Roberto Luongo was pulled in Game 3 after allowing four goals on 16 shots. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
As Roberto Luongo got the walnut treatment – shelled, swallowed and swept into the nearest trash receptacle – in Vancouver’s 5-3, Game 3 loss to Los Angeles Monday night, all I could think about was a conversation I had a year or so ago with a former NHL goalie who believed the Canucks’ star goaltender wasn’t as good as his reputation and salary suggest.
“He’s my definition of a guy who can be a good goalie on a bad hockey team, but not a good one on a good team,” the retired goalie said at the time. “I don’t think he’s overrated, but he just hasn’t shown he’s in the same league as a Marty Brodeur or a Patrick Roy yet.”
Indeed, Canucks fans and players are still waiting for Luongo to prove himself worthy of (a) the 12-year, $64-million contract extension he signed last summer; (b) the team’s captaincy; and (c) the cult of personality around him in Vancouver that causes fans to scream ‘Louuuu!’ each and every time the puck enters the Canucks zone.
To be fair, Luongo hasn’t been uniformly horrendous in this series. And the team in front of him hasn’t helped him atone for his mistakes the way the Canadian Olympic team did at the 2010 Winter Games.
But let’s face reality for a second: Luongo is arguably the biggest reason the Canucks’ penalty killing has been so abysmal – 41.7 percent efficiency, by far the worst of any current playoff team – against the Kings.
Moreover, the 31-year-old has been thoroughly outplayed by 24-year-old Kings goalie (and playoff rookie) Jonathan Quick in the series and richly deserved to get pulled by Canucks coach Alain Vigneault after surrendering the fourth goal to L.A. on Monday (on just 16 shots against him).
It doesn’t matter what your excuse is – when you’re promoted as ‘The Guy’ and compensated accordingly, you shouldn’t be easily forgiven or excused for having the third-worst save percentage (.880, ahead of only Jose Theodore and Brian Elliott) of all goalies who’ve played in this post-season.
Perhaps scarier than a first round exit for the Canucks this year is the prospect of having Luongo, his $5.33 million annual salary cap hit and his G.I. Joe Kung-Fu Grip-less Glove in the lineup until the spring of 2022. (This could be an avoidable problem if they can sign Andrew Raycroft to a 10-year deal in which he agrees to work for free and technically assume some of Luongo’s salary for cap purposes.)
Along with Rick DiPietro’s boondoggle of a 15-year deal with the Islanders, Luongo’s contract and subsequent performance might soon serve as a cautionary tale to other NHL GMs.
There’s nothing wrong with locking up your best player to a lengthy commitment. But as Luongo is demonstrating against the Kings, for all the security that comes along with such a signing, there is also a risk that your designated cornerstone might teach you how agonizingly long a long-term contract can be.
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PRODUCER: Ted Cooper
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Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear regularly in the off-season, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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