Justine Galo: What makes a good captain?

First blog of the upcoming season and Roberto Luongo has decided to relinquish the captaincy. Was it a good decision? I suppose it is, but time will tell.  However, I do believe it’s probably the best thing for the team and for the play of Roberto Luongo in the long run.

It takes a big man to take the responsibility of a team and shoulder leadership, it’s not an easy job. It takes an even bigger man to own up to his limitations.  Roberto Luongo did just that.  Now that he is no longer the captain, the biggest question in Vancouver is who will be his heir apparent? Should it really matter to us fans?

On the CanucksCorner.com forum, there were some interesting opinions of the type of Canucks captain fans would want to see.  Which of the current team members exemplifies a good captain?

Unfortunately, my choice to succeed Lu, is no longer a Canuck. Willie Mitchell would have been my prime candidate.  Now there is the great debate between Hank and Kesler and other honourable mentions.

Henrik Sedin has done what no other Canuck has done and that’s win the Art Ross and Hart trophies as the league’s MVP. As much as I could go on about how good of a candidate he would be, I believe Canucks Corner poster, DonCherry4PM said it best.  Others have voiced that Ryan Kesler would be a better choice, due to his tenacity, his style of play and his vocalization with the media. After those two, there were other names thrown in,but the  ‘dog fight’ is between Hank and Kes.  Both bring goods to the table, both have impressive resumes, but who has that leadership quality to shoulder the responsibility for this team?

For me, it doesn’t really matter who the fans think (I know I will get roasted for this) should be the captain.  It only matters who the team thinks to be their next captain and if that is in sync, maybe our noses (as fans) won’t be so bent out of shape.

Jason Kurylo: Let Luongo Play – The Time Is Now For A New Captain

Let me start off by saying that I’m a huge Roberto Luongo fan. When Dave Nonic first engineered the deal to bring Bobby Lou to Vancouver, I thought, “Holy Hannah, we’re going to win a Stanley Cup.” Sure, we had to blow up the West Coast Express to get him – but a post-Steve Moore Bertuzzi for Luongo? Brilliant. Especially considering the awful taste Dan “Beachball” Cloutier left in the mouths of devout Canucks fans, it was a red-letter day indeed. And wouldn’t you know it, since he arrived, the Canucks have been a legitimate threat to come out of the west in three out of four years.

This year, though, was different. The Canucks were tapped by many a pundit to go far in these playoffs, but with the asterisk, “in spite of the play of Roberto Luongo”. In spite of. When was the last time a club won in spite of their best player? As much as I love the guy, I have to admit: maybe the goalie-as-captain undertaking needs to come to an end.

Roberto Luongo could benefit by giving up the “C”.

With Vancouver facing elimination in game five this year, Luongo did several unthinkables. He shaved his playoff beard. He ditched the media scrum. He did what goalies are supposed to do: he concentrated on the game. Captains can’t do that. They’re supposed to bear the crush of pre-game media; they’re supposed to let the rest of the guys focus on their prep. Captains are supposed to carry the load while the bench loosens up. Sure, he stank the joint up in the second half of game six, but for four periods – game 5 in Chicago and the first period back at GM Place – he was Holy Hannah Luongo.

Do you think Jaroslav Halak would be stoning the Caps and Pens if he had to do a couple hours of daily pre-game media?  In fact, the opposite is true; the only reason we knew he was getting the game start over Carey Price was because he refuses to talk to media when he’s starting that night’s game.

Luongo as captain made sense in so many ways. He’s the most marketable player on a team in a hockey-mad market. His name is bandied about whenever “Best Goalie in the World” is the topic of conversation. He’s the top-paid player on the team. His are the top-selling jerseys at the Canucks Store. He’s an intense, passionate, win-at-all-cost kinda guy. He’s a gold-medal-winning goaltender, for crying out loud. But perhaps there’s a reason the NHL went 61 years between captains who played goal. This year’s stats are one easy way of seeing the cons to this little experiment.

Just one year ago, Luongo recorded seven shutouts in 54 games. This year, he threw just four doughnuts in 68 – his career-low as a number one goaltender. Last year, Alain Vigneault pulled the All-Star netminder from just one contest. Luongo was pulled from seven games this year – and one more in the playoffs – as he had his worst goals against average since he came from Florida. And his save percentage this season is the lowest he’s posted since his rookie year on Long Island. He lost his posts and composure with equal frequency, and fell apart at key times instead of making the big save the team needed more often than I care to count.

Some will argue these stats have more to do with the amount of play – it’s an Olympic year, they say – but Luongo has always been a workhorse. His best year for save percentage came in Florida in 2003-4, when he played 72 regular season games. Others will point to a weakened defensive core, and that point is valid. But when we see he scored seven shutouts with those same woeful, playoff-missing Panthers, when we see just how shaky he has looked all season, we have to wonder if Willie Mitchell’s absence has been the biggest problem Vancouver’s had between the pipes.

This doesn’t even touch the psychological effect a team must undergo when their captain is sitting on the bench. How massive a blow would it be to Detroit if Mike Babcock benched Nicklas Lidstrom? Could you imagine anything but injury forcing Sidney Crosby from his regular shift? To paraphrase Tom Larscheid, as Luongoes, so go the Canucks. If he’s sitting on the bench in shame, who shoulders the load?

With apologies to Richard Brodeur and Kirk McLean, Roberto Luongo is the best goaltender in Canucks history. And on Sunday, when he put aside all the extra-curricular activities that captaincy requires, he played like the best goaltender in Canucks history. He did the real job that Roberto Luongo is supposed to do: he stopped the puck. Coming back to GM Place on Tuesday, where expectations rest squarely on the back of the guy with the C on his jersey – sorry, the C on his mask – he gave up five goals for the third straight home start.

It’s not a matter of win or lose any more. The Canucks lost. In embarrassing fashion. For the second consecutive year. And sadly, they did not lose in spite of the play of Roberto Luongo.

The Canucks have to seriously look at putting the weight of that C on someone else’s shoulders.