Why the Roberto Luongo saga finally ended in Vancouver | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in CanadaWhy the Roberto Luongo saga finally ended in Vancouver

Posted: Wednesday, March 5, 2014 | 01:27 AM

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Roberto Luongo has been involved in trade rumours for nearly two years and the saga finally ended when the Vancouver Canucks traded the goalie to the Florida Panthers on Tuesday. (Andy Clark/Reuters) Roberto Luongo has been involved in trade rumours for nearly two years and the saga finally ended when the Vancouver Canucks traded the goalie to the Florida Panthers on Tuesday. (Andy Clark/Reuters)

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Both the Vancouver Canucks and Florida Panthers had serious incentive to finalize a deal with goalie Roberto Luongo. Hockey Night in commentator Elliotte Friedman breaks down how the sides pulled off the biggest trade of the year so far ahead of the NHL trade deadline.

Roberto Luongo was determined to make this a distraction-free season. He didn't want a repeat of 2012-13, where he could have joined Bryan Cranston, Jon Hamm and Kevin Spacey as nominees for outstanding lead actor in a drama series.

Luongo knew his chance at becoming a three-time Olympian -- with a shot at back-to-back gold medals -- would be hurt if he lacked focus, played poorly and pouted. He avoided all that, posting an above-league-average .917 save percentage in 42 Canuck starts.

He made the Olympic team, accepted the disappointment of being Carey Price's backup without complaint and enjoyed the championship run. There was no drama.

"I'm in a good spot now mentally," he said last week. "Things change all the time. Sometimes you want certain things [and] they don't happen. Sometimes you're not expecting something to happen and it does ... I'm happy right now and I don't want to worry about what's going to happen in the future."

Then came Saturday.

Vancouver head coach John Tortorella informed Luongo he would not start The Heritage Classic against Ottawa. Yes, Eddie Lack played great after the Olympic break, allowing just one goal in 125 non-shootout minutes. But, according to one source, "In Luongo's mind, this wasn't just an average Tuesday-night game."

He felt he'd earned this honour with his eight years of service to the Canucks.

Out of that disappointment, the biggest trade of 2014 (so far) became possible.

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The right combination

"Sometimes it takes years to get the right deal done," Panthers GM Dale Tallon said on a conference call Tuesday evening. "We've been going at it hard for a couple of years. We finally got it done."

What changed?

After several conversations, there are four major reasons this came together in less than 72 hours: Luongo's agent, Pat Brisson, was given permission to explore the market on his own; Lack's emergence; the Panthers are under new ownership looking to make a splash; and the Canucks adjusted expectations on the return.

Brisson declined comment Tuesday night, but it's believed he and Luongo had a phone conversation Saturday after the goalie learned of his Heritage Classic fate. From there, the agent called Canucks President & GM Mike Gillis to protest the decision on behalf of his client.

During that conversation, Gillis gave Brisson permission to search for a trade. How much do you want to bet the first phone call landed in area code 954?

Some time in the last few weeks, Florida let Vancouver know it was looking for goaltending help. Scott Clemmensen and Tim Thomas are not long-term solutions, and the Panthers were down on one-time uberprospect Jacob Markstrom.

There were some conversations, but it sounds like both teams were wary of last year's tortuous dance that created hundreds of ulcers and nothing close to a trade.

Both sides had serious incentive to make this work, though. The Canucks, with growing faith in Lack, didn't need another goaltending controversy in a year that really threatens to go sideways.

"It's a wake-up call that we're not performing where we should be," Gillis told reporters.

Welcome back

Florida's fan-base will be happy to have Luongo. He's a familiar face who will be ecstatic to returning. That will please new owner Vinnie Viola, who had other business reasons to approve the added expenditure.

The team is in negotiations with Broward County (where it is located) for a change in its lease agreement. It is attempting to ease its responsibility towards debt payments on the arena. In exchange, the Panthers have promised to increase spending on player salaries.

Adding Luongo, under contract for eight more years at a cap hit of $4.53M (after Vancouver's 15 per cent share) makes that promise look better. So does re-signing leading goal-scorer Brad Boyes, which they also did Tuesday.

"I was given the green light to see what we could get done and we eventually got it done," Tallon said.

The two teams began serious discussions Monday afternoon. There was some haggling, particularly over how much of Luongo's remaining deal the Canucks would pay, but nothing like last year's conversational mishmash.

It turns out there was real optimism about a trade Monday night, although Luongo apparently wouldn't let his wife know until Tuesday, because his family didn't need any more near-misses.

Canuck fans aren't thrilled about going from a goaltending tandem of Luongo and Cory Schneider to one of Lack and maybe Markstrom. Lack's got a real chance, though. What we're really talking about here, however, is a franchise recognizing it needs change.

You can argue whether or not this is a rebuilding or a "re-tooling," as Gillis called it. It's like debating the best cut of a steak.

Let's see what happens with Ryan Kesler. Then we're really going to know where the organization is going.

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