Roberto Luongo had to wait an excruciatingly long time, but finally he’s earned himself the win needed to inch that much closer to the top of the all-time charts.
All the way back at the tail end of last season, on Feb. 28, Luongo picked up win No. 453 of his career. The shootout victory against the Carolina Hurricanes was a big one, too, because it put Luongo one win shy of matching Curtis Joseph on the all-time list and one win shy of vaulting Luongo into the same conversation as Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur and Ed Belfour, the three winningest goaltenders in the history of the game. But the next time out, an early March contest against the Philadelphia Flyers, Luongo fell injured and found himself on the shelf for the remainder of the campaign. So, he had to wait. And wait. And wait.
But now, 227 days after he picked up his 453rd career victory, he finally has the win that deadlocks him with Joseph on the all-time list. On Thursday, Luongo and the Florida Panthers handed the St. Louis Blues their first loss of the season. In the 5-2 victory, Luongo stopped 37 of the 39 shots he faced, earned himself the second star and said after the game that he was glad to have it out of the way.
"It took a long time," Luongo said, according to NHL.com’s Alain Poupart. "I was sitting on it for a while. Obviously I wanted to get back in there and get that one behind me. I was happy that I was able to string a good game together and get the win and the two points.”
Luongo won’t have to wait another 227 days to move ahead of Joseph, however. As early as this weekend, when the Panthers roll into Pittsburgh to play the Penguins, Luongo could get the win he needs to take sole possession of fourth-place all-time on the career wins list. And with that victory, whether it comes this weekend or sometime in the near future, will come the inevitable question: as the fourth-winningest netminder in NHL history, is Luongo destined for the Hockey Hall of Fame?
The gaudy win total alone would give some the impression that Luongo is a lock, a no-doubter, first-ballot selection. Truth of the matter is, though, that the wins alone — or at least his current total — aren’t going to make Luongo’s case. Need proof? Ask Joseph.
At this point, Joseph has been eligible for Hall of Fame induction for five years, but the call hasn’t come. And it’s not as if ‘CuJo’ doesn’t outrank some serious Hall of Fame-caliber, legend-of-the-position goaltenders on the wins list. With 454 victories, he’s ahead of the likes of Terry Sawchuk, Jacques Plante, Tony Esposito-, Glenn Hall, Grant Fuhr and Dominik Hasek. What has kept Joseph out of the hallowed Hall all these years, however, is that he doesn’t have the hardware, neither individually or team-wise, that generally goes along with the wins.
Joseph was consistently among the best netminders in the game, but never did he stand atop the league as the consensus best netminder. Five times he finished in the top five of Vezina Trophy voting, but up against the Roys, Brodeurs, Belfours and Haseks of the league, Joseph was never able to win any end-of-season awards. He doesn’t even have a William M. Jennings Trophy to his name. Likewise, Joseph was never able to parade around the ice with the Stanley Cup, nor did he earn a conference championship at any point in his career. He came oh-so-close in 1999 and 2002 with the Maple Leafs, but Toronto bowed out in the Eastern Conference final in both years.
That brings us back to Luongo, who, frankly, finds himself in much the same position. Luongo has had a remarkable NHL career, of that there’s no question, but many of the same issues that have plagued Joseph’s Hall of Fame bid face Luongo, too. Individual awards? Luongo has a Jennings, but no Vezina. Like Joseph, Luongo has placed fifth or better in voting five times, though. Luongo did finish second in Hart Trophy voting one year, mind you, but Joseph also finished fourth in MVP voting once, too. Call it a wash. And when it comes to the Stanley Cup, Luongo, like Joseph, is without one. He came even closer than Joseph, winning a Western Conference title and losing in Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup final, but Luongo doesn’t have the coveted Stanley Cup ring.
However, Luongo has two things that can help set him apart and potentially give him a leg up and into the Hall, and the first is a resume beyond the NHL. For what it’s worth, he has won and backstopped Canada to gold at the Olympics and World Championship, as well as earning a gold medal as part of the World Cup team in 2004. It’s worth noting Joseph has the Olympic gold, but he played one game in that tournament, whereas Luongo played five games, including the gold medal game, for Canada.
The second, and most important, is time. Though he’s 38 and undoubtedly on the back nine of his career, Luongo has five years remaining on his contract. Whether he plays all five years is another conversation altogether, but he’s currently locked up until 2021-22. Conservatively, if Luongo were to play 30 games per year until his contract was up and win half of those per season, it would give him an additional 74 wins. That would take him to 528 wins and make him only the third netminder in league history to win 500 games. That’s quite the feather in his cap and one heck of a credential.
For what it’s worth, Luongo also has some intriguing numbers on his side. Matched up against the 11 Hall of Fame goaltenders to play in the post-expansion era, Luongo has the eighth-best winning percentage and fourth-most shutouts. He also has the fourth-most games played all-time and will be the third goalie in league history to hit the 1,000 game mark with another 32 games played.
Still, will it be enough? Only three goaltenders who made a significant impact on the game in the 1990s or beyond — Roy, Brodeur and Hasek — have earned their spot in the Hall of Fame. Luongo would be the fourth, but even if or when he hits 500 wins, his case, unlike the others, won’t be as clear-cut.
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