After the 2005-06 season, Mike Keenan made the worst trade in Florida Panthers history. Franchise goalie and fan favorite Roberto Luongo was dealt to Vancouver for an incredibly sad return of Todd Bertuzzi, Bryan Allen and Alex Auld. Bertuzzi was then dealt to Detroit for Shawn Matthias after spending only seven games with the Panthers.
Fans never forgave or forgot. The player most capable of leading them back to post-season glory was gone and there was almost nothing to show for it.
But Tuesday, the Panthers righted a horrible wrong that never should have happened by getting Luongo back for Jacob Markstrom and Shawn Matthias. Luongo never wanted to leave and his Florida supporters would have been happy if he finished his career in a Panthers uniform. And now he almost certainly will.
The trade is a huge win for the Panthers, who pick up a high end No. 1 goalie to backstop their ongoing rebuild project, likely until he calls it a career. By age, he may not be the perfect fit into Florida’s model, but for a young team to flourish, it needs a reliable goalie behind it. Luongo is that goalie.
But what the heck is Mike Gillis doing in Vancouver? Last June, the Canucks were in possession of Cory Schneider and Luongo, the two best goalies the franchise has ever had, and now they have neither and are left with Bo Horvat, Markstrom and Matthias to show for it. When he elected to move Schneider at last summer’s draft because he couldn’t get what he wanted in return for Luongo, Gillis was supposed to have chosen his goalie for the next eight years or so. Today he conflicted that conclusion and set the Canucks on a very confusing path.
If the Canucks weren’t already done as a contender, they surely are now, especially with Ryan Kesler’s time with the franchise ticking down.
Luongo moves from one goalie controversy to potentially another, where he teams up with 2011 Stanley Cup final rival Tim Thomas, which should make for a few great tire-pumping jokes from Luongo on Twitter.
For the time being anyway.
At first glance, the acquisition of Luongo means all signs are pointing to a Thomas trade, for whatever the Panthers can get. But should Wednesday’s deadline come and go without a move, the rest of this season will be fun to watch in Florida – and how often have we been able to say that?
Today is a rare victory for the Panthers and a massive, head-scratching, and avoidable loss for the Canucks. If Gillis does have a plan – which he doesn’t seem to anymore – he better get busy enacting it on Wednesday.
Because if he doesn’t make a positive move, he risks becoming to the Canucks what Mike Keenan still is to the Panthers: a disappointment and a failure.