Best trade Sens never made?

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:14 AM ET

A couple of nights before the NHL draft in Vancouver last June, the Senators thought they were about to land a big one.

Then-Panthers GM Mike Keenan decided he couldn't take it anymore, he didn't want to deal with Roberto Luongo or his agent, Gilles Lupien; the time had come to move on.

Sources say Senators GM John Muckler believed he had made an offer the Panthers would accept, a package that may have included veteran defenceman Chris Phillips, forward Antoine Vermette and goalie Ray Emery in exchange for Luongo.

But, the word is, the Senators got into the game too late and, by that point, Keenan had already decided he was going to accept an offer he got on the eve of the draft that would send Luongo to the Canucks for defenceman Bryan Allen, goalie Alex Auld and winger Todd Bertuzzi.

So the Senators missed out. Imagine, if they'd landed Luongo, Muckler would never have signed goalie Martin Gerber to that three-year, $11.1-million (all terms US) deal on July 1.

However, as the Senators look back, they're probably happy Keenan decided not to accept their offer. Phillips has been a top blueliner, Vermette is showing flashes of star potential and Emery has emerged as a No. 1 goalie.

As for the Canucks, they have to be tickled that Keenan took their offer. Allen is only okay, Auld hasn't established himself as a No. 1 goalie and Bertuzzi has missed most of the season with a back injury.

Keenan has since been fired and replaced by coach Jacques Martin, who is telling anybody who will listen the club has taken a step back in the net. To make matters worse, Bertuzzi could walk away from the Panthers this summer as an unrestricted free agent.

This isn't the first time Luongo has been dealt. In one of the worst trades in the history of the NHL, he was dealt to the Panthers with Olli Jokinen by the Islanders for Mark Parrish and Oleg Kvasha on June 14, 2000. The GM of that Florida team was a guy named Bryan Murray.

"We knew that he was going to be a special talent when we brought him into the league," said Murray. "He's one of the top goalies in the league. He makes big stops. Like Ray Emery is doing for us, (Luongo) has done that for Vancouver. Looking at their penalty killing in particular, they're one of the top-ranked teams and your best penalty killer is the goalie."

OUTSTANDING FOR CANUCKS

That's why the Canucks couldn't be happier with their acquisition of Luongo.

"He's by far the best goalie I've ever played with," said Canucks captain Markus Naslund.

The 26-year-old, who signed a five-year deal at $6.75 million per season, has been nothing short of excellent. He's played in all of the Canucks' 26 wins going into last night's game against the Senators at Scotiabank Place.

"There's not a team in this league that can win without elite goaltending and Luongo gives us elite goaltending every game," said Vancouver assistant coach Rick Bowness. "When you have that every game, it gives us a chance to win. He's been outstanding since Day 1. He's the first guy on the ice. He works his butt off on every shot."

Sure, Ottawa fans must wonder "what if," but there's one area where Emery has Luongo beat: The playoffs. Luongo has never played in the post-season while Emery has played in 10 playoff games and won a series.

"(Luongo's) putting pressure on himself. He wants to prove that he can take a team to the playoffs and do well," said coach Alain Vigneualt. "That being said, if we are going to get to the playoffs in the toughest division in the NHL, we are going to need more than (Luongo). This is going to be, obviously, a whole team effort."


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