight years and we didn't expect it [the trade to Florida] this year," she said. "Last year we came to Vancouver during the trade deadline, expecting him to leave then — it didn't happen. So this year we were really not thinking about this at all. It really caught us by surprise."
Markstrom gets chance to shine
Gillis tried to move Luongo, but the player's lengthy contract proved one of the obstacles. Efforts were also hampered as Luongo had considerable say in where he could be moved.
Luongo said he had no bitterness toward Gills as to what happened over the last couple of years.
"It's tough for everybody," Luongo said. "Everybody involved in this process had some tough decisions to make. 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."
It was Schneider who was dealt last summer, to New Jersey.
Luongo's camp, thinking the goalie's days in Vancouver were done after the 2013 season, said they were blindsided by the Schneider trade. Luongo reportedly looked into the possibility of voiding his contract, but reported to training camp.
Gillis once thought so highly of Luongo that he made him captain in 2008. The unconventional move lasted for two years before Luongo stepped aside from the role.
Vancouver will now move ahead in its playoff push with an all-Swedish goalie tandem and a new depth forward, although there could be more transactions to come before the Wednesday deadline.
Matthias has scored 48 goals and 49 assists in 312 NHL games, all spent with Florida. The 26-year-old was originally a second-round draft pick of Detroit in 2006.
The six-foot-six Markstrom was a second round pick of Florida's in 2008, but hasn't been able to fully seize the No. 1 job for the Panthers.
Markstrom is 11-25-5 in parts of four seasons in Florida, with a 3.21 goals-against average and .874 save percentage
In a minor deal on Tuesday, the Canucks traded Patrick Mullen to Ottawa for Jeff Costello, a forward currently playing at the University of Notre Dame.