Oct 192011

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 Luongo is written in 140chars 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!

 Posted by at 8:09 am
  • Jacinta

    I didn’t want to say any more on this Lu thing because the comments, both loving and hating Lu, are just frustrating. But anyway.

    I actually really like Lu. I can’t imagine the pressure one has from being a goalie in any sport. If you win, you’re a hero, and if you lose you feel responsible for letting down your team and your fans. But I don’t think we remember that Luongo’s a big boy playing professional hockey against some of the best goalies our generation has seen. I can’t blame people for the high expectations. He’s proven that he can be unbeatable, which raises his own bar, but he’s also proven that he can choke, which is a sad disappointment when you know what he is capable of. He’s the pro and he has to be able to keep his head in the game.

    That being said, Canucks fans seem to be highly impressionable. The arguments spawned over twitter are really no different than the arguments or opinions one might yell in a bar and then forget about 5 minutes later. Thee difference is, what’s written over twitter is over-processed and people take it too personally. People’s opinions will continue to change about Lu, we will constantly analyze and discuss what went wrong, and we will both rejoice and get frustrated. At the end of the day, we want our Canucks to win, and the only power we have over how the game is played is letting our team know that we support them. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, but as fans, I think our level of support is the only thing we have that makes a difference on the ice.

    • thanks for the comment Jacinta! that’s it. no more twitter for me on game nights! hahaha i’m a goalie-softie and i’m usually hard pressed to say anything bad about Luongo. but you make some excellent points! Luongo (especially in October, and any time after April) can be wildly inconsistent. Posts a shutout, gets lit up for 8. Posts a shutout, lit up for 4 or 5.

      i think the “breaking point” for me last night (and what actually motivated me to write this long article) was when fans jeered Luongo, and booed him for making a couple easy stops. that was the last straw for Roy so many years ago. i don’t think Luongo has the ego of Patrick Roy, but still. fans don’t boo Hodgson for getting walked, and they don’t boo Hamhuis for not clearing Gaborik from the side of the net. Luongo is just too convenient of a scapegoat!

  • I have a HUGE issue – as I said on twitter – with people comparing the Roy situation to Luongo. It’s not even close to the same. Roy’s issue was with the COACHING not the fans. He knew why the fans were jeering him – any fan in any fanbase would jeer with a score like that. Roy’s issue was he asked to be pulled in that game and the coach refused to pull him. He made it clear after the game he would not play again because of the coach and demanded a trade. Luongo has the blind faith support of AV and I think that’s part of the problem (as I state in my blog a competitive Lu is a better Lu). The real issue here – which none of the bloggers are addressing – is the rabid way in which the Luongo lovers insist that if you don’t excuse him of blame for anything related to any goal and any loss you “hate” him and are a bandwagoner. It’s ridiculous. People can have be upset by Luongo’s inconsistency and not “hate” him or be a bandwagoner. The fact is he is either very hot or pretty cold and it’s frustrating. I would still rather have him over 75% of the other goalies in the league. If we could trade him for Fleury, Lundqvist I would do it in a heart beat. For Ward or Price I would definitely consider it. Any other goalie – never. Furthermore the argument that’s being passed around that he’s the best we’ve ever had in Van is completely accurate – but it’s also a sad argument. It sets itself up for a “best of the worst” rebuttal. Just saying….
    To summarize should he have been jeered last night – NO. Was he to blame for the loss – he was a part of the problem, yes. But no bigger a part than Samuelsson and Av and his power play decisions. And if those jeers affect actually his play he needs to move back to Florida or somewhere without a passionate canadian hockey fanbase.

    • thanks for the comment Victoria – loved your post on your internal Luongo conflict, and it is awesome to have your perspective from someone who has lived in Montreal as a Habs fan.

      i often find myself being too soft on Luongo – i don’t think he was beaten by a bad goal last night. they were great shots, but even Luongo himself admitted that he has to make a save there. what was unfortunate last night was that Lundqvist happened to be all-world at the other end of the rink.

      couldn’t agree with you more with respect to Sammy on the power play (when will that experiment stop?!) last night i’d say Luongo was definitely part of the problem. what i found hard to stomach was people getting on him for giving up a 3 on 1 goal, Hamhuis not being able to tie up Gaborik’s stick, Hodgson’s defensive lapse getting walked.. it was all hard to watch, but Luongo is the scapegoat of the Boo-Birds at Rogers. easy target!

  • Lindsay Dianne

    There is NO REASON that the canucks should have wound up down by four points. Their goalie was a brick wall, but their team was barely moving. Our team was getting shots shots shots on the goal, but our goalie and defense were discouraged.
    I’ve never been on the Luongo bandwagon, but once he lets one in… We’re pretty well toast.
    Regardless of ‘all the pressure’, he makes a fat paycheque and he’s expected to perform. Yeah, when he doesn’t he gets scrutinized. Welcome to being a goalie.
    He gets treated like Dan Cloutier because (aside from crying and scrapping) he chokes like Dan Cloutier. So when he starts playing like the goalie everyone says he is in November, and then becomes rattled so badly in June that he blows the IMPORTANT games… it doesn’t matter how you perform when everyone loves you, Robbie. You need to perform when everyone hates you. When the pressure is on and, yes, as the goalie, you hold the team in your hands.

    • thanks for the comment Lindsay! have to agree – the Canucks dominated them for well over 40 minutes, but nothing got by Lundqvist. that was pretty frustrating, and my heart sank when the first real chance for the Rangers got by Luongo. it was tough to swallow. other people have commented on the inconsistency here also. can’t argue with that – shuts out the Bruins or Hawks, then gets lit up for 6, 7, 8? ouch.

      but regarding last night – a loss is still a loss. 4-0, 2-0, doesn’t matter. we’re not going to win if no one can score.

  • I appreciate the discussion but this represents a very superficial analysis of last night’s game, the game in general, and the allegories drawn. Where to begin?

    Roy was traded from probably the weakest Habs team in history — led by arguably the worst coach in Mario Tremblay they’d had in the 20th century. Tremblay left him in there for NINE humiliating goals against in some sort of misguided attempt to send him a message — this was a week after he reportedly humiliated Roy with his teammates in the locker room. Let’s not forget that Roy was already a Vezina and Stanley Cup winner at the time.

    This is to say that Roy was hung out to dry by a bad team and a bad coach. Fans blamed him for what was quite obviously an untenable situation all around. Not so in Vancouver. For the past two years a Sedin has won the Art Ross trophy. The Sedins were 1 and 4 in the points race, and Daniel and Kesler were 4 and 5 in goals scored for the season. The Canucks had the highest goals per game in the regular season. Suffice to say that for the past two seasons, it’s pretty clear Luongo has had no problems with the team in front of him.

    So, OK… that’s not a great analogy.

    As a goalie myself I can attest to the great value of a timely save … and of the timely misstep. Clearly Lundqvist, a superior goalie in every way to Luongo, was standing on his head last night. But for two periods and the first 5 of the third the Canucks poured everything they could at him — some incredible plays that should have resulted in goals. Until Luongo distracted me, I counted 11 absolute scoring opportunities, about 3 of which would have been goals with any other goalie (or Luongo) in net based merely on the law of averages. There were none in the other direction. Just 13 routine shots (including the one that ultimately went in on Lu). The shots were 32-12 when Luongo gave up a rebound straight back to the shooter on a routine low snapshot to the pads. The hockey gods love a turning point and THAT was it. 7 shots on Luongo after that resulting in 3 more goals.

    He sucked the air out of the arena and out of the team faster than the fans at the OLD BC Place. Now, for Viggy the situation changes radically. The team can no longer play run-and-gun because they feel like their goalie is struggling. They were on pace for 50+ shots on goal last night, and surely one might have defeated Lundqvist, but production slowed as they started to play more defensively. This led to goals number two (weak), three (reasonable), and four (weak) as the team became more hesitant and play was more in the Canucks end. The fact of the matter is that Luongo’s mis-play of an easy save radically altered the complexion of the game, and the team’s shot production slowed to 40 SOG with (by my reckoning) only one real scoring chance in the bottom of the 3rd period, giving Lundqvist an easy ride to the shutout.

    Which brings me to McLean. I was a McLean fan, too. He was likely the last of the stand-up goalies and within a few years of the 93-94 cup run his style was the object of a lot of ridicule and high goals against. During his playoff zenith however he understood the importance of a timely save and made some incredible ones… some of these are storybook and the object of lore among fans old enough to remember them and their context. McLean was softspoken, and not arrogant. He made no pronouncements about his opponents’ play; he made no win guarantees; he was in fact distinct for his absence of braggadocio.

    Luongo’s contract is likely the source of much of the animosity among fans. Last year he was the second highest-paid goalie in the league — second by a slim margin only to … Lundqvist. Tim Thomas, who currently sports a cup ring, isn’t even in the Top Ten. Your cap hit data is misleading.. while he’s 62nd in cap hit it’s because he has a 12-year deal which will likely eclipse his career — he’s actually the 32nd highest paid player in the league. That creates justifiable expectations. Paying a goalie radical salaries means you have less (in terms of budget and cap room) to use in recruiting a stronger lineup.. you have to make do with rookies, who make mistakes; and late-career players, who don’t have the jump to keep up. This characterizes some component of the Canucks today and represents a constant challenge for management. Even a $1M difference in Luongo’s salary could have freed up the budget to retain Ohlund for two more seasons — I’d have liked to have him last night.

    The 32nd highest-paid player in the league last night had the save percentage (79%) of a beer-leaguer. So far this season Luongo is ranked #52 in save % among the 56 goaltenders who have played. In the playoffs he was #12 in save percentage, actually behind Schneider, who bailed him out of a few hopeless games. Goaltending is an incredibly demanding mental exercise, and since 2009 I have lost faith in Luongo’s mental stamina, his confidence, and in his chemistry with the team.

    I think he is fortunate to have been carried to a gold medal by the strongest Team Canada ever assembled in 2010 by the skin of his teeth after playing weakly throughout the tournament along with a clearly exhausted Martin Brodeur. I know the politics, not skill and fitness, put him between the pipes ahead of the more deserving Marc-Andre Fleury (who had just won a Stanley Cup, for god’s sake) at an Olympics held in his home team city.

    The team in front of him has incredible chemistry and over 3 years has maintained a level of ability unmatched in Vancouver history — and which is almost impossible to sustain in the NHL over a span of multiple seasons.

    Luongo may well move on to another team and win a cup — and for his sake that I hope he does — but what is quickly becoming undeniable is that, for whatever reason, he will most definitely not win a cup here (or anywhere with his current salary) no matter how hard the team works in front of him.

    • thanks for the comment Ian!

      it’s fair to say the Canucks have amassed some great talent and this is possibly the best team they have ever put on ice. but last night was still a team loss. if you put 40 shots on goal (not counting the blocked shots and missed shots) and can’t get one by Lundqvist, you’re still probably going to lose. despite all that firepower, still couldn’t bury one. and who knows. score one and maybe Luongo is more confident. or make that first big stop, and his team is more confident.

      looking at the goals that were scored, i’d still say you can’t give up 3-on-1 odd man rushes and expect to win. or leave Gaborik’s stick on the ice in the crease and not expect him to score. sure Luongo’s salary is high, but i wouldn’t go so far as to say we have rookies that make mistakes, or have sacrificed speed in the lineup to pay Luongo.

      i think we’re mostly on the same page, i can’t refute much of what you say. the timing of the big save – that strikes me as important. the first goal last night was a back breaker. i’m a softie when it comes to Luongo, but even i can recognize that the crowd is down when that first one got by him. you could hear a pin drop. then the cheers became jeers as the next few goals were scored.

  • Hasan

    Great post Bruce! You’re right that expectations have been way too high for Roberto since he signed his long term deal. I’d hate to see us run a great goalie out of town, as Montreal did with Patrick Roy. Similar markets, similar story. It could happen. Keep on posting!

    • thanks for the comment Hasan! great to read your post on the matter earlier today also. Clay Imoo called it “BALD: Blog About Luongo Day” hahhaa!

  • if i could understand why some canuck fans blame a goalie when his team fails to produce a single goal i would start a movement of goalies that change to the offense during the game to score goals

    • thanks for the comment! agreed – it’s still a team game!!!

  • Luongo lets in a soft goal almost every night though, even when he is on his game…yes the defense sucked yet again and the offensive players couldn’t finish but it was not for their lack of trying. The Canucks played one of their strongest offensive games this season yet one of the weakest defensive games. Luongo was out-numbered on the plays yes, left to fend for himself, no man-on-man coverage and overall just pathetic defense but in the end, he has to make a save and when it mattered, he couldn’t do that. The defense went on the offensive rather than the defensive which shows how much we are missing Ehrhoff. Even though Edler pulled off that sick deke on the Rangers defender Del Zotto, he failed to put the puck in the net which was something Ehrhoff did for the Canucks but alas defensemen are not supposed to score goals; that’s the job of the offensive players. The forwards played their heart out, pinching in the offensive zone, taking shots, creating great scoring chances but fact of the matter is Lundquist outplayed them and most importantly Luongo. The Canucks outplayed the Rangers for a full 40 minutes at least but all it took was one player to save the day for the Rangers. I don’t know why Luongo is still being regarded as one of our best players and a future hall of famer; how a goalie lasts after 2 straight playoff defeats in the second round is beyond me but more to the point is the question of whether Luongo can bounce back this season as he has been doing for the past several seasons. I know its still early but Luongo is on the hotseat this season and if he continues to struggle and does not bring a cup to Vancouver, I strongly believe that someone else should be between the pipes for us because if the Canucks can’t play their very best in front of Luongo every night, the team has lost a lot of faith in Luongo’s ability and in my opinion has lost a lot of faith and support from the fans.

    • thanks for the comment Dave!!

      i wouldn’t say that the Canucks played one of their strongest offensive games – to me, that would have to include some actual scoring! =)

      i think the power play woes last game show how comfortable Ehrhoff was manning the first PP unit. i think this will get better with time and practice; they showed last year it was a good system, i hope they’ll be able to replicate that success by sticking to it.

      Luongo lets in a soft goal from time to time. they’re more common at the beginning of a season, and sadly, at the end of a season. i wouldn’t say he let it a soft goal when he posted 3 shutouts in a row for the Canucks…? i have to admit that he is inconsistent, but, when he’s good, he is amazing. 55 career shutouts playing half his career so far with a crappy Florida team? that’s not too shabby, nor are the 300+ career wins. Some Hall-of-Famers never get to win a Cup, some do it very late in their careers (Ray Bourque anyone?) .. i don’t think Cup wins should be a qualifier for the HOF in a team sport. hell, Brent Sopel has a Stanley Cup.

      i would go further to say that if the Canucks players motivation is different based on who is between the pipes (as you suggest) .. then Luongo isn’t the only player on the team with confidence issues.

      • DavidRThomson

        Very true! What about 1-0 losses when they pile on the shots and lose by only a goal- you don’t need to score to have a strong offensive game; goals just result from your hard-working efforts; Lundquist was just in beast mode, nothing new, he tends to shut out opponents many times hence the name “King Henrik”. Yes I agree about PP. No one could man the PP like Ehrhoff could; he practically was the PP, the mastermind behind it all; we never realized how much we miss Ehrhoff until we got our first PP. I know the Canucks can and will get better but Samuelsson on the point is not the solution. Edler should be the new “mastermind” of the PP; his skill is far more superior than Ehrhoff’s in my opinion because he is still young and his continuing to get better. As for Luongo, he needs to be better. Not simply he can be better because he has been better as seasons go along for the most part and slow starts are common but its a trend that needs to change if Luongo expects to go anywhere. And haha funny, no soft goals in a shutout victory XD maybe a soft save lol. Inconsistent should be Luongo’s middle name 😛 How can a goalue be amazing one time them absoultely terrible the next? I hope he finds his place and stays there, always in the game, get all the fans to stand behind him. I think Luongo needs more shots, defence should let more shots through so he can pretend like its Florida, even take some of the fans out of the stands LOL! As for hall of famer, he will forever be a BC Hall Of Famer and that’s all he should be in my opinion haha! I would be very surprised if his number is retired but will be honoured in some way, whether he deserves it or not is undetermined. We’ll see what happens this season..and LOL yeah how did Sopel and even Cooke get a cup before us? Maybe Lu can go to Toronto and win them a cup LOL jk! And I disagree..I feel the team plays much better in front of Schneider because they trust him more and is a better goalie positionally, keeps it simple, hell even Hamhuis said they play better in front of Schneider than Luongo. The goaltending controversy continues…..

  • Madhatter

    I still hate this guy. Cocky, inarticulate and if I see that belly flop again…..Go away Luongo

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