The Legendary Career of Roberto Luongo

On June 26, 2019, Roberto Luongo announced that he was closing the curtain on his legendary 19-season National Hockey League career, and what a career it was. He leaves the game with 489 wins, which ranks him third amongst all goaltenders behind only Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur. If he played the 2019-20 season, he would have easily joined the 500-win club.

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He played 1,044 games, which ranks second amongst all NHL goaltenders. If that isn’t impressive enough, he is also one of only two goaltenders to lead two NHL franchises in all-time wins and shutouts. That is a rare accomplishment not many goaltenders will be able to match. So, on that note, let’s take a walk down memory lane as we recount the legendary career of the man they call Bobby Lou.

Luongo’s Time on the Island

After being drafted by the New York Islanders fourth overall in 1997, Luongo began his brief career on Nov. 28, 1999, versus the Boston Bruins making 43 saves en route to a 2-1 victory. He would end up playing only 21 games with the Islanders as they decided to trade him in 2000 to the Florida Panthers in a deal that has gone down as one of the most lopsided trades in NHL history.

In a package that included future Panthers captain Olli Jokinen, the Islanders received Mark Parrish and Oleg Kavasha. At the time, it may have been a fair trade, but looking at it now, the Islanders missed out on having a legend in their crease for multiple seasons, as well as a consistent number one center in Jokinen.

Luongo with the Panthers: Part 1

In part one of his journey with the Panthers, Luongo had 108 wins and did not make an appearance in the playoffs. However, he did establish himself as an elite, number one goaltender who could carry a team on his back.

Robert Luongo Florida Panthers
Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Every season, he was among the league leaders in shots against and saves. He also had multiple games where he made 50-plus saves. He even had one game where he had 55 of them to keep Washington Capitals star rookie Alexander Ovechkin off the board, who had ten shots himself. In fact, he only scored a grand total of seven goals against him in his career. Ovechkin was not alone, as Luongo had many shooters looking to the heavens wondering how they didn’t score.

Over the five seasons, he became known as a workhorse goaltender capable of making highlight reel saves and being a factor in every game. He quickly became a household name and fan favorite in Florida.

In the summer of 2006, part one would come to an end. Due to a contract dispute, Luongo was a part of another blockbuster trade. The Vancouver Canucks sent Todd Bertuzzi, Alex Auld, and Bryan Allen to the Panthers in a package that also included Lukas Krajicek. This was the second time Luongo had been a part of a deal that turned out to be a steal for the team acquiring him. Bertuzzi, who was the centerpiece of the deal, only played seven games as a Panther, while Luongo went on to win 367 games in a Canucks uniform and preside over five of the most successful seasons in franchise history.

Luongo Takes Over the Canucks Crease

Luongo’s inaugural season in a Canucks uniform was a roaring success as he would finish with 47 wins, a 2.28 goals-against average (GAA) and a .923 save percentage (SV%). He would quickly endear himself to Canucks fans as it did not take long for the Vancouver faithful to rain the “Luuuuuuus” down every time he made a save.

Alex Edler and Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Canucks went on to win their division and make the playoffs mostly because of Luongo, as you would be hard pressed to find a game where he was not a factor in. The dominance continued into the first round of the playoffs against the Dallas Stars, as he put together a record performance in Game 1 making 72 saves in a 2-1 quadruple overtime win.

The Canucks ended up losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round, but Luongo proved that he could be a playoff goaltender after missing the postseason in all five seasons in Florida. Vancouver missed the playoffs the following season but little did we know, Luongo was about to preside over one of the most exciting eras ever witnessed in Canucks history.

Luongo Becomes a Canucks Legend

The next four seasons (2008-2012) have become part of Canucks lore. It would bring feelings of joy, elation, and heartbreak. The team ended up winning 199 games over that span, walking away with back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies (2011-12 and 2012-13) and making an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1994.

Luongo was a major part of it all. In 2011, he won the Jennings Trophy along with Cory Schneider for the fewest goals allowed in the league, was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy and almost won the Stanley Cup. If not for the demons haunting TD Garden in Boston, he probably would have.

Despite not winning a championship, Luongo’s dominance as the Canucks’ starting goaltender has become a part of history. Because of this, he is regarded in many circles as a Canucks legend. In fact, he should have his number retired.

Unfortunately, all good things come to an end. After a year of uncertainty and mixed messages, Luongo was traded back to the Panthers in 2014 in a deal that involved current starting goaltender Jacob Markstrom and forward Shawn Matthias.

Luongo with the Panthers: Part 2

Luongo returned home to Florida and began what was to become his swan song. Still chasing a Stanley Cup, the Panthers made the playoffs only once in the final five and a half seasons of his career. His best season came in 2015-16 where he led the team to that only playoff appearance. He finished with 35 wins, his highest total since 2010-11 when he won 38 games as a Canuck.

The next three seasons brought frustration and injury problems, as he would only play 115 games over that span. To put that in perspective he played 212 games in his final three seasons before being traded to the Canucks in 2006. Despite the injuries, he still wanted to play and help bring the Panthers a championship. That just shows his dedication and love for the game. As recent as April 2019, he was still talking about playing into his 40s.

But as the summer went on, Luongo would decide it was time to hang up the pads and close the curtain on a career for the ages.

Thank You, Bobby Lou

As a final thought, I am probably not alone in saying that Luongo made a huge impact on the game of hockey. He will go down in history as not just an elite, franchise goaltender, but as a great personality and ambassador of the game. As Panthers and Canuck fans, we may be disappointed that he did not lead our respective teams to a Stanley Cup. But he did bring the game excitement and personality. I know many of us Canuck fans still miss his presence in Vancouver. I’m sure Panthers fans felt the same when he was traded. Ultimately, he is a legend in not just one city, but two. He deserves the honor of the Hall of Fame and jersey retirement ceremonies in the city of Sunrise as well as the city of Vancouver.