Today I take a look at a player that for some of you has been sorely missed, and for others like me, would have been happy to drive to the airport on his way out of town….Roberto Luongo. I know that seems kinda harsh on my end, but from what I remember about his departure (yes there were two sides to the story), and how his career has turned out I don’t miss him. At all. The fact that he now plays for a team that is despised by many doesn’t help either. As we take a look back at his career, 7uongo (not a typo) was drafted fourth overall in the first round by the New York Islanders in 1997. However their brilliant general manager at the time Mike Milbury thought so highly of Rick DiPietro that he was coerced into a trade with the Florida Panthers that saw Louie come here with Olli Jokinen for forward’s Mark Parrish and Oleg Kvasha. The entire fanbase of the Panthers can look back on that deal and laugh, while the Islanders’ faithful are either weeping or cursing Milbury for his poor judgement. But see that’s the thing with trades and young players….you never know how things will work out.
Luongo played for the Panthers for five seasons becoming a fan favourite, and goaltending workhorse by the time he left town. His best season statistically for the Panthers was in 2005-2006 when he appeared in 75 games, won 35 of them with a 2.97 GAA, a .914 save percentage and four shutouts. That season which would be his last was tumultuous for a number of reasons, including Hurricane Wilma ripping through South Florida in October. Something that the team had some obvious difficulty dealing with as did locals like myself. The effects became evident during a 12 game losing streak starting in October and carrying through mid November, virtually killing any shot of playoff hockey. Six of those losses were by one goal as the pattern of losing leads late in the game had it’s birth, which we saw continue for the next few seasons.
Soft goals given up by our subject today, and sloppy play by the forwards and defenceman all gave indication that the team had zero confidence. 12 losses that year came in overtime or a shootout, which would become another issue for the team to overcome in the coming years. The Panthers finished with a record of 37-34-11 good enough for 4th in the Southeastern division, and 11th in the Eastern conference, missing the playoffs.
While I won’t rehash the sordid details that led up to his trade and all the drama surrounding it, by the time it was over it was a relief. The first of a few overrated players who wouldn’t commit, or weren’t sure if they wanted to stay in Florida, Luongo was traded to the Vancouver Canucks for defenceman Bryan Allen, forward Todd Bertuzzi, and young goaltender Alex Auld. Auld was the Canucks primary goaltender the season before, and in 67 games won 33 of them. Many viewed this as one of the worst trades in NHL history based on a number of factors, but face it folks, we weren’t winning with him, and we didn’t win without him (Luongo). To briefly recap, Bertuzzi missed most of the season with a bad back and was later traded to Detroit for Shawn Matthias, and Auld injured his knee mid season, came back and was no where near his previous season’s level of play. His confidence was also shot because of it. In contrast, and this is for you Mr. Knowsnothing sitting in section 119, in the five years Luongo played for Florida he won 108 games and had 26 shutouts. Tomas Vokoun played for four years with 101 wins and 23 shutouts. Make your own assumptions, or comparisons.
Luongo and Vancouver would enjoy a successful regular season (as he continues to do each and every year), however it’s his playoff performances that have “done” him in. For example in 2006-2007 Luongo gave up this goal as he briefly took his eye off the play thinking that a penalty should have been called. It would set the tone for his future postseason failures, and there were many. The next season Vancouver missed the playoffs, but in 2008-2009 the nemeses known as the Chicago Blackhawks would begin to haunt him. That year among others, Patrick Kane would be his enemy and in game six of the series the Hawks and Kane combined to lite Luongo up like a Christmas tree for SEVEN goals (thus the reference in the title of this post) including a Patrick Kane hat trick. If you watch that video closely you’ll even see our own Dale Tallon with some emotion. Luongo won 33 games that year, and despite that horrific playoff ending was awarded a 12 year contract with some pretty interesting incentives and “demands”.
In 2009-2010 head coach Alain Vigneault had the bright idea to name Louie the team captain. Virtually an unheard of idea, but one that Vigneault felt was the right choice due to the goaltenders’ hard work ethic and leadership qualities. While those attributes are fine, a goaltender in my opinion has no business being a captain. At any level, especially the NHL. One reason is that a goaltender is not allowed to speak with officials to discuss infractions. Second, said goaltender doesn’t have the mental capacity to handle this role in addition to his regular duties of stopping pucks. Luongo won 40 games in that season, as Vancouver enjoyed another successful regular campaign. With players like the Sedins, Alex Burrows, and Ryan Kesler, they appeared to be a team to be recokoned with come playoff time. In February Luongo backstopped Team Canada to a gold medal in the Olympics many felt that he could lead the Canucks to a Stanley Cup championship. Those who believed forgot that the Olympics were won by the team he had in front of him, filled with superstar players, versus the team in Vancouver which on many nights didn’t do him any favors, but ultimately when the big save was needed, he couldn’t produce.
The Blackhawks had their own ideas about how to beat the playoff challenged netminder, and this time there was a different player from the cast of characters of the Hawks that would turn out to be a royal pain in Roberto’s arse (or head). Literally and physically. Dustin Byfuglien would give Luongo nightmares as he would get his turn at getting a hat trick of his own in game two. The Blackhawks, and Byfuglien would eliminate the Canucks again on their way to their Stanley Cup victory. I love this video after the Canucks lost game six and the series where Luongo actually says that he doesn’t think the Hawks are a better team than the Canucks.
The Canucks in 2010-2011 played with revenge in their minds from two eliminations courtesy of the Hawks and vowed amongst themselves to “get past them” no matter what. Luongo won 38 games while losing only 15 appearing in 60 games and being nominated for both the Vezina and William Jennings trophies. He would end up sharing the Jennings with backup Cory Schnieder for lowest goals against. The Canucks marched their way through the regular season and ended up as the President’s Trophy winner, which is given to the team with the most points during the year. Almost a curse as that team rarely wins the Stanley Cup.
Vancouver met the Blackhawks in the first round of the playoffs and broke out to a convincing three games to none lead, and thought that the series was over. The Hawks had other ideas and took Vancouver to seven games with Luongo once again struggling providing a near goalie controversy along the way. While the Canucks won in seven games, it was game six that provided enough drama to last the entire summer as the Hawks never gave up. Leading up to the game I was in Chicago, and on the night before game six walked right past Louie, Ryan Kessler and Alex Burrows on famous Rush street, thinking to myself that these boys need to be in their hotel rooms. But what do I know. Cory Schneider would start game six, and after a penalty shot that Michael Frolik scored on, was pulled in after a slight “lower body injury” in favor for Luongo, who well, watch and see for yourself. The Canucks ultimately won the seventh game in overtime off a horrible giveaway by Hawks defenceman Chris Campoli, and celebrated the win as though they had just climbed Mount Everest. As @LilMissRatTrick stormed upstairs, slamming her bedroom door immediately after the goal, I said to myself, no matter how far they go, they won’t win the Cup.
I hate it when I’m right, and while Vancouver then went on to beat both Nashville and San Jose, they seemed to forget that it takes 16 victories to win the greatest trophy in sports and met their match in Boston. Despite getting out to a two games to none lead, Boston wasn’t finished, and it didn’t help that Luongo “pumped the tires” of his opposing netminder Tim Thomas after game five. As Vancouver saw their two games to none lead dissappear, their most dangerous players also vanished. Though the Canucks were able to force a game seven, it just wasn’t meant to be again, as Boston beat the Canucks at their own game of being physical, yet did it smarter, while receiving a collective effort from all their players. Luongo statistically speaking had a decent playoff record, but once again proved that he couldn’t win the big one.
Now I’m pretty confident that I’ve alienated myself here with this rant. Or maybe some of you think that this was an opportunity to live through my Blackhawks playoff victories again. But all of us have that one player that used to play on a team you love that for whatever reason, you no longer have use for. No matter what. This is nothing personal, and it’s all gamesmanship, and I’m sure that there’s someone that you despise, that I feel 100% differently about. Mike Keenan? Jeremy Roenick? Don Cherry? I’m sure we all agree on Jack Edwards and Mike Milbury however.
Roberto has had a stellar regular season career no doubt as he recorded his 57th career shutout Wednesday night in his 700th game. Clearly an accomplishment that I have no way of remotely coming close to. However from a fan’s perspective and that is how this post is being written, he has had ample opportunity to win the big one, and in a number of tries hasn’t. He’s even been a villian in his own city as evidenced here. Maybe if Roberto played on a different team I might feel otherwise, but the combination of his demands before he left Florida, the team that he plays for, and his post season failures intertwined with his posture I can’t.
The Vancouver Canucks come to town on Monday to face the Florida Panthers. For one night, and one night only I approve that our goal song at the Bank Atlantic Center be Chelsea Dagger. Or at least play it when the Panthers take the ice to start the game. Admit Vancouver, it is catchy. Especially seven times a night!
Thank you for reading. We welcome your comments and opinions.
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Topics: Alain Vigneault, Big Buff, Chelsea Dagger, Chicago Blackhawks Beat Vamncouver, Dale Tallon, Dustin Byfuglien, Hawks Beat Canucks, Oleg Kvasha, Olli Jokinen, Roberto Luongo, The Ex Panther Factor, The Vancouver Canucks