Debunking the Roberto Luongo Myths

After the Vancouver Canucks were shown the door by the Los Angeles Kings they held their end of the year media scrum, and since then have continued to make NHL news. At that media event goalie Roberto Luongo let it be known that he would be willing to waive his no trade clause if the Canucks wanted to go in that direction. It’s not often that one of the biggest names in the NHL appears to be headed for the trading block, and the reaction was as to be expected.

Things escalated during the week as Nick Kypreos reported via his twitter account that Luongo had in fact asked for a trade, and that he had given the Canucks a list of teams. General Manager Mike Gillis denied that the next day. Despite that fact, fans in Vancouver, and places like Toronto, quickly started putting together trade ideas, and weighing the pros and cons of moving the goaltender.

Is this an elite goalie?

Whether you are a fan of the Canucks or not, you most likely have an opinion on Roberto Luongo. He is one of the most enigmatic players in the NHL, and along with that several narratives, or myths, have been hurled at us about him. These Luongo myths are sure to be discussed in every article about him, discussed on sports radio, message boards and water coolers around the league.

You know these myths. They say that Luongo is not elite, that he chokes at the biggest moments in the playoffs, that Canada won that gold medal in spite of him, and that he can’t handle media pressure. Are these things actually true?

Let’s try to wade through the rhetoric and find some truths. It could get messy so break out your favorite hip waders. You know, the ones you have to put on when Brad Marchand defends his diving.

Roberto Luongo is not an elite goaltender 

This one is a popular Luongo myth. The narrative is that Luongo plays for a good team and benefits from that, therefore making him overrated, or not among the elite goaltenders in the NHL. People will claim this despite his Vezina nominations, Hart nomination and regular season, Olympic, and playoff success.

Luongo’s career numbers show him to have a .919 save percentage and a 2.52 goals against average. How does that compare?  Luongo has a better career save percentage than four-time Vezina winner Martin Brodeur (.913), and has not had the luxury of playing behind the Devils trap in the 90’s. Luongo’s career save percentage and goals against numbers are also better than three-time Vezina winner Patrick Roy (.910 and 2.54)

Roberto Luongo has better numbers than Patrick Roy

Brodeur and Roy are widely considered two of the greatest goaltenders ever to play, and Luongo’s numbers are right in their wheel-houses. Despite this, people will still tell you he’s not elite.

Is Roberto Luongo the greatest goaltender ever? No. Is he the best right now? Probably not, but to say he’s not in the class that would be considered ‘elite’ seems hard to back up.

Roberto Luongo is a playoff choker 

This mantra surprisingly is the loudest in British Columbia, as Canucks fans have often laid every and any Vancouver defeat at the skates of Luongo. This is understandable to a degree. Fans are passionate and until they see their team on the bad end of a handshake line believe their team is unbeatable. When that dream is shattered they have to point a finger somewhere.

In hockey, that finger gets aimed at the goaltender. It’s easier for some Canucks fans to blame Luongo than to admit that the team has not had the scoring or defensive depth they had believed. It’s easy to point to Luongo because you see the puck go by him. If he only was better he’d stop those pucks right?

Is Luongo a playoff choker?

He has never lost a first round playoff series, and despite some blow ups in Boston last year, got his team to within one win of the Stanley Cup despite his team providing him with no scoring support.

Luongo’s playoff numbers are almost identical to his regular season numbers. He has a career .916 playoff save percentage and 2.53 goals against average. If anything, Roberto Luongo is consistent so the idea he’s only good in the regular season just does not have any facts to support it. This myth lives on because of a couple of high-profile flameouts against Boston and Chicago. Everyone saw those games and decided that, despite the small sample size, Luongo was no good when it mattered most.

Those games should not be totally discounted, but also do not tell the entire Luongo playoff story.

It hardly matters more than in a Game 7 during the playoffs, and Roberto Luongo has played in three of these high pressure games. He is 2-1 in those and has posted a save percentage of .931, which is above his career high. The one Game 7 he lost was a 4-0 loss to Boston where he gave up three goals and the Canucks could not score any. Hardly the profile of a big game choker right?

The Olympics 

It would be hard to find many bigger pressure situations than representing your home country at the Olympics being played in your home country, and in the arena you play your regular season home games in. Luongo led the Canadians to the gold medal in 2010, but many people will tell you that Canada won in spite of him.

After all, the Canadian roster was epic, and the way people talk about it, a bucket with a goal stick taped to it could have backstopped that team. Luongo posted a miniscule 1.76 goals against average in that tournament, but still is criticized for letting Zach Parise tie the gold medal game with 23 seconds left.

Never mind that Luongo stopped 34 of the 36 shots he faced that afternoon against a pretty stocked Team USA. If Team Canada’s defense was so unbeatable how did they give up so many shots? Let’s take a look at the Parise goal to see if Luongo choked that goal away.

The U.S. had the extra skater, and after making a pretty good save on a deflected shot, Luongo could not stop Parise’s rebound shot and the game was tied. People who blame Luongo always fail to mention the first save and how good it was and they also fail to mention how Shea Weber and Scott Niedermayer ignored Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner all alone in front of the net.

So Luongo is a choker because he could not keep two guys, who were un-checked, from scoring off a rebound of a deflected shot. Seems like that is a pretty harsh standard. The same people who claim he should not get credit for the gold will quickly mention that American goalie Ryan Miller outplayed him. This despite the weak goal Miller allowed in overtime to Sidney Crosby that gave the Canadians the gold.

Roberto Luongo can’t handle the media pressure in Vancouver

The media market in Vancouver is one of the toughest ones to play in front of in the NHL. There is a lot of it, and they will nit pick every move the team makes. There is constant criticism of the Canucks by their home scribes and fans. As the trade speculation for Luongo has heated up many have claimed that if he can’t handle the Vancouver heat how will he fare in Toronto where it is even more intense.

This myth is a confusing one. Luongo is a pretty laid back guy, aloof at times, and has an often misunderstood sense of humor. Luongo has never shown that he can not handle the media scrutiny in Vancouver. After the Canucks were bounced out of the playoffs by the Chicago Blackhawks for the second straight year, Luongo took the lion share of the blame by both the media and a very vocal portion of the fan base. He crumbled to that pressure so much by having his best year he’s ever had, garnering a Vezina nomination and leading the Canucks to their best season ever.

That pressure sure did get to him.

Take a look at this bit he did for TSN a couple of years ago where he poked fun at himself. Does this look like a guy who is fragile and crumbles under media scrutiny?

The tea leaves suggest that Roberto Luongo’s time in Vancouver may be coming to an end as they look to get younger with Cory Schneider, but that does not mean that he has no trade value, or that nobody will want ‘a fragile, over-rated, not elite’ goaltender. There are teams that would love to have the ‘problems’ that the Canucks have had with Roberto Luongo in net.

As the summer heats up and these myths start popping up more and more, take a moment and really think about it. Just because perception becomes reality does not mean that it is accurate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Andrew Eide

Andrew Eide

Andrew writes about the WHL, NHL Draft Prospects and the Vancouver Canucks. He also covers the Seattle Thunderbirds for 710 ESPN Seattle. Follow him on Twitter @andyeide.
Andrew Eide
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18 Comments

  1. this is a great read, thanks guys.

  2. vudi aukerman says:

    Since we’re breaking myths…
    Comparing Luongo to Roy and Brodeur, even if the numbers bear it out is awkward to say the least.
    But if you’re going to be tackling myths you shouldn’t be so eager to give in to the myths of the New Jersey Devils. That they trapped is indisputable, but you completely skip over whether Brodeur might have been the REASON FOR for the trap and jump to the assumption that he was the beneficiary of the trap.
    Roy also played in the dead puck era, but doesn’t have to suffer the indignity of his teams’ defensive-minded play coming up in mention of his stats, and in all honesty throughout that era all hockey was defense first.
    So complete is the acceptance of the Devils’ myths that people today still refer to them as a “great defensive team” as though Stevens, Daneyko, Nidermayer and Rafalski were still patrolling the Jersey blueline in the prime of their careers.
    All this is proof positive that nobody has actually ever watched the Devils in any era and are just happy to perpetuate the myths about them – sounds like Bobby Lu has a perfect home waiting for him (should the stars line up that way).

  3.  It makes 100% sense for the Canucks to trade him because they’ve got a damn good young goaltender with a far better contract, but the criticisms Luongo gets are ridiculous.  He may not be overly “clutch” but he’s hardly worse in clutch situations, though people act otherwise.

  4. i hope the canucks deal luongo, because of the garbage treatment from the media and fans. Then they will truly feel what they have lost. I find it rather moronic to base the future of a team on a guy who has played less than 30 games in a season,and 2/3 of his wins are against non playoff teams. If people want to use numbers, heres some numbers for you. Cory schneider went 1-2,and lost “the big game” , a phrase all these vancouver fans are obsessed with.  

  5. Stop it.  Mentioning him in the same sentence as as Roy or Brodeur?  He pulls that GAA in the worst division in hockey with almost of third of his games against those offensive powerhouses like CGY, COL, EDM and MIN.  He lost his job in this years playoffs against the lowest scoring team in this years playoffs.  In years past…. he usually plays well in the regular season and the first round of the playoffs, sure.  No pressure playing games at 10pm EST on regional networks against non-hockey market teams when 2/3 of Canada and the US are asleep. 

    Maybe the reason he loses the “big time” series against teams like Boston and Chicago is because they are exactly that…. “big time” series and he’s not a “big time” goaltender.   His team bailed him out against Chicago in the first round…  and he rolled over in his two chances to clinch the Cup against Boston.  

    And Olympics???? Say what you want.  He couldn’t make a save when his team needed him to against the USA…. but forget that for a minute…. his team DID win in SPITE of him against Slovakia in the semi-final.  Go rewatch that third period

    Send him back to Florida.  A GM that overspends with a good young team in a non-hockey market where there is no pressure.

    • Club the Flub says:

      Flubber…..FYI, the “career GAA” that is stated is just that, a CAREER GAA!!! Yes, that includes a number of years on terrible Florida teams, so to go and claim it’s because he’s in a weak division and his games are late at night is absolutely ridiculous. Of course, anyone who has the attitude that Canada won “in spite of him” would obviously try their best to discredit him wherever possible. I guess it’s better to have your team win in spite of you, than have them win with you watching as Marty Brodeur was?
      Amazes me how he was one win away from a Stanley Cup and a possible Conn Smythe (though for the record, i think Thomas would have won it regardless of the outcome of game 7) as well as a gold medalist, yet some haters still can give the guy ANY credit.
      Learn the game before you comment further would be the nicest thing i could say to you.

  6. No mention of all the bad goals he let in during last year’s playoffs?

    • asmallfearfulchild says:

      and all the shutouts? up till game 7, he was the front runner for the Conn Smythe for the Canucks.

      • Isn’t it fair to say that Luongo struggles when facing a physical team? Chicago owned him in both 2009 and 2010, and Boston owned him last year in the Finals. He did not play well in any of those 3 series. He played small and didn’t get out at the top of his crease.

  7. Forward thinker says:

    This is a very good article. I am forever astonished at the lack of respect this guy gets. Perhaps Cory will surpass him but that should not deminish his accomplishment. If anything, if Cory turns out to be better, that should be a credit to him, a source of pride , a measuring stick that he is better than a truly great goaltender. This article makes a very good point that Luongo’s record is better that Roy and Brodeur in spite of backstopping a weaker team, especially in the playoffs.

    • In spite of backstopping a weaker team? Vancouver has won the President’s trophy two straight years and this year, Schneider played  29 games and had better numbers than Luongo.

  8. One thing that is not a myth is Lu wants out. The Vancouver organization and fans have been terrible to the guy who made them a force to be reckon with since he got there. Nick didnt make this up nor did all the other reports from sports people. Nick doesnt lie. And Lu hinted it. He cant say i want out. Hes too classy for that. As for Gillis saying its not true hes trying to hide that. Why? Cause imagine the other GMs. Here you got a 33 year old goalie, hefty contract that has still 10 years on it, doesnt want to be part of Organization, and Cory still to sign. That leaves Gillis with way less power in a deal. Lu wont be back. Fact not a myth.

    • He is elite. How funny Vancouver fans forget when they got Lu their team was horrible and predicted not to make the playoffs yet they did with Lu leading them.

      • I don’t think anyone is arguing that Luongo is garbage. The argument is that he has allowed deflating goals at bad moments in big games.

    • Forward thinker says:

      I agree with most of what you said but until it is announced, it is not fact but speculation that he will be traded. I did not hear him say he wanted to be traded either but responded to a question in a typical Luongo way that if asked, he would agree because he wanted to do what is right for the team. He acknowledged that Cory is very good and ready to be #1 and that the team may want to keep him.

      • Vancouver would get a way better package for Schneider since he’s 7 years younger and doesn’t have such a massive contract. Mike Gillis should consider seeing what he could get for Schneider.

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