Check out the rest of the Panthers’ Best All-Time Starting Lineup series:
- Center – Aleksander Barkov
- Left Wing – Jonathan Huberdeau
- Right Wing – Pavel Bure
- Defenseman – Jay Bouwmeester
- Defenseman – Robert Svehla
With just two teams left chasing Lord Stanley’s Cup, the season is coming to an end. For the Florida Panthers, it ended weeks ago. With nothing but the offseason to look forward to, we are going to look into all things Florida Panthers.
The draft and free agency are the major dates coming up for the franchise currently, but what about looking into the history of a franchise that doesn’t get a lot of love?
One series will focus on the best players that have ever suited up for the Panthers, comprising the team’s all-time unit. The series will include two wingers, a centerman, two defensemen, and a goaltender, leading into a top 10 list of the greatest Panthers of all-time.
Related: Scotty Bowman – A Coach’s Life
Next up in the series is arguably one of the most beloved players of the last decade. Known for his social media prowess and, more likely, his time backstopping the Vancouver Canucks, is the man that had been the highest-ever drafted goaltender (before Rick DiPietro): Roberto Luongo.
How He Came to Florida
Luongo wasn’t a Florida Panther from the start. He was actually the fourth overall pick in the 1997 NHL Draft by the New York Islanders. To say that the Islanders were a mess back then is an understatement.
General manager Mike Milbury began making a name for himself as perhaps the worst GM in NHL history. Luongo played just 24 games in an Islanders uniform before Milbury traded him away. The big uproar came when Luongo went looking for an apartment on a game day. Milbury blasted him in the media and would ultimately deal him in June, with center Olli Jokinen, for winger Mark Parrish and center Oleg Kvasha. Milbury would follow that up by taking DiPietro first overall in 2000 (which is a whole other article).
Luongo and the Panthers struggled throughout his first stint in Florida. It wasn’t until the 2005-06 season, the final year of his original stint with the team, that he managed to put together a winning record for the team.
In June of 2006, Luongo was dealt to the Canucks, with Lukas Krajicek and a sixth-round pick, for winger Todd Bertuzzi, defenseman Bryan Allen, and goalie Alex Auld. During his time in Vancouver, Luongo became one of the best goalies in the league. He even helped lead the team to Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, where the team lost to the Boston Bruins.
After some turmoil with Vancouver coach John Tortorella, Luongo was dealt back to the Panthers on deadline day 2014. He and prospect Steven Anthony went to Florida for center Shawn Matthias and goalie Jacob Markstrom.
Luongo would spend his final five seasons in South Florida, retiring after 2018-19 at the age of 39.
Why He’s on the All-Time Team
How can you not have him as the clear-cut number one goaltender? He leads the team in games played (572), wins (230), losses (241), ties/OT losses (73), saves (16,086), shutouts (38), and minutes played (32,416). He’s third in goals-against average (2.61) and second in save percentage (.919). There is no one that is close to him in any of the categories that he leads.
Luongo’s career is defined by being an exceptional goaltender that rarely took the top spot in the league. He’ll likely be remembered for his Vancouver run by most – and the ugly end to the 2011 Finals – but his time in Florida comprised most of his career.
He never won a Vezina Trophy despite a couple of nominations and fell just shy of claiming the ultimate crown in a Stanley Cup. But Luongo is the reason that the first Florida deal is called one of the most lopsided trades in NHL history.
Luongo’s Legacy in Florida
Roberto Luongo is arguably one of the most popular NHLers of the last decade. His prowess for quick wit and hilarious commentary on Twitter earned him the admiration of millions throughout his career and likely helped him keep his sanity in the hotbed that is Vancouver.
It may be a long, long time before anyone can come close to matching Luongo’s career totals in Florida and it shouldn’t be long before Luongo gets the call from the Hockey Hall of Fame. His 489 career wins are the third-most ever, behind fellow Quebecois goalies Martin Brodeur (691) and Patrick Roy (551).
A long-time (and long-suffering) Buffalo sports fan. Sometimes optimistic, always weary. I write other stuff for a lot of other people.