Roberto Luongo is a polarizing figure for Vancouver Canucks fans. Many love him, but others blame him for the team’s loss in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. When Cory Schneider emerged as a top-caliber goalie the following season, many fans preferred him to Luongo, and the ensuing debacle led both goaltenders to leave Vancouver (From ‘Luongo, Schneider look back at Canucks saga’, Toronto Sun, 1/31/16). Yet, fans should also remember that Luongo is the best goaltender in Canucks history and deserves to have his jersey retired.
Luongo’s Case for Jersey Retirement
Luongo backstopped the Canucks to their most successful era. He spent eight seasons with the club, from the 2006-07 season until his departure amidst the 2013-14 season. Of the seven seasons he spent entirely in Vancouver, they made the playoffs six times, after only making the playoffs in four of the nine seasons before his arrival. In 2013-14, the Canucks traded him before the team was knocked out of playoff contention.
The Canucks have only won the Presidents’ Trophy twice, in back-to-back seasons in 2010-11 and 2011-12. In 2010-11, Luongo played 60 games, and in 2011-12, he played 54; he was the team’s anchor in net for their most successful regular seasons. Schneider and Luongo won the William Jennings Trophy in 2011 as the tandem that allowed the fewest goals against (185) that season. No other Vancouver netminder has won an award, which makes Luongo the most decorated goalie in franchise history, and he carried the brunt of the workload as part of their only award-winning tandem.
Luongo was named to the NHL All-Star team three times as a Canuck, the most of any of the franchise’s goaltenders. He finished top three in Vezina Trophy voting twice with the club and received nominations in five seasons. He’s also had a second-place Hart Trophy finish and was nominated four times as a Canuck. His regular-season stats further the point and stack up against the best in franchise history:
Games Played (GP) – 448 (ranks second)
Wins (W) – 252 (first)
Save Percentage (SV%) – 0.917 (second)
Goals-Against Average (GAA) – 2.36 (second)
Shutouts (SO) – 38 (first)
Luongo ranks second in games played behind Kirk McLean’s 516, while his save percentage (SV%) and goals against average (GAA) slightly trail Schneider‘s .919 SV% and 2.20 GAA. Schneider only played 98 games with Vancouver; sustaining numbers like these over a 448-game period as Luongo did is all the more impressive. Overall, his stats make him the greatest regular season netminder in franchise history, and his playoff stats also rank among the best:
GP – 64 (second)
W – 32 (second)
SV% – .916 (fifth)
GAA – 2.54 (sixth)
SO – five (second)
McLean has one more shutout, two more wins, and four more games played than Luongo in the playoffs. Luongo ranks fifth in SV%, but only two goalies who are ranked ahead of him (Schneider and Jacob Markström) played in 10 or more playoff games with the Canucks. His .916 SV% is impressive; those goalies who have a lower playoff GAA than him played in a combined 14 playoff games with the club, not even one-quarter of Luongo’s playoff games. The only goalie who (arguably) has a better playoff pedigree than Luongo is McLean, who guided the team to the Stanley Cup Final in 1994 and is atop the franchise’s leader-board in shutouts and wins.
Statistically, Luongo is the best goalie in Canucks history. He is their most decorated regular-season goalie and is among the most distinguished in the playoffs.
Arguments Against It Are Invalid
Here are rebuttals to the three most common arguments against retiring Luongo’s jersey.
Argument #1 – Luongo Never Won Anything in Vancouver
Luongo and Schneider were the first (and only) Canucks tandem to win the Jennings Trophy. The Canucks have six retired numbers, including Stan Smyl’s number 12. Smyl never won an NHL award, so even if Luongo hadn’t won the Jennings, this shouldn’t be a disqualifying factor.
Argument #2 – Luongo Requested a Trade
Luongo requested a trade in 2012 but stayed with the team until 2014. His exit from Vancouver happened after then-head coach John Tortorella started the team’s backup goaltender, Eddie Lack, over him in the 2014 Heritage Classic. Luongo admitted the snub played a role in his departure:
“I mean that goes without saying, and if I would have played I probably would maybe still be here,”(from ‘Roberto Luongo says Heritage Classic snub led to Vancouver exit’, CBC News, 1/7/15).
Pavel Bure also demanded a trade in 1993, but that didn’t prevent his jersey retirement. He had a spectacular 1994 Playoffs, but many forget he allegedly threatened not to play due to a contract dispute (from ‘’Russian Rocket’ Pavel Bure was my hero,’ Vancouver Sun, 11/8/12). The dispute started after he negotiated a nearly identical contract to Sergei Fedorov‘s with the Detroit Red Wings and Alex Mogilny‘s with the Buffalo Sabres, but the Canucks wanted to pay him in Canadian dollars (from ‘From the archives: Why Pavel Bure wanted out of Vancouver,’ The Province, 12/15/10). He eventually signed a lucrative five-year, $25 million deal in US dollars to stay in Vancouver, but he refused to honour the final season of his contract in 1998-99, so the Canucks sent him to Florida.
If the Bure incidents, including sitting out for the final year of his contract, didn’t disqualify him from having his jersey retired, then Luongo shouldn’t be disqualified for requesting a trade.
Argument #3 – Luongo Spent More Seasons Playing for Other Teams Than Vancouver
Luongo played for three teams in his 19-year career. Of his 1,044 career regular-season games, 448 were with the Canucks, meaning he played 43 percent of his career in Vancouver. Of the team’s six retired jerseys, only three of the players spent their entire careers with the franchise. Among the three who didn’t, Bure played the least amount of his career with them (60 percent of his games).
If Luongo’s number ends up in the rafters, he would be the only player to have a retired number who spent less than half of his career with Vancouver.
Bure only played 428 games with the Canucks, compared to Luongo’s 448 games. He played in the NHL for 19 seasons, but his best years were in Vancouver, and he donned the team’s jersey for more games (and seasons) than Bure.
Retiring Luongo’s Jersey Is Justified
Luongo has a strong case to have his jersey retired by the Canucks. He guided the team to their best seasons, including a Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2011, and his stats rank among the best in franchise history. The three most frequently raised arguments against his jersey being retired all have inherent flaws. He deserves to be honoured as the greatest goalie in franchise history.
I am a lifelong hockey fan who will be covering the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks here at The Hockey Writers. Before joining The Hockey Writers I spent two years blogging about hockey.
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