Bertuzzi, Luongo Traded on Eve of Draft

The Associated Press
Saturday, June 24, 2006; 6:44 AM

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The Vancouver Canucks and Florida Panthers kicked off a busy weekend in the NHL with a blockbuster deal. On the eve of the NHL draft, the Canucks sent maligned power forward Todd Bertuzzi to Florida on Friday and acquired goalie Roberto Luongo in the five-player trade.

Vancouver also got defenseman Lukas Krajicek and a sixth-round pick in the deal that sent young goalie Alex Auld and defenseman Bryan Allen to Florida.

Canucks general manager Dave Nonis showed his sense of humor when he was asked what sealed the deal involving the two star players.

"The sixth-round pick," Nonis said.

That said, the St. Louis Blues should have no trouble trumping that Saturday in the draft. Despite several offers for the first overall pick, Blues GM Larry Pleau said he still plans to use it to take towering Minnesota defenseman Erik Johnson.

"Part of my responsibility to owners, to media, to fans, is to make sure your ears are open, but nothing has really come across the table that makes any sense for us yet," Pleau said after a meeting with all 30 GMs on Friday.

If Johnson is taken with the No. 1 pick, he'll join Brian Lawton (1983), Mike Modano (1988), Bryan Berard (1995) and Rick DiPietro (2000) as the only U.S.-born players to top the draft. Twelve U.S. players are ranked as potential first-round picks _ the record is eight last year _ and Phil Kessel and Peter Mueller could also be among the top six Saturday.

"It's a testament to see how far American hockey has come the past couple of years to be one of the elite hockey nations, Johnson said.

For now, however, it's a pair of 2006 Canadian Olympic teammates in Bertuzzi and Luongo stealing the headlines in Vancouver.

Nonis said it was time for a change for scenery for Bertuzzi, who was suspended for the end of the 2003-04 season and playoffs after his on-ice attack left Colorado's Steve Moore with fractured vertebrae in his neck and a concussion that has so far prevented him from returning to the NHL.

"Todd will be better off in a new city," Nonis said. "Todd never said I'll never play in Vancouver again, but I think he recognized and we had some discussions that if there was a situation that worked for him elsewhere, then maybe it was better for him to move on. He's been really unfairly hammered in this market and I think he'll be better off in Florida."

Bertuzzi also was given a year of probation and sentenced to 80 hours of community service after pleading guilty in a Vancouver court to criminal assault and receiving a conditional discharge. He still faces a civil suit filed by Moore.

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