VANCOUVER – Goaltender Roberto Luongo is the only player who can truly say if being captain of the Vancouver Canucks is a burden that has affected his performance.
That hasn’t stopped the media and fans in this hockey-obsessed city from voicing their opinion on whether Luongo should continue to wear the C.
The Canucks and Luongo have spent the summer re-thinking the decision made two seasons ago to break with tradition, and NHL rules, and name a goalie team captain.
Vancouver general manager Mike Gillis will meet with Luongo sometime this month to discuss the situation. Read carefully between the lines of what Gillis said in July, and you get the feeling his mind is already made up
“We are going to discuss whether or not he will continue,” Gillis told a gathering of season-ticket holders.
“There is tremendous pressure in this city. If we are doing everything to allow this team to win, we will take into consideration his (Luongo’s) feeling and our feelings about whether or not the expectations are simply too high and whether he can meet them in that position.”
While cleaning out his locker after Vancouver’s second-round playoff loss to Chicago this spring, Luongo talked like a man who didn’t want to give up the captain’s role.
“I love being captain,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed it. I don’t have any problems with it.
“That being said, right now is not the time, after an emotional loss, to be thinking about decisions like that.”
Neither Gillis or Luongo were available for comment Thursday.
When the Canucks are winning, and Luongo is on top of his game, the captaincy isn’t an issue. But if Vancouver begins to lose, and Luongo allows some soft goals, the debate heats up.
Being captain of a Canadian team puts a player under a microscope. There are many off-ice responsibilities.
The player becomes the face, and voice, of the club. Some people believe Luongo would be better off without the burden of having to speak to the media, day after day, win or lose.
Kelly Hrudey, the retired NHL goaltender who now works for CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada, said a captain needs a special personality.
“My belief would be, if you are the type of person (that) you feel it’s an obligation to speak to the media, when ever required, especially after a poor game, then I think it would work,” Hrudey said in a telephone interview.
“It seems to me Roberto has the same mind set.”
Speaking to reporters after a game, even following a loss, wasn’t an issue before Luongo was captain. He always made himself available.
During this year’s playoffs, when the Canucks trailed Chicago 3-1, Luongo said he would no longer do interviews prior to a game. Goaltenders not talking on game day is not new. Captains not speaking before a game is.
Hrudey agreed wearing the C brings responsibilities.
“I was always of the mind set that it didn’t matter if I did interviews the day of the game,” he said. “If that threw me off, then I had clearly not prepared well.”
If Gillis and Luongo agree the team needs a different captain, the most likely candidate would be Henrik Sedin. The soft-spoken Swede won the NHL scoring title and was named league MVP last season.
Another player who could fill the role would be forward Ryan Kesler, who combines grit with a scoring touch.
The Canucks named Luongo captain on Sept. 30, 2008, replacing Markus Naslund who left the team as a free agent.
The last goaltender to be captain of an NHL team was Bill Durnan of the Montreal Canadiens during the 1947-48 season.
The NHL 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.
Don Cherry of Hockey Night in Canada called the Canucks’ decision silly. Mike Milbury, who works for CBC and NBC, said it was “a little absurd.”
Since he couldn’t officially wear a C on his uniform, Luongo had one painted on his mask.
Sometime before the opening game of the season Luongo will know if he must repaint his mask.