Roberto Luongo's contract runs through the 2021-22 season with a $5.3 million cap hit. (Getty Images)
This summer, the state of Florida has experienced an invasion of gallinippers: a mutant mosquito the size of a quarter that can apparently only be taken out with a shotgun. (OK, that last part is a slight exaggeration.)
Which leads us to wonder, when Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini showed up at Roberto Luongo’s house on draft day, would Luongo rather have been greeted by an army of gallinippers? We can only guess how he felt about seeing GM Mike Gillis and new coach John Tortorella – oh, imagine the possibilities – a few days later.
The fact is, we don’t really know how Luongo feels about the Canucks goaltending implosion. Luongo wasn’t talking about it to anyone, save for perhaps himself, muttering words to the effect of “What the (expletive)?” Yeah, we’re pretty sure he’s said that more than a couple of times.
But here’s the thing. Nobody ever said life as a professional athlete was fair. The game does not owe anyone anything. If you want to assign blame here, most of it goes to Gillis, who created the situation when he signed Luongo to a 12-year, front-loaded contract to begin with. As we all know, it made Luongo virtually untradeable, even more so after the NHL decided to get petty with teams such as the Canucks who thought they were “nudge-nudge, wink-wink” concocting contracts that were perfectly legal under the old collective bargaining agreement. But by imposing the cap recapture scheme on these deals in the new one, the league sealed Luongo’s fate and will make him a rather unpopular figure in Vancouver should he decide to skip out on his contract prior to 2022.
Was it fair that the Canucks made Cory Schneider their unequivocal No. 1 goalie, then played hardball in Luongo trade talks while the veteran sat on the bench and distributed hilarious and self-deprecating tweets? Is that how you treat people? Probably not, but Luongo had to know when he signed the deal it would be almost impossible to trade him. He tied himself to the Canucks, for better or worse, and will receive $64 million for taking a contract that Luongo said, in his own words, “sucks.”
And really, Luongo is now getting what he wanted all along, to be the No. 1 goalie for the Canucks. The manner in which it came is slimy, but the Canucks and Luongo now know they are stuck with one another.
The Canucks could have bought Luongo out for $27 million with no cap penalty as an amnesty buyout, but chose not to do so. Again, you can debate the merits of that when virtually every other team in the league was taking its two mulligans on its most burdensome contracts. But the Canucks did not, which is entirely within their rights.
So perhaps it’s now time for Luongo to man up and face the situation with the same grace and charm he used when dealing with his relegation to the backup spot. Luongo has a deal in place, one that has made him a very rich man. There’s a list that is oh, about 10,000 names long, of players in hockey history who have been treated more shabbily than Luongo has. Perhaps it’s time for Luongo to realize not only the common man, but a good number of players who have sacrificed their whole lives to make the NHL, would love nothing more than to have a contract the size of Luongo’s and be treated the way he has.
And it’s not as though Luongo has been sentenced to play the rest of his career for the Danbury Trashers. Vancouver is truly one of the world’s most beautiful cities. He’s playing for a team that still has the capacity to be a contender for the next couple of seasons. Who knows? It’s not as though anyone who has a Canadian passport has jumped to the front of the queue when it comes to being the favorite to start in goal for the Olympic team in Sochi. If Luongo puts his mind to it, he could conceivably win another Olympic gold medal and a Stanley Cup in the next couple of years. Or he could at least prove he’s still an elite goaltender in the NHL and make the best of a mess that he did not create. Much of whether that happens will be dictated by how Luongo himself responds to this situation.
Some voices at the draft said Luongo should keep his mouth shut and not tip his hand about whether he’ll report to the Canucks until the day before training camp starts. That way, perhaps the Canucks would find out what it’s like to twist in the wind the way he has for the past year. Fair enough. But at some point, someone has to live up to the contract he signed, even if it sucks. That man is, of course, Roberto Luongo.
This article originally appeared in the August issue of THN.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN's other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.