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!

Through the Plexi-Glass: Can You Pump Tires in a Goalie Graveyard?

As I was coming home from the game and gazed at my twitter feed, I saw of a lot of “Trade Luongo!” and a lot of panicking over a just under .500 record for the first few games of the regular season. Mostly, it was all about how Luongo lost the game for the Canucks and it was entirely his fault. So I’ve taken it upon myself to do some proverbial ‘pumping of tires’. Why you all ask? Simple, I have a good memory of how dreadful goaltending was in this city before the likes of Roberto Luongo.

As I stated in my tweet: @Aviewfromabroad “Problem isn’t #Luongo . Problem is the wanna-be fans that bought into the “2nd coming” hype that was built about him. #Takeaccountability” I never bought into the whole “LuonGod” hype.

He is a good goalie, but at the same time, he was still just a human who will have his bad days like you or I. Unfortunately for Luongo, he is now in a market that actually gives a hoot of how he performs on the ice instead of about 4500 fans in Miami. I also understand the whole “with the position comes the scrutiny” baggage but when the baggage is more like the cargo space of a 747, how is one supposed to ‘carry’ all that without some self-doubt? It’s close to impossible, regardless of talent level. I’m not trying to psycho-babble you all the death, I’m just saying that perhaps instead of jumping on Lu’s case constantly, take a step back and let him breathe.

Luongo Waving to the Vancouver crowd. Will it be goodbye soon?

For me, I want to give Luongo some time to prove himself. It is a new season after all. Although for some, this just a continuation of all the bad games Luongo has played as a Canuck.  I want him to build up some confidence that has seemingly been lost and play like a machine more often than not. So far in this very young season, he’s not been great. To help him out as a fan, I thought it would be a good idea for me to “pump his tires” because despite all the hype and the bashing, I would rather have Roberto Luongo (as is) than Dan Cloutier, Corey Hirsch, Alfie Michaud, Troy Gamble, Petr Skudra, Bob Essensa, Kevin Weekes, Felix Potvin etc. etc. etc. Why, do some of you ask? I’ve seen awful, and it has been far worse than Roberto Luongo.

For those of you that don’t recognize some of those names, it’s because they didn’t last very long in this market. Let’s take Petr Skudra for example. He was one of Dan Cloutier’s backups. Did you know an angry fan actually used his name as an auction item on eBay? The description was to the effect of a Canucks’ back up goaltender, with a big five hole and no glove.  The starting bid was $1 CAD. I’m not sure if anyone ever even made a bid, but it was at the time, quite amusing. Oddly enough, I am waiting for some know-it-all ‘fan’ to put Luongo up for auction on eBay with the description of “Vezina nominated, gold medal winning goalie that can’t please a fan base no matter what he does”. I’d at least start the bidding at $5…out of ‘respect’ of course.

It’s good to know that I am not the only one out there that feels  Luongo is getting too much heat. However, I believe he can and should be better, but I’m not going to go off demanding Mike Gillis and his management and coaching staff try to trade him immediately. The thing is, I have this belief (and statistical history to back it up) that Luongo will pull it together sooner than later. Here are some from the twitterverse that feel the same way after the 4-0 loss to the New York Rangers on Tuesday Night:

  • @lyteforce: If Luongo were to reverse global warming, people would blame him for it being too cold. #Canucks #lousfault
  • @patersonjeff: Can dump on #Canucks goaltending, but how about forwards who have 1 even strength goal in last 10 periods. That don’t cut it
  • @j_carpenter_What difference does it make? if Luongo lets in 1 goal or 4..If the #Canucks dont score any they’re not gonna win..They will pull it together
  • @bobcam27-Luongo sure was terrible on the power play tonight. I don’t remember him getting a single shot on goal. #Canucks

We’re all good at playing ‘arm-chair’ GM from time to time, and I certainly will be the first to admit I do it as well, but how many times do so many of us have to put out virtual trades with the involvement of Roberto Luongo in them? How about we trade those guys that aren’t scoring? How about we trade the whole blue line? I guess because it’s easier to blame the goaltender, and particularly, Roberto Luongo. I’m asking you for a 20 game grace period to stop. Please.  For the next few games that Luongo plays, instead of going “Trade Luongo!”, perhaps a little encouragement might help.  The power of positivity is a pretty cool thing, even though I’m not a big time New Age follower, there is truth in it.

I don’t mind ‘pumping Roberto’s tires’ more often than not, a pumped tire usually gets you further ahead.  Not to mention,  it sucks to run on a flat. Besides, if you leave it deflated too long, it might just damage the rim and you’ll have to replace the whole wheel.

That’s how I see things…through the plexi-glass.

Bruce Ng: Canucks Advent Calendar: It all starts tomorrow!

This is it fans! The Vancouver Canucks begin their 41st season tomorrow October 6 when the Pittsburgh Penguins come to Rogers Arena.

Over the last month this series of posts has looked at a handful of the moments that made last season so awesome, and some of the players that made it happen.

Today’s blog post focuses on #1 in your program, Roberto Luongo – the best goaltender the Canucks have ever had.

You may have some doubts about this statement, people either love Luongo or want to trade him. There really isn’t much grey area on the topic. Every goal scored against him, you can guarantee that someone on Twitter will tell you he should have had that one.

Don’t think he has been the Canucks best goaltender in history? Here’s a chart of some of the most relevant Canucks starting goaltenders and their statistics in their best seasons:

Goaltender Season GP W L T OTL     GAA     SV%
Roberto Luongo     2010-11     60     38     15     -      7 2.11 .928
Kirk McLean 1991-92 65 38 17 9 - 2.74 .901
Richard Brodeur 1981-82 52 20 18 12 - 3.35 .891
Dan Cloutier 2003-04 60 33 21 6 - 2.27 .914
Arturs Irbe 1997-98 41 14 11 6 - 2.73 .907
Corey Hirsch 1995-96 41 17 14 6 - 2.93 .903
Cesare Maniago 1976-77 47 17 21 9 - 3.36 -
Félix Potvin 1999-00 34 12 13 7 - 2.59 .906

You can argue that the Canucks have had the best defence they’ve ever had, which explains the wins that Luongo has been able to post, and maybe the Goals Against Average (GAA). But Luongo has posted numbers like these in every single season he has played in Vancouver. The goaltenders listed above had far worse averages over the course of their Canucks tenure.

Luongo started off last season slowly, but by late-November he was back to sparkling form. Around the All-Star break, Hockey Night in Canada, CBCSports.ca and the NHLPA ran a poll among players. Luongo was voted by NHL players as the Goalie Most Difficult to Score On.

The Luongo-Haters out there will say he’s not a big game stopper. He chokes. He cries. Then he chokes on his tears. I am going to present you with some evidence to the contrary.

Remember when Team Canada won the Gold Medal in the 2010 Olympics? Canada would not have been in the Gold Medal final without Luongo shutting the door on his old Canucks teammate Pavol Demitra (R.I.P. Pavol).

Then there was the stop against Patrick Sharp in overtime, in Round 1 Game 7, prior to Alexandre Burrows scoring the game winner.

Still don’t believe Luongo can make a big save? Here are some more that you have to see to believe.

I will admit Luongo showed a touch of inconsistency in last year’s Stanley Cup Final (just a touch) – but I would also say to you that the Canucks would not have made it to Game 7 without Luongo. For those with a short memory, he shut out the Bruins twice in that series. As if you’ve never had a bad day at work. Show him some love, people!

Thanks for following this series of posts – I hope that all the Canucks fans are excited for this season. Here’s to looking back on the best Canucks season ever, and even better times this year!

Seven Reasons Why the Canucks Should Beat the Predators

Since the beginning of the series with the Nashville Predators I knew the Canucks were in for a tough one.  The Predators may not put up a lot of goals but they sure can prevent a lot of them. The Predators block a tremendous amount of shots, they don’t mind getting dirty in the corners with their opponents and most of all, they have the incredible play of Pekka Rinne.  I will admit, I am not a fan of “Predator” style hockey. I find it to not be entertaining nor is it exciting but I will admit, it’s efficient. If there was a team to choose in the playoffs for ‘winning ugly’, I award that honour the Predators, hands down.

Pekka Rinne making a save on Maxim Lapierre. Photo credit: nhl.predators.com

However, with the Canucks losing Game 5 at home with the series lead (3-1) in a rather ‘ugly’ fashion on Saturday night, there are some out there that are beginning to wonder if the Canucks can finish off the Predators.  I believe they can. I believe the Canucks are too talented, and work just as hard as the Preds to not win this series. Game 5, in my opinion, was summed up to a few unlucky bounces, bad play by a few key players, and Roberto Luongo not being so great in this one.  I see the Canucks rebounding and ending this in the next game, but nothing is a guarantee.

That all being said, I have my reasons as to why the Canucks should win this series, so without further ado, here they are:

  1. Ryan Kesler Whatever type of energy drink this man is having, the rest of the team should grab a bottle and join in.  He has been a rock carrying this team through this series. He is scoring key goals and making all the right moves on both ends of the ice. He’s become our modern day Trevor Linden, and then some.  He plays with an edge but still in control. He is showing the reason why Bob Clarke made an offer when he was an RFA five years ago, an offer that some of us out there, thought was completely absurd. I’m sure we all think that Bobby Clarke sensed something that we all should have at that time. The Canucks are now reaping the rewards of qualifying Kesler’s offer back in 2006.
  2. Blueline Depth Unlike Nashville, the Canucks have an abundance of blue liners to bring into the line-up. Guys like Salo, Bieksa, Hamhuis  and Edler don’t have to play 30 minutes a night because they can all share the ice time and responsibilities, a little more evenly. Keeping their blueline with fresher legs, the longer a game goes, the better it should be for the Canucks. Weber has shouldered an incredible amount of ice time to compensate for a not so strong defensive core.
  3. Blueline Offensive Contributions Unlike the Predators, the Canucks have very capable defensemen that can contribute on the score sheet on a fairly regulary basis. Bieksa, Edler, Ehrhoff, Salo can all blast shots from the point. A few don’t have a problem jumping into the play.
  4. Special Teams The Canucks haven’t capitalized enough on their powerplays during this series, but their penalty killing has been, for the most part, stellar.  Nashville hasn’t capitalized much on their power play opportunities and is a big part of the reason they are down in the series 3-2.
  5. Lapierre and Higgins If you told me in January that former Montreal Canadiens, Max Lapierre and Chris Higgins would have been key players in this series, I would have laughed in your face. Higgins has worked very well with Kesler and Raymond in moving the puck, working hard on the forecheck and potting a timely goal or two. Lapierre has done exactly what he was intended to do when he was acquired during the trade deadline. He is winning key draws on 3rd line shifts, hitting and grinding in all the greasy areas, and frustrating the likes of Mike Fisher in the process.  Their value from the trade are really starting to show in this series and if the Hockey Gods be happy, allowed to do so in the next.
  6. Roberto Luongo Say what you will Luongo haters, but with the exception of Game 5, he’s been good this series allowing far less goals than some of you anticipated.
  7. Talent There is far too much talent on this team to not advance to the next round. There is far too much that has happened in this season to have them lose now. Talent can get you long way, desire and discipline will help them get the rest of the way.

Ryan Kesler providing some offense in the series vs the Predators: Photo Credit CBC.ca

Although I feel the Canucks will win this series, I have to give credit where it’s due. The Predators are not going down without a fight. They have played valiantly and Pekka Rinne has kept his team within striking distance throughout the whole series. It will take all the talent, all the want and a killer instinct to put away the Predators. On paper, the Canucks should have this series in the bag, but theories were meant to be tested. That’s why they play the games and that’s why the Canucks get another chance to put the Predators away, once and for all.

 

Justine Galo

Call it Canucks in 6.

It doesn’t get much better than this. The league-leading Vancouver Canucks, with their franchise record 117 regular season points, won their first-ever Presidents’ Trophy – in doing so, they became the first team since the 1977-78 Montreal Canadiens to lead the league in points, goals for and goals against. They boast the Art Ross trophy winner for the second straight year in Daniel Sedin, and the first pair of brothers to ever accomplish back-to-back scoring championships in him and his brother Henrik. Despite a raft of injuries on the blueline – the Canucks were forced to employ 13 different defensemen through the course of the season – Corey Schneider and Roberto Luongo finished third and fourth in the league in save percentage. Did I mention the team had the best power play in the league, and just missed out on having the best penalty kill to boot?

Yes, it was a hell of a season for the Vancouver Canucks. And what did this earn them? A first round match up against the defending Stanley Cup champions in the dirty, rotten, stinkin’ Chicago Blackhawks.

Okay, maybe not stinkin’. After all, Dustin Byfuglien is golfing in Georgia right about now.

Wait. Patrick Kane is still on the team, and sporting a wicked bad striped mullet. Yeah, stinkin’.

The top two lines promise a classic playoff battle. D Sedin – H Sedin – Burrows & Kesler – Samuelsson – Higgins vs Toews – Kane – Sharp & Hossa – Frolik – Stalberg. Sound like an easy win for the Canucks on this point? Don’t bet on it. Jonathan Toews wasn’t the Conn Smythe winner last year for letting Dustin Byfuglien do all the hard work. Toews scored two points a game against the Canucks. That said, it wasn’t the top line that made the biggest difference last year. It’s the bottom six and back end where the Canucks have suffered the past two post-seasons. This year, the Canucks have Mason Raymond flying down the wing and Cody Hodgson playing at third line centre where he would have been all year had it not been for the acquisition of Manny Malhotra. Hello eye injury, goodbye Manny; Cody’s in and has his shot to prove his worth in the bigs. Maxim Lapierre, Tanner Glass, Jannik Hansen and Victor Oreskovich will be forechecking like mad. But where are those big pieces of the Hawks’ Cup run now?

Dave Bolland (C), 16 points in 22 games: Injured (concussion)

Adam Burish (RW), agitator played 15 games & got under Daniel Sedin’s skin: Dallas Stars

Dustin Byfuglien (LW), 11 goals in 22 games, and crawled into Roberto Luongo’s skull: Atlanta Thrashers

Ben Eager (LW), clutch goal vs the Canucks in Game Two: San Jose Sharks

Andrew Ladd (LW),  6 points in 22 games: Atlanta Thrashers

John Madden (C), veteran presence in the locker room: Minnesota Wild

Antti Niemi (G), 2 shutouts, .920 save percentage: San Jose Sharks

Brent Sopel (D), 6 points and a +7 rating in 22 games: Montreal Canadiens

Kris Versteeg (RW), 14 points in 22 games: Philadelphia Flyers

With an injury ravaged defense in front of him, a crushing letter C on the front of his mask and defensive-minded forwards like Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows playing hurt, last year’s Roberto Luongo unraveled at home. The Canucks were outscored 17-7 in three losses in Vancouver. (To be fair, the Canucks were the only playoff team to take two games at United Center in Chicago, and outscored the Hawks 11-6 there in three games.) He had been pulled in several games down the stretch, and never looked comfortable with the expectations placed upon his shoulders.

This year’s Luongo put up his best numbers ever, led the league in wins, and looks as controlled as he’s ever been in the crease. With his calmer demeanour between the pipes, the Canucks have only lost back-to-back games in regulation time once since early November. And that was during mean-nothing contests against the Edmonton Oilers after the Presidents’ Trophy had already been locked up – hell, peewee teams would have a hard time getting themselves up for those games.

Going into the playoffs, Vancouver has the healthiest defense corps they’ve seen all year. Dan Hamhuis, Keith Ballard, Christian Ehrhoff, Alex Edler, Kevin Bieksa and Sami Salo all dress for game one. There’s no one standout Norris Trophy candidate in