It hasn’t been the easiest summer for Roberto Luongo.
He doesn’t want to be a Canuck. The Canucks don’t want him to be a Canuck. But here he is in September, and he’s still a Canuck.
That, as he explained to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, has been, at times, rough, tough and stressful. It’d nice if his clouded future would clear up. Nicer still, if, when it does, he’s still in Florida.
When the offseason started, the Panthers were widely rumoured to be Luongo’s favoured destination.
Luongo has since confirmed the bread crumb trail, not hiding from the fact he’d like to follow it back to the Sunshine State, where his kids were born.
And, remember, Luongo, with his no-trade clause, holds the hammer on where he’ll be playing in the NHL, whenever it starts.
No, Luongo hasn’t shut the door on other teams. He hasn’t said, “Florida or bust.” And read nothing into the fact he’s skating at the Panthers’ practice facility, because he’s there every year.
But he has given the Florida team “preferred” status and has been angling for a deal there, both publicly and behind the scenes, where he has discussed things with Panthers management.
“[Florida] makes sense for myself, for my career and my family,” Luongo told the Sun Sentinel. “That being said, there’s obvious other options as well.
“This is a preferred location for obvious reasons, but I’m not shutting the door on other possibilities if it comes up.”
Some will infer from this, not entirely inaccurately, that he won’t be overly enthusiastic about options outside Florida. That may help Luongo get his Panthers jersey back, but it likely won’t help the Canucks’ position.
They’ve tried to maintain that they are dealing from a position of strength and could still bring back both Luongo and Cory Schneider, if they had to.
This, even after Luongo said it’s “time to move on” at the World Series of Poker two months ago, a line that will be revisited ad nauseam if he ends up with the Canucks at training camp.
In trade talks earlier in the summer, the Panthers failed to offer anything the Canucks would consider. With both Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen signed, they can continue to offer salary dumps while waiting the Canucks out.
It’s left Vancouver now trying to expand the Luongo market to teams other than the ones that have been attached to the rumours all offseason, including Toronto, Chicago and Columbus.
But expanding the market gets more difficult if the perception persists that Luongo only has eyes for the Panthers.
Why get into the grind of a negotiation with Vancouver GM Mike Gillis if you believe Luongo will veto the deal when asked for approval?
In fact, you can make the case this situation would have been a lot easier for the Canucks if the Panthers were never an option.
Vancouver has shown a lot of patience in waiting for the right Luongo deal, passing on offers earlier in the offseason that would have seen them take on significant salary.
There is a perception the Canucks will increasingly feel pressure to unload Luongo the closer we get to the start of the season.