Roberto Luongo is arguably the best goaltender in Vancouver Canucks franchise history. He has the most career wins and shutouts in a Canucks uniform, with 252 and 38. He also set single-season records in wins, shutouts, saves, games played and goals saved above average.
Luongo provided stability in goal for over eight seasons in Vancouver, which had been coined a “goalie graveyard” by former Canucks general manager Brian Burke. Not since Kirk McLean last played between the pipes for the Canucks in 1998 had there been a clear-cut number one goaltender who was able to carry a team. Luongo’s arrival in 2006 brought back what was lacking ever since McLean left.
However, despite Luongo’s terrific play and numerous accolades during his tenure in Vancouver, every season ended poorly for him and the team. There is a case to be made that Luongo perhaps choked every year he was in a Canucks jersey, or he at least ended every season on a negative note.
2006-07: The Beginning
The Canucks acquired Luongo on June 23, 2006, along with defenceman Lukas Krajicek and a sixth-round draft pick, which turned out to be forward Sergei Shirokov, from the Florida Panthers in exchange for forward Todd Bertuzzi, defenceman Bryan Allen and goaltender Alex Auld. This trade is regarded as one of the most lopsided deals in NHL history, as Bertuzzi would go on to score just one goal and play only seven games in a Panthers uniform.
The start of the 2006-07 season brought a lot of questions and concerns about the team. Besides Luongo, there were other major changes, such as Alain Vigneault replacing Marc Crawford as bench boss, and the loss of offensive players like defenceman Ed Jovanovski and forward Anson Carter. Preseason predictions from hockey analysts and fans saw the Canucks as a weak team that would miss the playoff or barely make it in.
However, due to the strong goaltending by Luongo, the Canucks had a great season. Luongo went 47-22-6, with five shutouts, a .921 save percentage, and 2.29 goals against average, as the Canucks won the Northwest Division. After defeating the Dallas Stars in a dramatic seven-game series, the Canucks faced the Anaheim Ducks in the second round. The eventual Stanley Cup champions defeated the Canucks in five games.
Game 5 was an infamous moment in Luongo’s career for a couple of reasons. He missed the first three minutes of the first overtime period due to what was believed to be equipment issues. Backup goaltender Dany Sabourin was forced into action as a shocked Canucks general manager Dave Nonis looked on from the press box. It was later revealed that Luongo had an untimely case of diarrhea. He did come back into the game only to give up the series-clinching goal from the blue line to Ducks defenceman Scott Niedermayer.
A hit by Ducks forward Rob Niedermayer on Canucks forward Jannik Hansen caught the attention of Luongo, causing Luongo to complain to the referee. Luongo was not paying attention to the play, which allowed Scott Nidermayer to score the series-winning goal from far out. It was a terrible way to end an otherwise great season.
2007-08: The Blip
Luongo continued his strong play into his second season in Vancouver. He set a franchise record for longest shutout streak, spanning 210:34 and including a three-game shutout streak. He was also voted as the Western Conference’s starting goaltender in the NHL All Star Game for the second consecutive season.
However, he did not attend the game in order to be with his pregnant wife in Florida. His wife gave birth to their first child, Gabriella, on March 27, 2008. The next day, Luongo started in goal for a game against the Wild in Minnesota. He was pulled after allowing four goals in a 4-0 loss.
Vancouver had been near the top of the Northwest Division all season long, but a late-season collapse caused the Canucks to miss the playoffs. Luongo played the team’s final 31 games, and won only one of his final eight starts. In the final game of the season, Luongo was once again pulled, after allowing three goals on nine shots in a 7-1 drubbing by the Calgary Flames. The game also marked the end of two Canucks legends, former captain Trevor Linden and captain at that time Markus Naslund, who retired and left to free agency respectively.
2008-09: O Captain! My Captain?
Prior to the start of the 2008-09 campaign, newly-appointed Canucks general manager Mike Gillis, and head coach Vigneault, named Luongo the 12th captain in franchise history, replacing Naslund, who had signed with the New York Rangers.
Despite league rules forbidding goaltenders from being named captain, Luongo was named regardless, becoming only the seventh goaltender in NHL history and the first since Bill Durnan of the Montreal Canadiens in 1947-48.
Due to injuries he missed a sizable number of games, but was still able to lead the Canucks to their second Northwest Division title in three years and back into the playoffs. After a first-round sweep of the St. Louis Blues, he faced off against the Chicago Blackhawks in round two. The Blackhawks defeated the Canucks in six games, winning Game 6 7-5, and went on to win the Cup. Luongo was criticized after the loss for his poor play, and told reporters in a post-game interview that he “let [his] teammates down” while holding back tears.
2009-10: The Contract Didn’t Suck. Yet…
Before the 2009-10 season, Luongo signed a massive 12-year, $64-million contract extension with the Canucks, a deal that would later come back to haunt both the team and Luongo.
Despite the new contract and recording his second career 40-win season, Luongo finished the year with his worst statistical season as a Canuck. He was pulled seven times in 68 appearances, and recorded a mediocre 2.57 goals against average and .913 save percentage.
After defeating the Los Angeles Kings in six games, the Canucks once against faced off against the Blackhawks, and once again Luongo struggled. Luongo allowed 21 goals in six games, including five in the deciding sixth game. He finished the playoffs with an abysmal 3.22 goals against average and .895 save percentage.
2010-11: The Cup Run
Luongo’s reign as Canucks captain came to an end prior to the 2010-11 season, as centre Henrik Sedin was named new captain. Part of the reason was to take some of the pressure off Luongo. Rookie goaltender Cory Schneider was also slated to start more often, to give Luongo more rest. It worked, as he led the league in wins with 38 and set a career-high as well as franchise record with a 2.11 goals against average, surpassing the previous record of 2.27 held by Dan Cloutier. Luongo, along with Schneider, won the William M. Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed in the league.
For the third straight season, the Canucks were matched up against the Blackhawks in the playoffs. After winning the first three games, Luongo was pulled in games four and five after allowing six and four goals. Schneider started Game 6, but was forced to leave due to injury after a penalty shot goal by forward Michael Frolik tied the game in the third period.
Luongo came in relief of Schneider only to give up the game-winning goal in overtime to forward Ben Smith, forcing a Game 7 back in Vancouver. Luckily for Luongo and the Canucks, he played well in Game 7, as Vancouver won 2-1 in overtime to finally defeat the Blackhawks.
Luongo played very well in the next two rounds against the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks, propelling the Canucks to their third ever Stanley Cup Final, where they faced off against the Boston Bruins.
After winning the first two games, Luongo surrendered eight goals in Game 3 in Boston. In Game 4, he was pulled again after allowing four goals on 20 shots. After his second shutout of the Final in Game 5, he questioned Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas’ positioning on Canucks forward Alex Burrows’ overtime-winning goal in Game 2.
He then infamously said,”I’ve been pumping [Thomas’] tires ever since the series started and I haven’t heard one nice thing he had to say about me.” Tomas replied by saying he didn’t know it was his job to pump Luongo’s tires.
Luongo was pulled once again in Boston after allowing three goals in less than three minutes during the first period of Game 6. He then allowed three goals on 20 shots in Game 7, a 4-0 loss, as the Bruins hoisted the Cup on Vancouver ice.
2011-12: The Beginning of the End
Luongo struggled throughout the 2011-12 season. An injury and lack of consistency, and the strong play of Schneider, forced Luongo into a backup role for a brief period of time.
However, Luongo regained the number one position, and along with Schneider, helped the Canucks win a second consecutive Presidents’ Trophy. The top-seeded Canucks faced the eighth-seeded Kings, but were without Daniel Sedin for the first three games due to an injury he sustained from a cheap-shot elbow from Blackhawks defenceman Duncan Keith.
Luongo played well in the first two games, but the Canucks lost both. Vigneault opted to start Schneider the rest of the series, which the Canucks lost in five games.
2012-13: The Writing on the Wall
The lockout-shortened 2012-13 season saw both goaltenders split playing time, although Schneider was the clear number one. Vigneault praised Schneider throughout the season, calling him the MVP of the team and one of the reasons why they made the playoffs.
Luongo expected to be traded by the NHL trade deadline, but no deal came to fruition. In a press conference just after the deadline had passed, Luongo infamously stated that his contract “sucks,” citing it as a main reason why he was still in Vancouver. Schneider was injured near the end of the season, so Luongo started the first two games of the playoffs against the Sharks. He played well but the Canucks lost both games. In game three, Luongo came in relief of Schneider who was pulled during the third period. However, Schneider still started Game 4, which was another loss as the Canucks were swept.
Although it seemed like Luongo’s days in Vancouver were numbered, he was reinstated as the number one starter when Schneider was surprisingly traded to the New Jersey Devils at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. However, new head coach John Tortorella started Eddie Lack in goal for the Heritage Classic against the Ottawa Senators at BC Place. Luongo was upset with this decision, as he was looking forward to playing that game. He demanded a trade and was subsequently traded back to the Panthers on March 4, 2014 along with prospect Steven Anthony in exchange for goaltender Jacob Markstrom and forward Shawn Matthias.
Roberto Luongo did a lot of great things during his time in Vancouver, and his jersey number will one day hang from the rafters of Rogers Arena or be inducted into the Canucks Ring of Honour. He did, however, also have a lot of bad moments, moments that ultimately may define him as a goaltender and his time as a Canuck more so than his accomplishments.