Yep, it wouldn’t be the off-season without more musings about Roberto Luongo, who ought to have “Love” etched on one goalie pad with “Hate” suitably adorned on the other. It seems no matter what Luongo does, he’s always the centre of attention and easily the most polarizing figure in Canuck history. You have to wonder sometimes if he likes it that way.
After his most successful regular season which earned him (and back-up Cory Schneider) the Jennings Trophy, a Vezina Trophy nomination and 15 playoff wins, it’s hard to figure why we must ponder his role on the team one more time again.
But in the Stanley Cup Final loss to Boston, Luongo hardly went down swinging - getting ventilated early and often in every road game, in particularly dramatic fashion during the potentially clinching game six. Though in his defense, his two home game shutouts allowed the Canucks to do the unthinkable - push the series to seven games despite scoring only eight times.
And in the season ending press conference, General Manager Mike Gillis, as always, had his beleagured goalie’s back, promising that they would continue to support him to the extent required to make him a champion.
After all, it’s pretty easy to compare Roberto Luongo’s current situation to what Tim Thomas found himself in last season - having surrendered his starting job to rookie Tuukka Rask for the entire playoff run.
Of course, those currently occupying the “hate” seats in Luongo’s fan club would argue that Luongo has only himself to blame for the Canucks’ near miss at the championship this year. And with all the pampering and support he’s received, it’s about time he pulled one out of the fire for himself and his teammates.
Vancouver Province columnist Jason Botchford raised this topic as soon as the playoffs were over, openly contemplating whether Luongo, the Canuck team and fanbase can survive another season of wondering which version of Roberto will show up when it really matters most.
This story got a whole lot more interesting yesterday with the formal announcement that the NHL will be raising its salary cap by roughly $5 million this season. While this allows the big money franchises to spend more, it also forces the small market teams to follow suit in order to comply with an increased salary cap floor.
So for a goaltending challenged team in a small market, Roberto Luongo provides the perfect elixir - cost certainty (by virtue of the remaining 11 years on his deal) and the proven ability to eat up minutes. And since the Canucks front loaded his contract so severely, the amount a team would have to pay for his services would already be less than the much needed cap hit they would receive.
In the end, it, as always, will come down to what Roberto wants. He has consistently maintained that he simply wants to win. And on that basis, it’s hard to believe he’s about to agree to any trade that will send him from a Stanley Cup contender to a small market backwater (Florida, we’re talking about you). And while the manic fanbase needs one less thing to incite them, it’s not likely to come from a Luongo exit.
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