Pros & Cons of the Vancouver Canucks Retiring Roberto Luongo’s Jersey

Roberto Luongo
VANCOUVER, BC - JANUARY 26: Goaltender Roberto Luongo #1of the Vancouver Canucks skates during warm-up prior to facing the Phoenix Coyotes before their NHL game at Rogers Arena on January 26, 2014 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Ben Nelms/Getty Images)

Two former Vancouver Canucks goaltenders made the news recently, to differing reaction.  One response was: “That’s interesting.”  And the other: “Should the Canucks retire the jersey of Roberto Luongo?”

Eddie Lack is a goalie coach at Arizona State University while he recovers from hip surgery, possibly as a precursor to employment after he’s retired from the NHL; and Luongo was talked into officially retiring from hockey instead of moving onto the Florida Panthers’ long term injured reserve list for the final two years of his contract.

Roberto Luongo and His Options

Luongo’s retirement was a quantum decision – both a surprise and not a surprise at the same time. Most viewers believed he would move to the LTIR, drawing a salary when his injuries became too much trouble. Moving a player onto that list makes for some tricky juggling for a team, though: most players going to the minors, even on paper, run the risk of being claimed off waivers.

Instead, the Panthers convinced him to retire outright. This left them with a recapture penalty of $1,094,128 against the cap for the next three years. This predictable amount let them work with what they had, including the ability to drop below the cap if needed.

Well-Earned Respect

Outside the money issues, though, Luongo has been gold for the Panthers. Even the trade that brought him from the New York Islanders was a win: he and Olli Jokinen arrived in exchange for Oleg Kvasha and Mark Parrish. He is retiring as the team’s all time leader in games played, wins, and shutouts.

Deservedly, Luongo is going to be the first player to have their jersey retired by Florida. Which leads to the question of whether the Vancouver Canucks retire Luongo’s jersey or not.

Why The Canucks Shouldn’t Retire Luongo’s Jersey

His retirement does some damage to his former team: the Canucks have a cap recapture hit of over $3 million for the next three seasons.

Then there’s the question of how he left the team under a growing cloud of discontent. He was traded away in the 2013-14 season after two years of worsing numbers and increasing criticism from fans and coaches: he split the previous season with the newly-signed Cory Schneider, and accepted it as a demotion. He even went so far as to call the Canucks “Cory’s team”. It was expected that he would be traded away in the off-season, but a deal couldn’t be found for him. He was in just the third year of a $64 million, 12-year deal that, combined with his declining numbers, scared off most trade partners.

This was exacerbated by the “NHL recapture” change to the CBA, making him nearly impossible to move for full value. The league revamped the CBA in 2013 to clamp down on any contracts they viewed as being “against the spirit of the salary cap” applied it retroactively to Luongo’s 2010 contract.

Finally, his benching for the 2014 Heritage Classic game was the last straw. The head coach John Tortorella sat him in favour of Lack in a move widely criticised by fans and media alike. Luongo won sympathy, but the owners couldn’t have been happy when the Heritage Classic opened to a chorus of boos.

There is an emotional side if the Canucks retire Luongo’s jersey as well.  One of the previous wearers was the tremendously popular Kirk MacLean, who had it for a decade. Traditionally, it’s also one of very few numbers goaltenders wear – #1, then some in the low 30s.

Why the Canucks Should Retire Roberto Luongo’s Jersey

In the five seasons prior to his arrival, the Canucks dressed fifteen different goaltenders for at least one game. They had failed to draft and develop one, gaining a reputation as a “goalie graveyard”. In his first season with the team, Luongo played in 76 of 82 games; the Canucks dressed six other goalies in the five years after the 2005-2006 season.

Roberto Luongo left the team in second place for games played; first in wins; and nearly twice as many shutouts as the second place Kirk McLean. He took the team to within a single win of the Stanley Cup, getting 15 wins and four shutouts in 2011.

When the conversation turns to the most talented player ever to play for the Canucks, it comes down to two names: Roberto Luongo and Pavel Bure.

One of the Best Ever

He’s one of three goaltenders in NHL history to break 1,000 games, behind only Martin Brodeur at 1044. His 489 wins is third in league history and he’s top-ten with 77 shutouts. This is, by nearly any metric, a Hall of Fame career.

It could be argued that he’s undeserving because he has no Cup ring. But with two 1-0 wins in the 2011 Final, it’s hard to say he wasn’t a clutch performer. It’s especially true when his teammates could only manage eight goals total in the seven game series…

It is Inevitable

Roberto Luongo is going to be honoured by the Canucks, though not in the coming season. It’s likely that they were caught off guard by his announcement and the schedule was already set. But with Bure’s jersey being retired already and 22 and 33 joining it February 12th, it’s hard to imagine that #1 will stay out of the rafters for long.

VANCOUVER, BC – JANUARY 26: Goaltender Roberto Luongo #1of the Vancouver Canucks skates during warm-up prior to facing the Phoenix Coyotes before their NHL game at Rogers Arena on January 26, 2014 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Ben Nelms/Getty Images)

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