After a series of injuries shortened his season, it may be time for the Florida Panthers to say goodbye to Roberto Luongo.
After originally being traded from the Cats to Vancouver eight years ago, it was time for the goaltender to come back to the Sunshine State.
While the move made sense at the time for Florida, as time has passed, the presence of Roberto Luongo has started to become a burden.
To jump ahead to the 2017-18 season, Luongo came back from an injury suffered against the New York Islanders in December to help the Panthers get back into the playoff race.
Their monumental run led them to finish with 96 points at end the year, falling one point short of a playoff spot.
Now that the Cats had started to show what they’re capable of, their expectations shot up for the following season.
For the 2018-19 season, the Panthers were ready to get the start they needed to attempt to sneak back into the playoffs for the first time in three years.
For head coach Bob Boughner, everything was about beginning the season on a high note so they didn’t have to end up chasing like they had a year prior. Although, one play in the season opener on the road in Tampa made that all the more difficult.
In the Panthers’ first game of the season on the road against the Tampa Bay Lightning, a battle for the puck in front of the Panther goal led to some bad news for Florida.
When trying to find the puck, Panthers forward Frank Vatrano lost his balance and fell on top of the 39-year-old goaltender, forcing him to leave the game with an injury.
It was discovered after that Luongo had suffered a Grade 1 MCL sprain on his right knee, putting him out for 2-4 weeks, leading to his placement on the injured reserve.
This was a huge blow for the Panthers as they heavily relied on Luongo between the pipes to manage their lackluster defensive core.
After a period of mediocrity from Florida, they found themselves heading to Finland for the NHL Global Series.
While the center of attention for the Cats was on captain and Finland native Aleksander Barkov, the Panthers had some good news to bring for the second game of the series.
Roberto Luongo had finally returned from injury to face the Winnipeg Jets in the second game at Hartwall Arena.
It seemed as if the team had received a sudden burst of energy as they had finally found their game to defeat the Jets 4-2. The Panthers had found their form and it must’ve been from the surprising return of Roberto Luongo.
Now that the Panthers had finally picked up their game with Luongo healthy, it was a matter of time until the injury bug hit the Cats once again.
On a play where the puck ended up in the back of the net, Roberto Luongo went down with another injury on a routine play against the Carolina Hurricanes.
While the damage was a scare for Bob Boughner and the Panthers, the lower-body injury only kept Luongo out for about two weeks.
As the tandem of Roberto Luongo and James Reimer continued to struggle, the Panthers had a little trick up their sleeve to give them a little boost to try and put themselves back in the playoff race.
Sam Montembeault, the Panthers’ biggest prospect between the pipes was called up to secure the net and earn some experience.
Before being sent back down to play with the Springfield Thunderbirds, the Panthers’ AHL affiliate, the young prospect showed what he was capable of, giving the Panthers a chance to win every night.
Monty showed that he was capable of playing in the NHL, proving many individuals wrong that argue that he wasn’t ready to step in and fill the starter’s position.
As the season came to a close, the starter position went back to Luongo, as he ended up playing the last game of the season.
In a final matchup against the New Jersey Devils, Aleksander Barkov was once again the star of the show. In the game, he collected his 96th point to capture the record for the most points in a single season by a Panther player.
While Barkov was the main attraction of the game, Luongo was secretly part of the drama, as the last game of the season once again started to raise the questions that hockey fans have asked for years: have we seen the last of Roberto Luongo?
As these retirement questions continue to be asked, people try and come up with ways that a hall of fame goaltender, like Luongo, could be replaced.
In this offseason, the Cats have multiple directions they can take. Aside from how the Panthers could bring in a new goaltender, let’s discuss a few ways that Luongo can be disposed of.
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Obviously, it’s most likely that Roberto Luongo won’t play until the end of his contract that extends him to play until the 2021-22 season.
He’s simply too old and injury prone to be a starting goaltender for the Panthers. There are two main options the Panthers can make to attempt to get rid of Luongo.
The first option, of course, is that there’s a possibility that Luongo could end up on the long-term injured reserve (LTIR) list.
If Roberto fails his physical before training camp, the Cats can place him on the LTIR list, meaning he wouldn’t play.
While he would still affect the cap, his hit of $5,333,333 will only be used to help exceed what the available salary cap is for the Panthers.
Basically, it’s like Luongo would be off the books in terms of what the Panthers can spend. Though this may be the most helpful method, it’s easier said than done.
The section option is that the Panthers can buyout his contract. What this means is while he won’t play for the Panthers, the Cats will pay him 2/3 of his deal for the remaining years.
Even though this may seem like a good way to shed some cap, it may be hard to do at this current stage given everything Luongo’s done for the franchise.
It could certainly work and is undoubtedly realistic, but it’s something both sides would have to come to a mutual agreement to. Regardless, the Panthers have a variety of ways to try and shed Luongo’s contract to open up some more cap space, and more importantly, to free up a goaltending spot.
In short, after a shortened season due to various injuries, the career of Roberto Luongo is slowly coming to a close. Whether another injury forces him to retire or a transaction will get him off the books, time will tell for what the Cats will do next with goaltender Roberto Luongo.