VANCOUVER – In a move that breaks with tradition, and the NHL rules, the Vancouver Canucks named Roberto Luongo the team’s captain Tuesday, even though the goaltender will not be able to have a C sewn on his uniform.
Coach Alain Vigneault said Luongo’s leadership abilities makes him the obvious choice to become the 12th captain in Canuck history.
“In our mind, for this organization, this is the right thing to do,” said Vigneault. “Roberto is the right individual to be captain.”
Mike Gillis, the rookie Canuck general manager who promised to bring new ideas to the job, said it would be unfair not to let Luongo be captain just because of the position he plays.
“Leaders lead by example,” said Gillis. “Roberto is the leader of this team right now. We felt really strongly about that. To not do something like this means you have a leader that is unrecognized.
“We wanted to make sure he is recognized for his contribution both on and off the ice.”
Luongo, 29, often was Vancouver’s best player last year when the team missed the playoffs for the second time in three years. He said he was stunned when Vigneault first approached him with the idea in September.
“I didn’t expect it when Alain came and asked,” he said. “I was definitely surprised but at the same time I was happy and flattered.”
Rule 6.1 in the NHL rule book says: “No playing coach or playing manager or goalkeeper shall be permitted to act as captain or alternate captain.”
To remain within the rules, Luongo will not wear a C on his jersey. To compensate, the Canucks named defencemen Mattias Ohlund and Willie Mitchell, plus forward Ryan Kesler, as assistant captains. It will be their jobs to discuss calls with officials and take ceremonial faceoffs.
“He (Luongo) is not going to come out of his crease,” Vigneault said with a grin. “We’ve already come to the agreement that opening faceoffs will be Mattias’s because he’s the longest running Canuck.
“Since (Mitchell) likes to talk the most, we’ll have him talk to the referees.”
Gillis said he told the NHL about the Canucks plan and they offered no objections.
Luongo said he isn’t bothered he won’t have a letter on his sweater.
“It really doesn’t change anything for me,” he said. “It’s a matter of people knowing I’m captain. At the same time, I’m sure it involves a lot more stuff off the ice.”
There have been six goaltenders named as NHL team captains. The last was Bill Durnan of the Montreal Canadiens during the 1947-48 season.
The league passed a rule preventing goalies from being a captain prior to the 1948-49 season. One of the concerns was Durnan left his crease so often to speak with officials it gave his team unscheduled timeouts during a game.
The Canucks were left without a captain after Markus Naslund signed a free agent contract with the New York Rangers in the off-season.
The Swedish forward, whose leadership abilities were often criticized, had worn the C since 2000.
Other Canucks captains have included Mark Messier, Stan Smyl, Orland Kurtenbach and Trevor Linden, who retired this summer.
Last season Luongo had a 35-29-9 record, a 2.38 goals-against average, .917 save percentage and six shutouts in 73 games. At times he seemed to resent the intense media scrutiny he received in a market where hockey is the number one sport.
Luongo knows as captain one of his roles is to talk to reporters every day.
“There are certain things that happened last year I wasn’t pleased with, the way I responded to certain things in the media,” said Luongo, who can be emotional and speak from the heart, especially after a loss. “I really took the time this summer to reflect on that and make sure that this year things are going to be handled the right way by my side, no matter what happens from your guys’ standpoint.”
There also have been questions about how much longer Luongo will want to remain in Vancouver unless the Canucks become Stanley Cup contenders. He has two years left on a US$27-million, four-year contract.
“My main thing is to win,” said Luongo. “If we have a winning team here then hopefully I will be here longer.”
Gillis denied naming Luongo captain was a way to convince him to remain in Vancouver.
“I think keeping Roberto here long-term is going to be based on our competitiveness, as it will be with most players,” he said. “We must do everything possible to compete as well as we can.”
Luongo is entering his ninth NHL season and third with the Canucks. He came to Vancouver in June 2006 in a trade that saw Todd Bertuzzi go to Florida.
In his first season with the Canucks Luongo was nominated for the Hart and Vezina Trophies and the Lester B. Pearson Award.