Roberto Luongo (Juan Ocampo/NHLI via Getty Images)
Roberto Luongo is one win from passing Glenn Hall for eighth all-time, but the Florida Panthers netminder isn’t a lock for the Hall of Fame just yet. In order for Luongo to make a serious case for the Hall, he’s going to have to achieve what only two other netminders in NHL history have: hit the 500-win plateau.
With one more victory, Roberto Luongo will take sole possession of eighth all-time in wins. It will be Luongo’s 408th victory, putting him one ahead of Glenn Hall and leaving Luongo only 14 wins shy of passing Tony Esposito for seventh all-time. But even as his passes some of the games all-time greats, one has to wonder if Luongo has the credentials to get into the Hall of Fame.
As THN’s Brian Costello excellently pointed out in August 2014, Luongo’s chances at getting himself into the Hall are based solely on one thing: his ability to pile up wins. Moving past Hall and Esposito won’t be enough for Luongo, though. No, in order to get into the Hall, Luongo is going to have to climb much further. Precedent has been set for someone of his ilk by the exclusion of Curtis Joseph from the Hall of Fame since he became eligible in 2012.
Joseph is the fourth-winningest netminder with 454 career wins, but he’s rarely discussed when Hall of Fame voting season comes around. That could be in part because not once did ‘CuJo’ take home an individual award for his goaltending ability. He won the King Clancy Trophy in 1999-00, but that had as much to do with off-ice accomplishments as it did with Joseph’s play on the ice. Likewise, Luongo hasn’t fared well in the world of individual achievement. Only once has he captured any end-of-year hardware, and that came when he and Cory Schneider backstopped the Vancouver Canucks to the fewest goals against in 2010-11. With neither Joseph nor Luongo possessing a Vezina trophy, there’s already one strike against them. Making their chances worse is that neither has a Stanley Cup ring.
Luongo came close in 2010-11 — just one win shy of hoisting the sport’s greatest prize — but that won’t help his case when it comes to getting into the Hall. And as for the outlook for Luongo winning either a Vezina or Stanley Cup in Florida, well, it’s bleak. So, as Costello pointed out, Luongo’s best shot at earning his spot in the Hall of Fame comes from pumping up his win total, passing Joseph and reaching the 500-win plateau.
The 500-win mark is something only two goaltenders, Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy, have managed. The next closest was Ed Belfour, who won 484 games. All three are in the Hall of Fame, so it seems as though the 500-win mark could be the magic number for Luongo. Getting there, though, isn’t going to be easy. Luongo’s best chance is to maintain a solid win pace while starting the lion’s share of games in Florida, which won’t be easy for an aging netminder.
This season, Luongo is on pace to start more than 60 games, something he has done with regularity over the course of his career. Excluding the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, he has averaged 60 starts per campaign since turning 30. But it’s about more than starts for Luongo, it’s about victories.
This season, he is on pace to win roughly 24 of his outings. If that holds, he will end the campaign with 425 wins, two ahead of Esposito for seventh all-time. And while averaging 25 wins per season over the next three years isn’t impossible, it’s much more difficult when you consider Luongo will be 37 when the 2015-16 season ends. That calls into question how many more seasons of solid play Luongo has in him.
There’s no doubt that Luongo is past his prime and we’ve seen goaltenders falter with age as recently as the 2014-15 campaign when Brodeur, then 42, was outplayed by rookie Jake Allen in St. Louis. That said, Luongo hasn’t seen a precipitous drop in his ability. The opposite, really, as he’s actually been quite good so far this season.
Of the 35 goaltenders to play at least 400 minutes at 5-on-5 this season, Luongo’s .942 save percentage is fifth in the entire NHL. He’s due for at least a bit of a slide — his career-best in the past eight seasons is .938 — but if he can get goal support in Florida, putting together a winning streak or an above .500 record isn’t out of the question. And if he continues to put up above-average numbers, there’s no reason to believe that can’t be the norm in Florida for at least one or two more seasons.
It’s impossible to know when his big drop off will come, but we are certain of one thing: Luongo’s contract runs through to the 2021-22 season. Will Luongo play six more seasons and retire at 43? It’s possible, but unlikely. The years to watch are the final four of his deal when his salary dips significantly. In 2018-19, Luongo’s salary is halved and it’s halved again in 2019-20 before becoming $1 million in each of 2020-21 and 2021-22.
And regardless of Luongo’s deal, the Panthers are going to want to have a successor to Luongo’s throne. Al Montoya, Florida’s current backup, likely isn’t that netminder. At present, it appears the best candidates are AHL netminder Sam Brittain or 2015 third-round pick Samuel Montembeault, currently playing for the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in the QMJHL. Brittain’s had a trying season thus far for the Portland Pirates, and Montembeault isn’t projected to be an NHL regular until at least the 2020-21 season.
Luongo will turn 40 in the back half of the 2018-19 campaign, and every season beyond that would be borrowed time. Realistically, 2018-19 or 2019-20 seem like realistic expectations for when the Panthers will look to bring someone in to truly challenge for the starting gig. Realistically, that gives Luongo a few more seasons with the No. 1 job in Florida and that could be all he needs.
So, will Luongo get to 500 wins? If everything holds and he maintains his current paces, he’ll only need to average 25 wins over his next three seasons. That’s doable, and if Luongo plays later than his 40th birthday, he could even pass the 500-mark by a few. Whether or not that makes him a Hall of Famer is to be seen, but if he wants make a serious case, getting to 500 victories might be Luongo’s only shot.