I suppose, and hope, one day that Roberto Luongo will become something of a case-study, if not a union martyr, of a player who becomes demonized simply because he accepted a contract that was offered to him. How evil.
Luongo retired today, and there will be some in Vancouver angry at him for not doing the LTIR limbo to save them from the cap-recapture penalty. Which is just the dumbest rule in hockey, if not sports, but then the dumbest rule in sports probably should exist in hockey. It’s definitely something the players’ union should come after in the next CBA negotiations, but probably won’t after their satisfied that they’ll get to go play in an Olympics no one will watch from Beijing and everyone will forget happened like three weeks after. It is their ball of yarn.
And it would be easy to just say, “Well the Canucks are at fault for offering him that,” (and fun, too) but they did it under a different CBA and all they were doing was locking down a team linchpin at the time. It’s a long time ago now, but Luongo signed that deal before the 2009-2010 season, when he was coming off a .920 season with the Canucks and was only 30 years old.
Luongo is lucky in some ways that that contract won’t be the only thing talked about as far as his legacy. He’s unlucky in that anything else that comes with it probably won’t shine all that bright.
It’s hard to discuss Luongo without discussing the playoff flameouts. There’s no way to coat the seven surrendered in Game 6 in ’09, or the 16 he gave up in the three games in Vancouver in ’10, or the .738 SV% in Boston in ’11. These are the facts of the case. But unlike anyone else on that team, Bob never really hid from it, and never tried to lower how much it hurt him that he didn’t come up big in the team’s biggest moments. And he could have used any of the Sedins no disappearing when it mattered, or the Canucks not having an actual top pairing d-man at any time. or Kesler’s body falling apart. You couldn’t find any of those guys when the questions came. Thing 1 or 2, or Kesler, or Bieksa, or Edler all were never heard from in a postgame dressing room. But Bob was always in front of a microphone.
It was that upfront, honest nature that eventually turned most’s opinion on him. A clear sense of humor on social media certainly didn’t hurt. It was bullshit that in the midst of the Vancouver meltdown, he had to tell the press his contract “sucked.” It didn’t suck. He earned that. And his departure from the city and team that no longer wanted him and where he didn’t enjoy playing was delayed merely because he’d played well enough to earn that deal before.
Perhaps there will be no bigger example of a player who was only viewed on his contract than Luongo. He’ll retire with the 10th best all-time SV%, which means he walks with giants. He’ll probably end up being a Hall of Famer, but in reality he should be in the Hall Of Very Good. Never won a Vezina, won only a Jennings, though did finish 2nd in the Hart Trophy once. He’s got a couple gold medals, one as a starter, so that’s something (though I would argue he wasn’t terribly great in 2010 but having a defense consisting of five eventual Norris winners certainly helps).
Perhaps now that contract won’t come into any discussion of Luongo’s career. Those playoff performances will, and that’s fair. Though I’d like to point out he’ll retire with a better playoff SV% than Pekka Rinne, yet nothing ever seems to be Rinne’s fault when it goes balls-up for the Preds. But ha, nothing ever bad happens in Nashville and everyone there is just so wonderful and perfect, don’t you know?
He certainly provided us with more than enough material. He was always an entertaining watch in whatever capacity. And that sort of honesty and personality should be something every player feels free to show but never does. The NHL will miss him, though I doubt it’ll realize it.