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BLOCKBUSTER RETURNS TO SUNRISE: Panthers Get Roberto Luongo Back, Tim Thomas Florida Future Decided Soon

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

BOSTON -- Roberto Luongo is coming home.

The Florida Panthers reacquired their former All-Star goalie on Tuesday almost eight years after trading him in what is considered one of the worst deals in NHL history.

Luongo originally came to the Panthers along with Olli Jokinen in a similarly lopsided deal -- this one in Florida's favor -- in 2000.

"It's nice, it's home,'' Luongo told reporters in shortly after the news broke.

"The new ownership is committed to winning and there are some good young players there. This is a good opportunity for me.''

Florida gave up goalie prospect Jacob Markstrom and forward Shawn Matthias for Luongo -- who still resides a few miles from the Panthers' training facility in northwest Broward County. The Panthers also got prospect Steven Anthony, a former linemate of Florida's reigning rookie of the year Jonathan Huberdeau.

Luongo, who is signed through 2022, is owed roughly $32 million with Vancouver paying 15 percent.

The Panthers are expected to re-introduce Luongo on Wednesday afternoon at BB&T Center.

"It's huge,'' general manager Dale Tallon said. "He's a big name down here. It sets the tone for our franchise. .-.-. [We] want to win the Stanley Cup but talk is cheap. We're acting and following up on what we said we would do.''

Last summer, Luongo requested a trade from Vancouver and the Panthers -- one of the few teams he would waive his no-trade deal for -- looked into making a deal.

With the team for sale and the Canucks wanting a lot for Luongo (reportedly including center Nick Bjugstad) nothing happened. Vancouver dealt Cory Schneider to New Jersey and Luongo, the Canucks' former captain, was Vancouver's starter again.

"Sometimes it takes years to get the right deal done,'' Tallon said.

So, on Monday. Tallon called Vancouver's Mike Gillis to "kick the tires'' and ask about Luongo again. Talks heated up Monday night and Tallon spoke to owners Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu as well as new CEO Rory Babich to see if he could continue working the deal Tuesday morning.

"I was given the green light,'' Tallon said. "And here we are. I'm excited about. I think it's great for our franchise.''

Said Gillis: "Now that they've gotten new ownership .-.-. they were able to do things.''

Luongo, scheduled to start Vancouver's game in Phoenix Tuesday night, was taking his pregame nap when Gillis woke him with news of the deal.

"I thought my contract was untradable,'' Luongo said. "I wasn't expecting this to happen especially not today.''

Despite being traded by the Panthers' Mike Keenan in 2006 (for Todd Bertuzzi, Alex Auld and Bryan Allen), Luongo never left his home in Broward.

After all, he met his wife Gina while she was working at her father's Italian restaurant in Coral Springs just a mile from the Panthers rink. The Luongo's now have two children and lots of happy relatives waiting in South Florida.

"This is good for my family,'' said Luongo, who is originally from just north of Montreal.

Bringing back Luongo -- who lost his duel with new (if temporary) teammate Tim Thomas in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals -- could be a game-changer for a franchise trying to fight its way back into South Florida's consciousness.

Former Panthers coach Kevin Dineen told Canada's Rogers Sportsnet that Luongo will pay on and off the ice.

"I'm a big believer in Roberto Luongo,'' said Dineen, fired by the Panthers in November. "He's going to his happy place. I think this is going to put him in a good frame of mind which he hasn't been in Vancouver the past few years. He's where he wanted to go. He's still a name in Florida, will bring fans to the building.''

For that, however, the Panthers may have paid a steep price.

Not only will Florida dole out a lot for Luongo in salary -- he'll make $6.714 million the following three seasons before it goes down considerably -- but Markstrom was considered the franchise's 'goalie of the future.'

Tallon says Luongo's track record trumped Markstrom's potential.

"We're getting a great goaltender, a proven commodity,'' Tallon said. "Jacob has great upside but we needed to make a statement. .-.-. You have to pay the price to get guys like this. You don't get Roberto Luongo for nothing.''

Florida could now move Thomas -- named the league's top goalie twice -- as early as Wednesday's trade deadline.

Tallon said he would talk to Thomas and see what he wants to do. Thomas has a no-trade clause, one he may now waive although he said he and Luongo could co-exist.

"I was surprised at first, like a lot of people, I didn't see that coming,'' Thomas said after Tuesday's 4-1 loss in Boston. "I don't know what their plans are right now, so I can't say much. I have to see the situation, see what they're thinking. I'm going to check in with Dale.''

The Panthers also gave up Matthias, the player they got from Detroit in the Bertuzzi (who played seven games with Florida) trade of 2007.

Matthias had three goals in Florida's previous two games.

"I think he may need a change of scenery,'' Dineen said.

-- Lost in the shuffle of the Luongo news were two other moves made by the Panthers. Defenseman Mike Weaver was sent to Montreal for a fifth round selection in the 2015 draft.

Before the Luongo news broke, Brad Boyes signed a two-year deal worth just over $5 million. Boyes, Florida's leading goal scorer, said getting Luongo trade bolstered his decision.

"We're not standing pat, it's not a rebuild,'' Boyes said. "We're going to win some games and I think we're going to do something really big next year. I want to be part of this.''

 

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