With his large Vancouver Canucks hockey bag slung over one shoulder, goalie Roberto Luongo walked out of the Panthers facility Monday morning.
“See you next week,” Luongo told a member of the Coral Springs Iceplex’s staff before heading out the door.
Luongo flew to Vancouver on Tuesday to participate in the Canucks’ charity golf tournament and continue his informal offseason workouts with his teammates.
If the NHL owners lockout their players as expected come Saturday night, Luongo plans to continue his workouts in South Florida.
So, once Luongo leaves Vancouver, will he return?
“I have no idea what is going to happen,” he said.
Luongo, who played with Florida from 2000-05, wants to return to the Panthers.
It appears there is mutual interest, too. Panthers general manager Dale Tallon spoke to the Canucks about a potential trade in June, but talks have cooled.
The Canucks are said to want a number of Florida’s top young players in return for Luongo. However, the Panthers aren’t interested in parting with any of their future building blocks. Nothing will happen on the trade front until labor issues are settled.
For Luongo, it appears his time in Vancouver is over.
Once one of the Canucks’ most popular players, Luongo’s reputation has taken a beating over the past few years. Luongo struggled in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, including a 4-0 loss in Game 7 in Vancouver, and that carried over into last season.
Luongo was replaced by backup Cory Schnieder in last season’s opening round loss to the Kings. Schnieder then signed a three-year deal worth $12 million all but making him the Canucks’ starting goalie. There really isn’t room for both. Luongo will likely move on.
“This is a business. You see these things happen when you are in the game long enough,” Luongo said.
With a no-trade clause in a monster contract that has 10 years left at a cap hit of $5.3 million per, the Canucks just can’t trade him anywhere.
There had been reports Luongo told general manager Mike Gillis he would accept a trade to the Panthers, Toronto or Chicago. Luongo denied that, saying that Gillis has not asked him for a list of teams he would play for.
Luongo did say he told Gillis, without prompting, that he would prefer a trade back to the Sunshine State.
“You never want to be traded. You want to have success with the team you are with,” Luongo said. “I have some control but I’m not a free agent by any means. At some point I’m going to have to make a decision. Of course, Florida is a spot I would like to end up. But there will be options out there. I have to be careful to make the right decision.”
Luongo, a Montreal native, has made his home in South Florida after meeting wife Gina while playing for the Panthers. Their oldest daughter is currently enrolled in school here as Luongo is uncertain what will happen with the lockout and his status with the Canucks.
“I don’t know what to expect. I’m just treating this as a regular start to a season,” he said. “For me, things are the same. I’m going back to Vancouver and I’m going to work hard. There are things I don’t control. But I’m going to make the best of it.
“Of course this is strange. I don’t know what the future holds. You don’t know when a trade will happen or whether it even will. There have been some stressful moments. But I’m still here, doing the job I love.”