Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Why Vancouver can finally cheer for Lu

"I had a great six years in Vancouver... Unfortunately, I was not able to bring a Stanley Cup there.  Probably my biggest regret." -(See this YouTube video at 10:15)

Here's a probably suprising fact about Roberto Luongo.  At 339 regular season wins, he stands behind only Curtis Joseph (454) and John Vanbiesbrouck (374) as the most prolific goaltender in NHL history not to win a Stanley Cup.  (See the all-time wins list here.)  At age 33, it stands to reason that Luongo has a legitimate shot at topping the list before he calls it a career.  And by as early as next season, if he's not still mired as a backup in Vancouver, he will likely surpass the Beezer for a dubious second place ranking.
Of the three hard-luck goalies, Luongo has come the closest with a Game 7 in the Finals to his credit.  Vanbiesbrouck made it as far as the 1996 Finals with the Panthers, where they were swept by Colorado, while Joseph has two third round appearances (1999, 2002) to his name as a Maple Leaf.  Coincidentally, Florida and Toronto represent the two most likely destinations for the Canucks' three-time Vezina nominee. 

Now, the Canucks may not be the sure-fire contender they were two years ago, but you have to think his best shot would have been with the Sedins and a healthy Kesler playing in front of him.  I won't even begin to consider the Maple Leafs' merits as a championship team, largely in part to their complete absence of any.  But Florida, which Luongo has already personally earmarked as his next destination, represents a scenario brighter than it initially seems.

Having already taken the current Eastern Conference champs to a seventh game in the opening round, the Panthers are a young team that are only getting better.  Nobody's going to accuse Florida's goaltending for their playoff exit (their netminders posted a combined 2.41 GAA and .920 save percentage), but as long as Jose Theodore and Scott Clemensen is your tandem in net, you're not getting confused for a Cup contender either.  Consider Luongo a hefty step in the right direction.

Will we see Luongo in a Panthers jersey again?
Or will he remain in some form of blue and white?

Assume the Panthers do land him.  The invariable question is: Can Luongo remain an elite goalie¹ long enough for their young-and-upcoming roster to catch up to his level? If the conditions are right – and Panthers GM Dale Tallon accomplishes the same kind of rebuild that Canucks fans are all too familiar with in Chicago – there is a remote possibility Luongo could do with the Panthers what he couldn't here.

And when it comes to a player as consistently successful as Luongo has been in this league, if he does end up having another sniff at the Cup, you are almost required to root for him. Not because he was once our own, but for the same reason you cheered for guys like Ray Bourque and Dave Andreychuk when they finally got their moments. 

You might knock him for some of his playoff performances as a Canuck. And you might be glad his days in Vancouver are numbered. But in the grand scheme of things, Luongo doesn't deserve the Cujo fate. Not for someone with three Vezina nominations. Not for someone who practically carried the Canucks in his first three years here. And not for someone with 339 wins.


¹ This is assuming you belong to the 50% of hockey fans in Vancouver that believe Luongo is, indeed, still an elite goalie.

*See the online discussion regarding this article on the forums here.