The Roberto Loungo era in Vancouver has ended. On March fifth, the Vancouver Canucks traded the 34-year-old goalie to the Florida Panthers for Jacob Markstrom. It is hard to believe he is no longer a part of the Canucks organization. When you mention Vancouver, certain players come to mind. Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Ryan Kesler, Alexander Burrows, and Roberto Luongo are among those most identifiable with the team. They have become cornerstones of the British Columbia city in Canada. “Bobby Luo” as he is nicknamed, led the Canada Olympic Team to gold in the 2010 Winter Olympics. Oddly enough, the host city was Vancouver. In 2011, it would host four games of the NHL Stanley Cup Finals. Again, Luongo was front and center, as he spearheaded the Canucks team against the Boston Bruins. A four-time NHL All-Star, two-time Gold medalist, and one of the most successful goalies in his era, why would the Canucks part ways? Leading up to the NHL Trade Deadline on Wednesday, there hadn’t been any indication of Luongo leaving Vancouver. Much of the headlines centered around Kesler wanting a trade out of the Canucks organization. That’s why the Luongo trade to Florida was unexpected. However, there have been issues between the two sides that may have finally caused the break up.
One issue may have been Lunogo’s contract. During the 2009-2010 season, the Vancouver Canucks and Luongo agreed to long-term contract worth $64 million dollars. The idea was to keep Luongo as their goalie through the 2021-2022 season. He was their “franchise goalie”.
Perhaps, general manager Mike Gillis and the Canucks front office thought twice of the original contract signed. As each year of his contract was honored, the annual cap hit would allow limited funds to sign future free agents. Presently, the team is older and appears to be losing a step. Injuries were becoming a factor with key members such as Daniel Sedin, suffering from a left hamstring injury, and Andrew Alberts on long-term injured reserve with a head injury. These factors may have contributed to Gillis’ decision to move their most successful goalie in franchise history, since Kirk McLean.
Another issue to consider may have been Luongo’s on ice performance, specifically in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Despite his regular season successes, his playoff failures are what he was most known and criticized for by the Vancouver media. During the 2009 playoffs, Luongo helped sweep the St. Louis Blues in four games. However, their next opponent was the Chicago Blackhawks, a team which would become his arch nemesis the next two seasons. In the sixth and deciding game, Luongo’s performance in a 7-5 loss was brought under scrutiny. For the next two years, his career would be defined by his failure to get over the “hump.” Fortunately, Luongo overcame his demons. In the 2011 playoffs, he finally defeated the Blackhawks in seven games. It was a see-saw battle, with the Canucks winning the first 3 games, then the Blackhawks winning the next three. He was pulled by Alain Vigneault in favor of Cory Schneider in two of the games after giving up 10 goals. Despite this, he led the Canucks to the Stanley Cup Finals by defeating the San Jose Sharks in five games. In the Finals, Luongo and the Canucks faced the Boston Bruins. In this series, the team fell in seven games, losing on home ice. Ultimately, this led to trade talk of Luongo; and, the suggestion a lower paid goalie can be as effective as he was.
Another criticism of Luongo was his off ice issues. In the 2008-2009 season, he became the 12th captain to be named in Canucks’ history. Many critics speculated that the pressure that came with the position is what affected Luongo’s on ice performance. In September 2010, Luongo stepped down as team captain. With his off ice changes in goalie coaches and mounting injuries, his strong hold on the goalie position came into question.
Perhaps the final straw in his departure from Vancouver was the hiring of John Tortarella, as head coach. Before the start of the 2013-2014 season, the New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks traded coaches, so to say, with Alain Vigneault coming to Broadway as head coach. However, another goalie controversy occurred. First, it was Schneider and Luongo under Vigneault. The quick fix was to trade Schneider to the New Jersey Devils during the offseason. Now, under Tortarella, Luongo saw rookie Eddie Lack emerge. What perhaps broke the camel’s back was the decision to start Lack over Luongo for the Heritage Classic against the Ottawa Senators. This rare NHL outdoors game is almost a once in a lifetime opportunity for most players. With Luongo already in his mid-30’s, the opportunities are becoming less and less available.
Now, Luongo is in Florida. The end of the circus in Vancouver is over. He can continue his career in the place he has always wanted. His home is in Fort Lauderdale, where he spends his off seasons. In a recent interview on the NHL Network, Luongo describes his new but familiar surroundings this way:
In his first game back in Florida, Luongo stopped 25 shots on goal and blanked the Buffalo Sabres, 2-0. Quite a homecoming for one of the league’s best. Meanwhile, his old team is dangerously close to missing the playoffs, having already lost 6-1 to the Dallas Stars on Wednesday in the post Luongo era. As of now, they are 4 points behind the last Wild Card spot with 66 points. To make things worse, the team is 1-8-1 in their last 10 games. It appears the pressure to succeed is still on the Canucks’ shoulders. Whereas, the only pressure Luongo may feel is working on his tan.
So why, as a Rangers fan, am I writing this? In reality, no one is immune to the business side of the NHL. As we have seen, the Rangers’ Captain was traded last week. A motivating factor in the move was the financial demands that Sather felt he could not meet and a No Trade/No Movement Clause. He had to place a monetary value on Ryan Callahan, as compared to what he was seeking. In the end, Sather felt Callahan’s asking price was not in line with the organization’s offer. As a result, he was traded. No matter how hard you work at your job, no matter what qualities you bring to a team, if the organization doesn’t see the same values, then you need to reevaluate yourself. It’s not wrong to feel attached to a particular player. We identify with them, and in some cases bring us closer to the team. But in the end, it’s the name of front of the jersey that matters.
[Editorial Note: I asked my writers which move at the Trade Deadline was the most shocking for them. This was a big one that affects the whole Eastern Conference. The trade shocked the majority of hockey fans and even started a hashtag on twitter as photos of #headlessluongo emerged as his likeness was removed from the outside of Rogers Arena. While we are at it, his musical number was too good to leave out of this piece! Dani]
— Bucky (@BuckyHermit) March 7, 2014