Bruce Ng: Is there a more polarizing figure in Vancouver sports than Roberto Luongo?

Roberto Luongo - Photo: Getty Images

Is there a more polarizing figure in Vancouver sports than Roberto Luongo?

People either vehemently defend him, or scrutinize every goal that gets by him. There is a long list of reasons people love him and hate him. Tonight, the Canucks lost 4-0 to the New York Rangers. And another chapter in Vancouver’s love-hate relationship with Roberto Luongo is written in 140 chars or less on Twitter.

@farhanmohamed: I foresee a night of Luongo-hating comments, as usual. #Canucks

In case you thought tonight’s game was pretty bad, the last time the Rangers won in Vancouver, Wayne Gretzky was playing for the Rangers, and Mark Messier wore the captain’s “C” for the Canucks. Think about that for a moment. Those were dark days in Canucks history – Trevor Linden was stripped of the C and driven out of town. Goaltenders included names like Kirk McLean, Corey Hirsch, Arturs Irbe, Kevin Weekes, Felix Potvin, and Dan Cloutier.

One characteristic that is common among all of these guys – none were real winners. Don’t get me wrong – some of them won some games. However, most of these guys had a habit of letting in a soft goal, usually once per game.

In hockey, the object of the game is to score more goals than your opponent. The team that scores the most goals wins.

@kohmcradu: Remember that one time when the goalie couldn’t win the game for the entire team? Defense, anyone? #Canucks

@causticchick: Here we go again with the Luongo hate. He’s not the only one on the ice, people. You win by scoring goals. We haven’t done that. #Canucks

Despite the basic object of the game, and the Canucks not scoring any goals at all tonight, or 2 games ago in Detroit, people will continue to blame Luongo for the loss.

One of the biggest reasons I love hockey is because it is an ultimate team game. There are rare individuals that can dominate a shift, but when hockey is played as a team – a unit of players with a common goal – that is when hockey is the greatest. The team that plays together has a synergistic effect, and wins games.

In hockey, it is rarely one player that loses a game for a team, and so the performance of a hockey club should be assessed with an eye to the team – not to just one player.

One of the greatest goaltenders in NHL history, Patrick Roy once said, “For goaltenders everything is playing between your ears.   If you can believe it, you can do it.  If you’re not confident when you start, it makes a difference.

@DanielKhatkar: I think if this city showed a little support for #1 his mind would be in a completely different place

@AY604: You know how you build confidence in a goalie, you give him the Bronx cheer at home! Good work #Canuck fans!

@korvan: We had one of the best goalies in the league when we got Luongo, now we have a basket case. I wonder what caused that? #Canucks

Even Patrick Roy tells us that confidence is an important characteristic in a goalie. When Luongo was traded to Vancouver, he was lauded as one of Canada’s greatest goaltenders. Drafted by the Islanders, traded to the Panthers, he was stuck on horrible teams, but got to play for his country in the World Hockey Championships. Luongo coming to the Canucks was supposed to be a marriage made in Hockey Heaven.

What happened?

In September 2009, the Canucks signed Luongo to a 12-year contract extension worth $64 million. With salary comes expectations.

@TheFalconer: I think the entire team got deked out of their jock straps on that one. But we’ll just blame Luongo, it’s easier.

Many fans in Vancouver believe that Luongo is one of the highest paid players in the NHL. In fact, he is the 62nd highest paid player in the NHL, in terms of salary cap hit, at $5.3 million. This puts Luongo right behind James Wisniewski and Phil Kessel, and slightly ahead of Corry Perry and Ryan Getzlaf.  He has the 7th highest cap hit this year among goaltenders, just behind Mikka Kiprusoff and Ilya Bryzgalov.

The expectations on Luongo are likely not realistic. No one player will bring about a dynasty of championships, despite what the haters will have you believe. And to win games, the team has to  score goals – this is hockey at it’s most basic.

So this brings about the burning question: 

@wilsons618: Why is it everyone loves McLean when he hasn’t won us anything, but hates Luongo, who’s probably the best goalie that the #Canucks have had?

The answer is somewhere between expectations and results. With McLean (admittedly, my favourite Canucks goaltender of all time), expectations were low. He was a good goaltender, but he was not supposed to carry the Canucks to the Stanley Cup Final. The Canucks in 1993-94 were the 7th seed in the Western Conference. They were underdogs in each of their series, and should not have made it out of the first round. Yet they defeated the Flames, Stars and Leafs on an unlikely run to face the Rangers in the final. The Canucks that year shouldn’t have pushed the series to 7 games, but they did against a heavily favoured Rangers team. And they left it all out on the ice, and came within a goalpost of a Stanley Cup.

With Luongo, expectations were high to begin with, and higher every year since. Win games. Sign a long term contract extension. Make the goaltender the captain of the team. Win games by shutout. Take the C away to relieve the pressure. Start him in less games to get him rest. Change the goaltending coach, change his style. Win playoff series. Win more playoff series. Win the Stanley Cup – is there anything else?

Is this a tweet from the future?

@PabloP74: I see a ‘Roy’ situation in Vancouver where Lu gets hung out to dry then demands a trade only to win Stanley cup with new team! #ProfoundLoss

It’s possible. It happened with Roy – widely viewed around the NHL as one of the great goaltenders in the game, he won Stanley Cups, multiple Vezina and Jennings trophies, and even two Conn Smythe trophies, but it still wasn’t enough for Montreal fans, who gave him the Bronx cheer in a lopsided 11-1 game during the 1995-96 season.

It was a different situation and in a different era, but Roy demanded a trade and was dealt to the Colorado Avalanche. That very season, Roy helped the Avalanche win their first Stanley Cup.

For all the October Luongo-haters out there – see you back on the wagon in November! And be careful what you wish for!

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  1. peanutflower says

    Great. Thanks. I wish this article could be streamed on big-ass TV screens throughout Vancouver for people to read. The fans treat Luongo terribly. I’m embarrassed.

    • says

      thanks for the comment! it was a couple goals. maybe the fans at Rogers rightfully expected a save, and they paid for their tickets, so maybe they can boo if they want. but i didn’t hear too many boos for Hodgson, who got walked around, or Hamhuis, who couldn’t tie up Gaborik’s stick in the crease.

      (and I love both those guys too!)

      maybe if Luongo was more consistent and the beginning and at the end of a season, the fans wouldn’t be as hard on him. but i think it’s more than that!

    • says

      i enjoyed that post on your blog, and the phrase “The Luongo Effect” .. truthfully, i also enjoyed the sarcastic edge to the post: “Everyone one knows that demoralization is a one-way phenomenon which only emanates from the crease never towards it.” .. hahaa that is gold! =)

      thanks for the comment, i appreciate the read!

  2. 3rd Rd + MacLean for Roti? says

    Hey Gretz, I saw a hispanic fan in the stands that didn’t look like he had identification. Deport him to Jaurez City before he helps the SW economy, plz. Luongo looked sharp against arch enemy. Reflexes of a Cloutier-sized goalie yet with a glove able to stop a Lidstrom dump-in. I’d add some players to trade off over time for restocking Canucks prospects shelf. But not as important given 25 yr old free agency. Canucks have made more good roster moves over time than bad ever since around time they picked up Cloutier.

  3. Keystone garter says

    I’m thinking of modifying CSB rankings to incorporate late performance surges. Sheifele improved lots near the end of last season. Can’t account for intangibles. Gretz picked up Wheeler but is not a diamond if staying in college for years and I guess can’t mention mental or addiction problem; some of the latter I’m jealous of (like to think quick sometimes and only Amsterdam would let me safely). Even the injuries might be a trade secret….all in the name of funding peat moss afforestation, I assume in EU, maybe Russia, Alaska; everywhere but the country that actually needs ice. It is tough to look up to hockey players as role models when their tax base funds the end of civilization. And the Swedes don’t play like role models; no one cross checked Sedins in head long after a goal like they did with Sid (who must be wondering why Swedes are WWII heroes). Hunter did the same; I’m happy Americans won in 1996 without Lemieux, Kariya, Roy…watching 1976 Canada Cup sucked because Canada interfered with chase part of dump-n-chase just like Canucks did in playoffs against Blackhawks, but was Broadstreet bullies league.
    If one player surges into your chase, FW should be allowed incidental crosschecking. If both D do, should be allowed head shots on D, now that Suter hits are banned.

    • Keystone garter says

      …Bourque. Were Yzerman, Sakic, Lemieux ever on the same real hockey team? Don’t think so. 1991 boss went with Graham over Yzerman. Wouldn’t have had to hurt Kharlamov with Hull on the team (after the SH game I’m glad). Gretzky took 3 goal Draper over Crosby or Conn Smythe winner Staal. They never ran Ward once like they did with 3rd to Brind-Amour runner up Rollie. Be a shame not to see Crosby, Stamkos, Tavares/Hopkins on a line. That Yzerman, Sakic, Lemieux didn’t look bad in Salt Lake. Too many trophies. Rather see who the Conn Smythe runners up were and make that the trophy. But then again, Selanne was given 1/4 of a goal instead of getting to see Datsyuk and Lidstrom in their playoff primes. There is no one better at scoring key playoff dump in goals then Lidstrom. Hedberg might-ve beaten Hull in 1976 if new NHL officials. Can’t wait to watch Jets play USSR. If Hull played like that whole career, I got him as 2nd best ever.

  4. says

    Lu may be inconsistent, but let’s not forget that his goaltending last year helped carry the team to the #1 rank in the NHL and game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals (where, admittedly, he underperformed to disastrous results). I think it’s unfair to toss the poor guy under the bus due to a few months of mediocre play, especially considering all his stellar achievements last season. Give him a few more months to get back in stride, and he may yet help carry the Canucks deep into the playoffs. If he isn’t looking reliable? Not a problem, we’ve got a great back-up in Corey Schneider.

    • says

      Thanks for the comment Bob! I totally agree, and I’m a Luongo-Apologizer. Schneider has been playing lights-out lately, and although I’m happy for him and happier that the Canucks are winning, I foresee more controversy when Luongo gets his chance to start and lets in a softie. Hopefully, the fans can remember that the W’s are all that matters, even at this point in the season! =) Sadly, few people remember last season’s 3 shutouts in a row as vividly as they remember the last soft goal.

      Thanks again for the read – I appreciate it!

  5. Ramzi says

    Wow 3.5 years and this article is extremely eerie considering what transpired in Luongo’s return to Vancouver tonight.

    In my opinion after the Bertuzzi mistake in ’04 Luongo came and saved the franchise he’s my favorite goalie of all time and although I’m 30 year die hard Canuck fan I secretly rooted for him to win tonight.

    • says

      Thanks for the comment Ramzi!

      Looking back on this post, it is extremely eerie. Next guy I write about gets traded!

      All kidding aside, it was a tough game for the Canucks tonight, but just a perfect night for Luongo. He really shut the door on his old mates. After what happened during the last few years, I’m okay with that too. :)


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