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.”
Florida traded Luongo to the Canucks on the eve of the 2005 NHL Draft, which was being held in Vancouver.
It was a trade in which the Panthers got fleeced. While the Canucks got a goalie who helped lead them to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011, Florida got a solid defenseman in Bryan Allen and not much else. Todd Bertuzzi, the cornerstone of the deal in then-GM Mike Keenan’s mind, played just seven games with the Panthers because of a back injury. Goalie Alex Auld spent just one season here.
The Panthers traded Bertuzzi to Detroit for prospect Shawn Matthias, who has blossomed into a strong bottom six center for Florida. Coincidentally, Matthias’ name has come up in the Luongo trade rumors as one who may go west if a trade does go down.
The trade cost Keenan his job as he was fired on Labor Day 2006 and replaced as GM by then-coach Jacques Martin.
For now, the Panthers plan to go into the season with the same goaltending that helped win them the Southeast Division championship last year.
While Luongo has been working out on the opposite side of the facility with amateur players, Scott Clemmensen and Jose Theodore have been on the ice with past and current members of the Panthers — including former Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun — preparing for the season.
Although Luongo would be welcomed at the informal workouts, he has avoided the awkwardness that might bring. Luongo has trained earlier in the morning, leaving just as the Panthers are taking the ice.
Theodore and Clemmensen have heard the rumors but they don’t seem to bother them. Theodore, like Luongo, has a no-trade clause in his contract. Theodore has one year left in his deal and it doesn’t seem like he would waive it to be a part of a potential deal for Luongo.
Clemmensen, however, has no such protection. Even though he recently signed a two-year deal with the Panthers, if the Canucks need a goalie in return, Clemmensen could be headed west.
“There are always rumors and you understand that when you sign a pro contract, we don’t have the luxury of job security,” Clemmensen said. “You want stability and don’t want those question marks. But it’s part of the job.”
With the NHL on the verge of its third lockout since 1994, the Panthers made a number of roster moves on Wednesday.
Prized prospect Jonathan Huberdeau was the biggest name to be impacted as he was officially sent back to his junior team in the Quebec league. When the lockout ends, Huberdeau is expected to join the Panthers and spend the season in Florida.
Other players, such as Jacob Markstrom, Alex Petrovic, Colby Robak and Drew Shore, were sent to Florida’s AHL affiliate in San Antonio. The Panthers also placed a handful of players on waivers so they could be assigned to San Antonio upon clearing.