Custom Search

Roberto Luongo and ex-Leaf Tuukka Rask under the microscope—for different reasons

I’ll get to the point: Roberto Luongo needs to steal a series.

Now, Canuck fans who love their big guy in goal should feel free to take me to task if I’m being unfair to him. I’m no goaltending expert, and you can defend Luongo if you’d like. He’s an amazingly talented goalie, no question.

But when I look back on his career with the Panthers and the Canucks, I see a huge void—so far. That can change, of course.

In Florida, he became, as expected, their number one goalie and the face of the franchise. They wanted to keep him but he wanted mega-dollars, thus he was dealt to the Canucks. When Vancouver signed him, he got the kind of monster money that only the true elite—the best of the best—get in hockey.

Much like looking at Jay Bouwmeester’s fine career, it’s hard not to notice the rather large hole in the resume: playoff series won. In Bouwmeester’s case, the total is zero- going all the way back to his junior career. It’s a team game to be sure, and no one player, especially one as good as Bouwmeester, can be blamed for his team not making it. But it does stand out as a blemish.

For his part, Luongo helped Canada win gold at the recent Olympics, but I don’t for a moment feel he “won” that tournament for Canada. He was good at times, but Ryan Miller of Team U.S.A. was the top goaltender of that event.

In Florida, Luongo never got the Panthers over the hump in five seasons. Were they a good team? Not really, at least not for most of the time he was there. But he didn’t get them there, either.

Last season, I was surprised, actually, that more fans and media didn’t discuss how poorly Luongo played under pressure in the playoffs for the Canucks in the second round. He didn’t look like a seven million dollar man, and I didn’t get the impression after the season was over that he took a lot of responsibility for the team not advancing deep into the playoffs.

Still, in Vancouver, he is the man. And he is surrounded by talent and grit. He doesn’t play behind a superstar defense, but it’s a solid, workmanlike group (much like the ’93 Leaf defense).

In my mind, there are no excuses. This is where—and when—Luongo can make the case that he is now the best goaltender in hockey. To be that, he needs to step up now and take the series over. Chicago is a talented team but the Canucks will battle hard and compete, so it will likely come down to goaltending. And Luongo is supposed to be far and away the best goalie in this series.

All he has to do now is show it. Otherwise, it will be hard not to start putting him in that category of players who want to be paid like the best, but play like the rest when it matters most.


Former Maple Leaf farmhand Tuukka Rask, on the other hand, is under the microscope for different reasons. Did anyone think, at the beginning of this past season, that anyone other than Tim Thomas would lead Boston into the playoffs? Thomas is playing with a new (and well-deserved) contract. But the rookie Rask has stolen Thomas’ job, and the hearts of Boston fans.

Now, things can change quickly. I’ve seen it happen often. A goalie looks great one round, then has a tough game or lets in some soft goals in a later playoff round, and that’s what people remember. This could happen to Rask, though he’s so young he will likely be forgiven if things were to go off the rails. He appears to have a very bright future in front of him, regardless of how these playoffs turn out for himself and the Bruins.

One thing is clear (and this is not to bash John Ferguson Jr.): The decision to trade Rask was, in hindsight, an even worse managerial misstep than some originally might have thought. Prospects tend to be a dime a dozen. Everyone is a “prospect”, then often suspect, as the old line goes.

But Rask is quietly emerging as a good NHL goalie. And if he becomes a really good playoff goalie, then the Leafs trading him can’t help but be seen as a major gaffe.

Ferguson, at the time, was looking at a roster that needed a goalie and Raycroft seemed like he was young enough and had enough experience that he could be a solid goalie for the Leafs. I can see what Ferguson was thinking. Unfortunately, like many goalies who have come through Toronto, it wasn’t a good fit. But it’s tough to see a guy you had in your back pocket lead his team, at 23, to the semi-finals.
Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Blog

1 comment:

  1. A friend who is a huge Canucks fan makes the case that Luongo is today's Curtis Joseph...often stellar in the regular season but coming up empty in the playoffs. I agree to some extent, but Cujo often came up on the short end of 1-0 or 2-1 games vs New Jersey in the playoffs, he was never blown out or let in soft goals like Luongo.