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Panthers welcome back Luongo, trade Thomas

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 5, 2014 at 4:35 pm •  Published: March 5, 2014

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — This time, Roberto Luongo got what Tim Thomas wanted.

Luongo was formally welcomed back by the Florida Panthers on Wednesday, the reunion ceremony coming shortly after the team made its second significant swap of goaltenders in as many days by sending Thomas — who grudgingly waived a no-trade clause — to the Dallas Stars.

With that, goalies who squared off when Thomas and Boston beat Luongo and Vancouver in the 2011 Stanley Cup finals were headed different ways.

"This is the beginning of something special for this Florida Panthers organization, having Roberto back in the fold and back here in Florida where he belongs," Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said. "The franchise is excited about it, we're going to grow together and win many championships, starting today."

The Panthers almost certainly won't be going to the playoffs this season, which made them trade-deadline sellers.

In Luongo's case, they also saw fit to be buyers.

Luongo has long considered South Florida home, and whenever he retires, he won't be living anyplace else. But he acknowledged that he had lost hope of ever returning as a player to the Panthers, largely because of what's left on a $64 million contract that won't expire until 2022.

"I feel like I'm more popular here now than when I played here, for some reason, which is crazy," Luongo said. "It's crazy. But I swear, every time I go out, there's people recognizing me, which I don't remember as much when I was younger. Hopefully, good things will happen out of it."

For Florida, it was a wild 48 hours, starting with a phone call Tallon got from the Canucks on Monday afternoon asking if the Panthers — as they had many times in the past — wanted to take another shot at bringing back Luongo, who they traded away in 2006. That deal got done, and then Thomas was approached Wednesday morning with a plan that would send him to the Stars.

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