Can Roberto Luongo Find Redemption?
Hey, everyone. It's TJRSports.com NHL columnist Dan Mount and during the offseason I will take a look at the players and coaches that have a big 2013-14 season ahead of them. Today I take a look at Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo. You can follow me on Twitter at DanMountSports.
To say that Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo has gone through hell the last couple of seasons would be an understatement. The embattled netminder has dealt with not meeting Canucks fans expectations of winning the Stanley Cup, disappointing performances in meaningful games, a time-sharing controversy with former teammate Cory Schneider and constant trade rumors.
Things were going great for Luongo in 2010 and most of 2011. It all started when Luongo (despite a few hiccups along the way) backstopped Canada to a gold medal win over the United States in a classic game that was the highest rated game in North American history and was starting his mega contract at 12-years worth $64 million. In 2011, the Canucks made the Stanley Cup Finals and were one game away from clinching the club’s first Stanley Cup.
That’s when it all started going wrong.
Vancouver couldn’t finish the job and ended losing in game seven to the Boston Bruins. The next season didn’t get off to a good start before Luongo was injured in mid-November of 2011. Luongo did break the club record for wins in the 2011-12 season, but the Canucks were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings despite winning the President’s Trophy as being the league’s best regular season team for the second straight year. Luongo played well in the opening two games of the series, but Vancouver lost both games to eighth-seeded Los Angeles. Then-Canucks coach Alain Vigneault decided to take a gamble and start backup Cory Schneider, but lost the series four games to one.
Many speculated that Luongo was gone, but the Canucks front office couldn’t move Luongo with the major hang-up being the big-money contract that he signed a few years before (and despite rumors of him being sent to Toronto, Florida, the Islanders among other places). He split time with the Schneider even though Luongo was listed as the backup. (He did handle it with aplomb saying it was Cory's team.) Vancouver did make the playoffs with the both goalies splitting time, but were swept by the San Jose Sharks in four straight games (Luongo came in a backup in game four, but gave up the series-clinching goal).
Once again, many thought Luongo had played his last game in the navy blue, forest green and white. He even put his posh Vancouver-area penthouse up for sale.) He was resigned to the fact that he’d never play for the Canucks again, but the 2013 NHL Draft came when many expected a Vancouver goalie to be traded.
However, it wasn’t the one that people thought as General Manager Mike Gillis shocked the hockey world by trading Cory Schneider to the New Jersey Devils for the ninth overall pick (in which the Canucks selected Bo Horvat of the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights). The surprise trade has triggered an entire summer’s worth of speculation as the relationship between Gillis and Luongo seemed to be frosty at best. Some were questioning whether or not Luongo would even report to training camp when it starts. Gillis then told the media that Luongo had a choice to make of whether to play or not. (Things were reportedly smoothed over in a meeting between the two parties.)
You’d think that things would calm down and everyone could get back to hockey, but this drama is only getting started. Luongo then dropped his longtime agent and hired Barry Brisson, who is a high-powered agent in his own right. (Brisson did guarantee that Luongo would report to camp on time.) His old agent, Gilles Lupien, then blasted the Canucks organization and the way they (and Gillis) handled the whole situation. Lupien said that Luongo, “was treated like a piece of paper” in an interview he gave after the termination of his work with his client.
The Canucks are in a unique position of trying to contend for a Stanley Cup and learn a new and more defensive system under former New York Rangers coach John Tortorella. The window is closing on this team to win the Cup and Luongo is 34 years of age.
I feel that the Canucks have really screwed this up and there are going to be a ton of questions throughout the season if Luongo falters. However, he has handled the whole thing with class and he still is an elite goalie. (He’s the potential number one goaltender for Team Canada going into the 2014 Sochi Olympics.) If the team can grasp the new defense-first system, the Luongo may be able to have the bounce-back year that may silence his critics.
Dan Mount is an NHL columnist for TJRSports.com and lives in Watertown, NY.