Why am I writing about Roberto Luongo on a Leaf-oriented site already this early in the new season?
Well, it appears the Leafs aren’t in the NHL any longer, seeing as they haven’t played a game in what feels like a month. So while we are hearing that Franson will likely play Saturday night, and that Connolly is out for longer than originally anticipated, there is only so much to say about what’s new with the Leafs.
So as I scan the hockey globe, one storyline that seems to stand out is one in Vancouver, and it has to do, not surprisingly, with a guy who remains a magnet for attention—good and bad—goaltender Roberto Luongo.
Now, those who follow this site will know that I have posted on the star netminder a few times over the past couple of years. (Click here or here to see more…) Why? Well, I think a player who demanded to be paid an outlandish amount, to show the world he was the best goalie in hockey, needs to prove that earning that designation requires more than a big income. You actually have to earn that rep, as they say.
Now, I won’t even try to argue that Luongo isn’t an extremely talented goaltender. He showed his worth with the Panthers, though he never took them on his back to the playoffs. But he was tabbed by many observers as the best goaltender in hockey (arguably after Brodeur), but someone who didn’t get enough credit because he played in a low-profile hockey market on a relatively poor team.
But when he was traded to Vancouver and was given a huge contract, the hockey world (at least most of it, some of us weren’t quite so sure…) assumed the guy would really take off and lead the Canucks to the promised land.
All he needed, went the thinking, was a strong supporting cast.
Well, that was delivered to him on a platter by Dave Nonis and his successor, Mike Gillis. For years, Roberto has had one of the best put-together teams in the NHL in front of him.
Luongo is now in his 7th season with the Canucks. Over the course of his first six seasons on the west coast, he helped his team get to the playoffs four times. In those four playoff appearances, the Canucks have won a total of six playoff series, if I’m not mistaken.
Not bad, but not what we might expect from the “best" goalie in hockey, with a really good supporting cast.
In fairness, three of those series wins came just last season when the Canucks skated to within one game of the Stanley Cup.
But I have a hard time not looking at what I actually saw the past two springs. In the 2010 playoffs, I felt Luongo was absolutely under-whelming in the second round. Then this past May, the Canucks almost gave up a 3-0 lead against Chicago. But a referee’s call and a lucky bounce helped propel propelled them to the next round.
Then, when the Canucks needed him most, Vigneault had to spend way too much time figuring out how to deal with Luongo’s inability to play consistently well under pressure.
Fast forward to this past Saturday night. Don Cherry defended Luongo mightily, saying he played “great” in the playoffs this past spring.
Well, he certainly made some great saves. Had some very strong games. But don’t count me among those who think he had a “great” playoff performance overall.
Someone playing great (a true “best” goalkeeper in his era, like Dryden, Parent, Brodeur, Roy) would have led his team to a Cup one of the last two seasons.
And Luongo didn’t do it. Yet people keep making excuses for him.
Hey, the guy will be 33 come the next time the Canucks are in the playoffs. For a goalie, he may have many good years ahead of him. Look at Roloson and many before him.
And, like a John Elway in football, Luongo may, once he helps to deliver one championship for Vancouver, win even more.
But time is a ticking. His middling start to the current season, may, to me, actually be a good thing. Why? I don’t know if it much matters what the Canucks do in the regular season. Sure, you always like to have home ice “advantage”, but they had that last season and in the end, it didn’t make the difference.
I think they have proven they are a really good team, and Luongo has shown for years he is an outstanding NHL goalie. The Canucks, like the Sharks and their superstar, Joe Thornton, have proven they are a top team, and prove it every year in the regular season. But they haven't quite got it done in the playoffs. (I like what Thornton did in the playoffs last spring, though…)
What the Canucks—and Luongo—really need is to close the deal, win it all. That will shut people like me up, and I’ll be happy to be silenced.
So if Roberto is not playing lights out right now, who cares? Far better that he be ready to do it when it really matters—next May.