One of the winningest goaltenders in NHL history is calling it a career. After 1,044 games, 489 wins, 77 shutouts and 19 campaigns in the big league, Florida Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo has officially announced his retirement. And in true Luongo – or should we say ‘Strombone’ – fashion, he first made it clear by posting an image to Twitter of his pads strung up on a wire.
Luongo hanging up his skates is in no way shocking, even if some were of the mind the netminder still had at least one more season in him. Speculation has run rampant over the past few weeks that the netminder was contemplating retirement, and it's now abundantly clear there was fire accompanying the smoke. Over the past season, Luongo had been in and out of the lineup, missed 13 games with lower-body injuries and he saw his numbers decline precipitously from where they had been across his past four campaigns in Florida. And that all played into his choice.
“This is one of the toughest decisions I've faced in my life and it took me a long time to make it,” Luongo wrote in an open letter. “After thinking about it a lot over the past two months and listening to my body, I made up my mind. It just feels like the right time for me to step away from the game.”
Despite the signs that his retirement was looming, however, it’s no less disappointing to see one of the greatest goaltenders of his generation, and arguably one of the very best in league history, step away from the game. Making it even more difficult, though, is that his battle with injury is at least in part responsible for his retirement.
In his open letter, Luongo described the difficulties he has had this summer in ramping himself up for off-season workouts, preparing his body for another full campaign and his waning excitement for the season ahead. Luongo also noted how much time and effort has had to go not only into pre-season preparation, but each and every contest since his hip surgery following the 2015-16 season. Hours before practices and hours before games, Luongo would stretch and work out his hip. Nights before games, and even on off-days, the same. “My entire life revolved around recovery, strengthening and making sure I was ready to go the next day,” Luongo wrote.
As Luongo walks away, he does so with three seasons remaining on a 12-year, $64-million pact he signed in 2009 with the Vancouver Canucks, with whom he spent nearly eight seasons. Given the back-diving nature of the contract and that it predated the league’s mandate against such deals, there are some penalties incurred by those connected to the deal. For the Panthers, there's a penalty of roughly $1.1 million for the next three seasons, though that is considerably less than the $4.5 million cap hit Luongo had counted for against the cap. Vancouver, however, takes it on the chin. The Canucks now have to deal with a $3.03-million recapture penalty through to the end of the 2021-22 season.
But cap impacts – and on-ice impacts for the Panthers, who must now seek a replacement for the veteran keeper – aside, there are two pressing questions in the wake of Luongo’s announcement.
The first is what comes next for Luongo? In his open letter, he said he wasn’t sure. First comes rest, and after that, maybe stepping into a management role. He wrote that he wanted to be part of the Panthers’ organization, and given he made abundantly clear that he and his family are putting down permanent roots in Parkland, Fla., the possibility of stepping into an executive role of some sort doesn’t at all seem out of the question. In such a position, too, Luongo might have a chance to someday hoist the Stanley Cup, which he said wouldn’t be quite the same as winning during his playing days, but “it would still be quite the accomplishment.”
The second – and one which will be endlessly debated in the coming days, weeks, months and years – is one of Luongo’s Hall of Fame credentials. You can rest assured there will be those in both the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ camps, as well as some who are certain to call him a borderline candidate. But a betting man might suggest that he’s destined to get the call to the Hall at some point. The numbers certainly support his case.
As he walks away, Luongo’s win total puts him third in NHL history, five clear of Hall of Famer Ed Belfour and behind only Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur on the all-time list, who join as two of only three goaltenders to play at least 1,000 games. In addition, Luongo is top 10 all-time in shutouts and second all-time in saves, only 519 behind Brodeur for all-time. As he retires, Luongo also ranks 10th all-time in save percentage, his .919 SP not all that far behind legends Jacques Plante, Ken Dryden, Johnny Bower and Dominik Hasek.
The argument against Luongo, however, will cite that his lone piece of individual hardware is a William M. Jennings Trophy and that he has no Stanley Cup to his name. But what that ignores is that Luongo is a two-time end-of-season all-star, that he finished top-four in Vezina Trophy voting on five occasions and top-10 in Hart Trophy voting three times and that he led the Canucks to within one win of the 2011 Stanley Cup. (And were it not for the absolutely otherworldly performance of then-Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas, the ‘No Cup’ argument might not be one we’re having.)
It can’t be overlooked, either, that it’s the Hockey Hall of Fame, not the NHL Hall of Fame, and Luongo is a two-time QMJHL champion, has two World Championship golds, one World Cup gold and an Olympic gold. That Olympic gold came in a tournament in which he posted a .927 SP and 1.76 GAA to backstop Canada to the top of the podium in Vancouver, too.
But the Hall of Fame question is one to be asked at another time, and one that will certainly garner much more attention in about, oh, three years’ time. For now, we can simply reflect on the career of one of the modern era’s greatest goaltenders – while also selfishly hoping this leaves him more time to make us laugh on Twitter with his trademark sense of humor.
(All salary cap information via CapFriendly)
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