It’s Roberto Luongo Ring of Honour Night in Vancouver as his new/old team, the Florida Panthers, comes to town.
Roberto Luongo Ring of Honour Worthy
The celebrations and ceremony kick off at 5:30 in Rogers Arena, but the articles, like this one, are going all day. And for very good reasons, too. In our opinion, in the argument about the best-ever Canucks career, it’s a choice of two. Both have a speckled history, but it’s either Roberto Luongo or Pavel Bure.
Let’s hit the stats:
Luongo is Vancouver’s second most prolific goaltender, playing in 448 games over eight seasons. He faced the second-highest number of shots, 12,693, and allowed just 1,030 past him. He has the second-highest career save percentage in Canucks history at .919%. Consequently, he also has the second-best goals-against average at 2.36 GAA.
The leader for those last two stats was his teammate and frequent backup Cory Schneider, who has just 98 games played. An excellent goaltender, but one that it could be argued wasn’t given enough time to fail, unlike Luongo’s rocky road.
But legends are made in the playoffs. While no goaltender has managed to get the Canucks to the promise land of a Stanley Cup victory, three, including Luongo, have come awfully close. Here again, Luongo’s stats come second with 64 games played and 32 wins.
On His Way
The Roberto Luongo Ring of Honour celebration is going to be all about his time in Vancouver, naturally enough. The instant he came to the Canucks, their entire outlook changed. It’s easy for fans there to think of him as springing fully formed from the forehead of Zeus, if only because they didn’t see his growing pains.
That was a hit Mike Milbury took during his disastrous tenure as the New York Islanders General Manager. The rookie was openly criticized by Milbury in his 24-game debut season, getting traded to the Florida Panthers once it ended. He spent the next five seasons as the best player on the Panthers, two with Pavel Bure, coincidentally.
Luongo joined the Panthers after they made the playoffs in 1999-2000, and would miss every year until 2011-12. His five seasons were frustrating enough that he started letting management know they needed to improve to keep him. At that moment, Vancouver had their own massive controversy, and a deal was reached in July of 2006.
How to Win Games and Influence People
He joined a Canucks team that was slowly becoming a powerhouse, building off of two 100+ point seasons before missing the playoffs in 2005-06. Luongo’s first taste of the NHL playoffs happened in 2007 with an insane duel against Marty Turco and the 50-win Dallas Stars. You wouldn’t think it after Game One finished 5-4 but know that match went into FOUR overtime periods. Turco was excellent, stopping 51 of Vancouver’s 56 shots. Luongo, in his first NHL playoff game, stopped Dallas 72 times on 76 shots. It was a precursor to the entire series, with Vancouver winning despite being shut out three times and winning Game Seven 4-1 only because of two empty net goals.
That penalty-filled, equally-matched series was the perfect baptism for Luongo, even if the Canucks were eliminated in the next round. Even that final game would become the stuff of legend, if not for any of the right reasons.
Why Just the Roberto Luongo Ring of Honour?
This is Vancouver, after all, home of both a Goalie Graveyard Era and a Goalie Controversy one. Was Vancouver really so bad? Well, here’s what we said about it back in July when we were pondering who the backup would be:
The goalies who played 30 or more games for the Canucks in a single season after McLean are a thoroughly mixed bunch. Artūrs Irbe kicked it off, followed by Garth Snow, Felix Potvin, Bob Essensa, Dan Cloutier, and Alex Auld. Ten more are mixed in the list, but none stuck.
Irbe and Auld were the best of the lot, and Auld’s last year was good enough to be part of the Luongo deal. So, in a way, he helped Vancouver’s goaltending get back on track after a lost decade.
And he really did! But that doesn’t mean Luongo’s Canucks tenure was always an easy one. There were mild criticisms of not performing as well during the playoffs as he did in the regular season. It wasn’t a totally unfair critique, though it was mostly inspired by two consecutive second-round losses to the Chicago Blackhawks. As an side note, both these losses came with Luongo wearing the captain’s C. Seriously, goalies and Vancouver, man. It just gets weird.
The criticisms got louder after Vancouver’s failed 2010-11 run to the Stanley Cup Final. Despite Luongo pitching two shutouts in the series, he took the brunt of the loss from angry fans. It was wildly unfair, given the team could only manage eight goals in seven games.
He started losing time to Schneider during the regular season and also in the next two playoff runs. It got bad enough that whispers of a trade being not only possible but expected started circulating. They only got louder through the 2011-12 season as he lost starts to Schneider, eventually playing less than half of the games in 2012-13. The team’s relationship with Luongo went from bad to worse. In April of 2013, after a year of rumours and swallowed pride, he wasn’t moved at the trade deadline. His frustration boiled out with the famous “My contract sucks” press conference.
Time to Go
A playoff sweep at the hands of the San Jose Sharks ended coach Alain Vigneault‘s tenure and the desperate team brought in “taskmaster” John Tortorella. Luongo said he would waive his no-trade clause if management asked him to. Schneider was given a new, three-year deal and Luongo put his house up for sale. Then in a shocking move, Schneider was the one traded.
The two goaltenders had a very good relationship, with Luongo accepting that Schneider was the team’s new starter. He even went so far as to describe the Canucks as “Cory’s team” at the start of the 2013 playoffs, accepting his role as backup. Then of course, with Schneider moved he accepted the new paradigm and went back to work.
There was some conflict with the new coach, a discordant dressing room, and the ongoing criticism from the public. But he did his job well through all of it, playing 42 games with a .917 save percentage even as the team stumbled. Then came the Heritage Classic, the Canucks first and only outdoor game, and where Tortorella decided to play Backup rookie Eddie Läck.
According to Luongo, he was promised the start before the season even began, ensuring family and friends could get tickets. According to Tortorella, it was a cut-and-dried decision to go with the goaltender who was playing better. Which, of course, is either utter nonsense hiding an ego-driven power-play or proof of the coach’s utter cluelessness about the world around him.
Eddie Läck, who was booed by a crowd that wanted to boo the coach, didn’t really comment. But just for being between the coach and the fans perhaps it should be the Eddie Läck and Roberto Luongo Ring of Honour celebration.
Aaaaand He’s Gone(-ish)
Two days later, Luongo was traded back to the Florida Panthers with Vancouver retaining a small portion of his deal. In theory, that was about $800,000 per season until the contract expired in 2021-22. To fit him into Vancouver’s cap structure, general manager Mike Gillis gave Luongo a 12-year, $64 million deal.
It wasn’t a difficult situation, as Luongo was easily worth the year-to-year price. And if Vancouver got a Stanley Cup out of it, the later cost would be forgiven. In the meantime, they could use the cap savings to get other players. Alas, there was a particular flaw in that plan, and that was retirement.
When he retired in 2019, there were three years left on his deal. And since the league is filled with vindictive owners and their lawyers, Vancouver had to pay a cap recapture penalty that didn’t exist when the contract was signed. The $800,000 cap hit that was already following the Canucks jumped to $3 million until it finally expired in 2022.
Opinion around Luongo has been revised in Vancouver since he left. Partially, it was simply the absence of all the drama surrounding him. Partially, it was his secret-not-so-secret Twitter account “Strombone1” where his personality could relax. With the pressure of his being a failed saviour gone from both fans and player, a reconciliation was inevitable.
And with that, let the celebration begin.
Main photo: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports