Without hesitation, the Florida Panthers made the unquestionably correct decision to retire goaltender Roberto Luongo’s jersey.
The only real “surprise” that came with the news was that the ceremony would be taking place against the Canadiens and not one of his former teams. In particular, the Vancouver Canucks, who Luongo played eight seasons with.
Regardless of that small, minor detail, Luongo is the first individual in Florida Panthers history to receive this honor. In all fairness, he deserves it and I’ll tell you why.
While no one (including myself) would deny that Luongo spent the greater years of his career as a member of the Vancouver Canucks, Luongo’s legacy with the Cats goes far beyond the crease.
His character was shown in and around the community, which made him an instant fan favorite during his time in South Florida. The speech he delivered in the aftermath of the Stoneman Douglas High School tragedy touched the hearts of many, including my own.
This notable example illustrates quite perfectly how one sports figure cannot only touch the hearts of many but can provide comfort and hope in the darkest of moments.
It’s as if Luongo – during that time – was able to heal and console an entire community after a devastating tragedy like Stoneman Douglas. In hindsight and after looking back, consoling and bringing everyone together is exactly what he did when he left his glove, blocker and stick on the bench to pick up a microphone to offer some powerful words.
The way in which he treated fans in the South Florida community was second to none from a fan’s perspective. He took the time to personally meet and greet fans, as well as take part in team community events.
While he wasn’t capable of guiding the Cats to a Stanley Cup run, it’s important to note that he didn’t have a contender built in front of him to withstand that kind of run.
If we look back on his first stint with the team, Luongo didn’t experience any playoff action and had to wait until 2015-16 (his second go-around), in which the Panthers fell short in the first round to the New York Islanders, another one of his former teams.
His second stint with the Cats brought a little more success and provided him with more talent; however, those teams weren’t able to last as Luongo only saw the playoffs once as a long-tenured member of the Florida Panthers.
It’s quite sad when you look back at his career and think, “how doesn’t this man have a Stanley Cup?” Unfortunately, the Panthers were never built for success since the moment he arrived, and management (during the early days) didn’t help the situation at all.
When the Panthers brought him more talent, it was all too late as Luongo was already in decline. Even through the later stages of his career, Bobby Lu was able to steal some games, but the rosters that he had to work with had holes that were never quite patched up.
In reality, the Panthers never had Luongo in his “prime” and only had him during his early and later days. Even so, they failed to make use of the time they had together, evident by the sole playoff appearance the two made together.
To me, it’s hard to blame an individual who isn’t given the tools to succeed. Luongo was never given the roster (at first) that he needed to make a run. Instead, he was handed bubble rosters that weren’t good enough to make it, nor bad enough to tank.
His second go-around he, of course, had more talent, but injuries and insufficient coaching (apart from Gerard Gallant) led the Panthers nowhere, and of course, Luongo was a shell of his former self, which meant that he could only shoulder so much of the weight.
Even despite the lack of success he had with the team, no one can deny or take away the personal records that he set: games played by a goaltender (572), wins (230), shutouts (38), saves (16,068), assists/points (13), single-season games played by a goaltender (75, 2005-06), single-season wins (35, 2005/06-2015/16), single-season saves (2,303), and single-season shutouts (tied-7, 2003-04).
Quite impressive for someone who was on some pretty bad teams.
In hindsight, while he didn’t experience the on-ice success that he would’ve wanted with the Florida Panthers, his character and persona are what made him a franchise icon.
Leaving aside the accolades and on-ice performances, Luongo paved the way and created history in an organization that doesn’t have too many icons/figures. And because of that, he deserves to have his jersey retired.