VANCOUVER, B.C. – The Vancouver Canucks are confident that Roberto Luongo will be their goaltender into his 40s, which is why they signed him to a US$64-million, 12-year contract extension Wednesday.
“We saw two 40-year-old goalies playing in the league this past year,” Canucks GM Mike Gillis said. “Dominik Hasek was a dominant goalie into his late 30s and early 40s. Johnny Bower a long time ago, there’s lots of precedent at this position.
“We didn’t have any of the discomfort that we would have had with a skating defencemen or forward.”
Luongo, 30, says he’s in great shape and believes he’ll still be playing in the NHL at the end of the deal.
“Chelly’s doing it, I don’t see why I can’t,” joked Luongo, referring to 47-year-old defenceman Chris Chelios, who played for the Detroit Red Wings last season. “As long as my body keeps telling me I can play, I’ll be in the pipes.”
Looking relaxed, wearing a T-shirt, jeans and flip-flops, Luongo met with reporters Wednesday afternoon in the parking lot of Montreal’s Roberto-Luongo Arena, the rink where he first laced up his goalie pads as a kid.
Gillis confirmed Luongo’s deal, which was finalized Wednesday morning, will count $5.3 million per year against the NHL’s salary cap. The extension will keep the Canucks captain in Vancouver until the 2021-22 season.
Luongo could retire earlier than the full length of the contract with no cap consequences for the Canucks.
“He’s the face of the organization, he’s our captain and we think he’s the most dominant player in his position in the league right now,” Gillis said.
Luongo earned $7 million last season and is due to earn $7.5 million for the upcoming campaign, which was the final year of his existing contract.
The new deal has him making $10 million in 2010-11, $6.716 million in 2011-12, $6.714 for the next six seasons, $3.382 million in 2018-19, $1.618 million in 2019-2020 and $1 million in each of 2020-21 and 2021-2022.
He went 33-13-7 last season with a franchise-record nine shutouts and is expected to challenge Martin Brodeur for Canada’s starting job at the Olympics.
The Canucks were ousted in the second round of last season’s playoffs by the Chicago Blackhawks, but Luongo said he remained committed to Vancouver.
“Obviously it was a disappointing ending but once you’re removed from that, a few weeks later you kind of analyze where you’re at, where the team’s at and where you want to go,” he said during a morning conference call before talking to reporters in Montreal. “I thought we had a chance last year to win with the team that we had, and at the end of the day, that’s really all you can ask for.
“We’re all in it to win the Stanley Cup and I’m really looking forward to the opportunity over the next few years to try to bring one to Vancouver.”
In 544 career games the Montreal native is 230-232-64 with a 2.57 goals-against average. Luongo, whose play frequently draws cheers of Lo-o-o-o-o at GM Place, is a workhorse who wants to start every game.
But his 54 appearances in 2008-09 was the lowest since he entered the NHL in 2000-01 with the New York Islanders, who drafted him fourth overall in 1997.
That was because a groin injury suffered in a 3-1 victory Nov. 22 in Pittsburgh sidelined him 24 games. The Canucks were 9-12-3 during his absence.
Luongo was in all-star form prior to the injury, setting a club record of 232 minutes 36 seconds of shutout hockey.
Vancouver was a surprise Northwest Division winner last season but was eliminated in the second round of the playoffs in a wild 7-5 Game 6 loss to the Blackhawks in Chicago.
In an unusual move last season, the Canucks named Luongo team captain. The league does not officially recognize his captaincy and there’s no C on his sweater as rules forbid goalies from roaming to the penalty box area to discuss calls with referees. He wears the C on his mask.
Luongo was obtained on the eve of the June 2006 NHL entry draft by then general manager Dave Nonis.
The blockbuster deal packaged forward Todd Bertuzzi, defenceman Brian Allen and goalie Alex Auld to the Florida Panthers.
Luongo, defenceman Lukas Krajicek, no longer with Vancouver, and a sixth-round draft pick came to the Canucks.
Gillis re-signed twin forwards Henrik and Daniel Sedin to five-year contract extensions this summer. He also signed 40-year-old free agent defenceman Mathieu Schneider last week.
Luongo said the return of the Sedins was a big factor in his decision to commit for the long term.
“I think those guys are a big part of our team and they’re great guys, not only on the ice but off the ice,” he said. “It was nice to see them come back with the organization.
Luongo’s also pleased with the club’s other new additions.
“We’ve added more pieces this summer, so I really like our group, and like I said before, once you’re in the playoffs it’s a clean sheet for everybody and whoever’s playing the best at that time can take it,” he said.
Gillis is confident, too.
“We’ve gone out and gotten the defenceman we wanted. We’re really deep on defence,” he said. “We think we’ve got the best goalie in the league right now signed to a long-term contract.
“We’ve got our two top offensive producing forwards signed for five years, so I think we’re in good shape.”
– With files from Canadian Press reporters Andy Blatchford, Ron Sudlow and Chris Johnston.