Canucks 12 Days of Hockeymas: Captain Luongo

The “12 Days of Christmas” is a classic holiday song first published in its current form in 1908. In a nod to the classic carol, join The Hockey Writers as we count down the 12 Days of Hockeymas. Each day, we will provide you with a piece of hockey history as we eagerly await the start of the 2020-21 NHL season.

Related: Canucks 12 Days of Hockeymas: 2 Sedin Twins

Don’t look now, but it’s Christmas Eve and that means the end of the 12 Days of Hockeymas countdown. But, before we start celebrating this unique 2020 Christmas season, let’s take a look back at another unprecedented event in Vancouver Canucks history and revisit the short period of time that goaltender Roberto Luongo served as team captain.

Luongo Named Captain

After Markus Naslund left the Canucks to sign with the New York Rangers at the end of the 2007-08 season, the team needed a new captain. At the time, general manager Mike Gillis was new on the job and wanted to make a splash. So he did something out of the ordinary and named Luongo as the captain, the first goaltender since Bill Durnan of the Montreal Canadiens was given that distinction at the end of the 1947-48 season.

There were questions about why Henrik Sedin or Willie Mitchell were not considered for the job, but Gillis was adamant that Luongo was his first choice, despite his position.

Leaders lead by example…Roberto is the leader of this team right now. We felt really strongly about that. To not do something like this means you have a leader that is unrecognized. We wanted to make sure he is recognized for his contribution both on and off the ice.

Former Canucks GM Mike Gillis

Luongo wasn’t an official captain in the eyes of the NHL though, as they prohibited the naming of goaltenders to that leadership position before the 1948-49 season. The Canucks got around it by naming three “proxies” in the form of Mitchell, who was the liaison with the officials, and Henrik Sedin and Mattias Ohlund, who performed ceremonial faceoffs during pre-game presentations. Basically, Luongo was the captain in the dressing room, but not on the ice.

Related: The Legendary Career of Roberto Luongo

It’s also interesting to note that because of NHL rules, Luongo never wore the “C” on his jersey, but incorporated it into his mask instead.

Captaincy Became a Distraction for Luongo

Following Luongo’s brilliant first season with the Canucks where he posted a career-high 47 wins to go along with a 2.28 goals against average (GAA) and .921 save percentage (SV%), his play started to regress. As a starting goaltender, the pressure to perform is already at a boiling point, and that’s before the weight of the captaincy is added. With both on his mind, Luongo looked visibly agitated after losses and even appeared to throw his teammates under the bus when he as the goaltender did not play well.

The fact that Luongo was never on the bench during games really hurt his ability to be an effective captain too. When you’re an island in the crease for most of the game, how are you able to gain an accurate reading of your team? The answer is, you don’t.

Luongo appeared to be a different goaltender as the captain (Photo by Allie Turnbull)

The goaltending position also requires an insane amount of focus. Their mental game has to be on point, and the added distraction of being a captain really throws a wrench into that focus. In the end, taking on the roles of starting goaltender and the captain just became too much for Luongo, as he stepped down at the beginning of the 2010-11 season.

Luongo Back On Track With Henrik at the Helm

Looking back at the two seasons that Luongo was captain of the Canucks, it was clear that the captaincy did not agree with him. If you need evidence of it, look no further than the 2010-11 campaign, where he led his team to the Stanley Cup Final. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the season where he was not captain was the one that gave him one of his biggest accomplishments.

Related: Luongo Leaves Dual Canucks Legacy

Henrik Sedin was named the 13th captain of the Canucks at the beginning of the season, and it eventually became evident that he should have had it all along. He posted his second straight campaign with 90 or more points and helped his brother Daniel win the Art Ross Trophy as well. He was a quiet captain, but he knew the pulse of the team, something Luongo had a hard time gauging all the way from the crease.

Goaltenders are Leaders, Despite Not Being Named Captain

There’s no denying that Luongo was a legendary goaltender and leader for the Canucks during his time on the West Coast. He remains the all-time leader in wins (252), shutouts (38), and playoff wins (32) and is currently the best netminder the franchise ever had. He was also a huge personality and was without a doubt one of the most respected players on the team.

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Luongo was recognized as a leader in the dressing room and the city, even when he did not have the “C” on his mask, and that goes for any goaltender on any NHL team. Despite not having an official title, you can’t tell me that Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy, or Ken Dryden were not captains of their respective teams, because they definitely were. In 2020-21, Thatcher Demko and Braden Holtby are going to be leaders too, and they don’t need to be named captain to do so.

There you have it, the last day of the Canucks 12 Days of Hockeymas. I hope you enjoyed our trip down memory lane, and don’t forget to keep it locked to THW for all your coverage of the Canucks’ 2020-21 season as they finally get going on Jan 13.

Also, if you missed any of the 12 days, you can read the whole series below: