2812 days ago, Roberto Luongo was the centerpiece of a five-player-and-a-draft-pick deal that saw him move to Vancouver, ostensibly the missing piece in net for a franchise that seemed at the time on the cusp of a Stanley Cup. Luongo was supposedly leaving the hockey purgatory of the Miami area for a legitimate chance at hoisting the chalice that was bound to elude him as long as he remained a Florida Panther.
92 months and 10 days later, Luongo is returning to Florida as part of a four-player deal, no closer to the dream of a Stanley Cup than he was eight years ago. But the shocking part is not that Luongo was moved, for it has long been obvious that the motivation was there to navigate an amicable exit out of Canada for the beleaguered netminder who never seemed to pan out in the playoffs for the Canucks. The shocking part is that, with his albatross contract, the Canucks were able to find a taker.
While he would guide Team Canada to the gold medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver — winning all five games with a 1.75 goals-against average, a .927 save percentage, and a shutout — his success in the pressure cooker of international hockey never seemed to translate to postseason success in the NHL.
Then again, that stigma isn’t entirely fair. In four of Luongo’s first five seasons in Vancouver, when he was the undisputed starter for the Canucks, the team advanced out of the first round each time. Three times they would lose in the Western Conference semifinals — to eventual Stanley Cup champion Anaheim in 2007, and twice to the Chicago Blackhawks (who would win the Cup in 2010 after beating the Canucks the second time). In 2011 they would finally get the first dozen victories needed to win the Western Conference and reach the Stanley Cup finals.
They finally beat Chicago in a fierce seven-game matchup, took care of the Nashville Predators in six games and cast aside the San Jose Sharks in five to face the Boston Bruins in the championship round. In that series, Luongo was alternately brilliant and befuddling, sometimes outdueling and sometimes outmatched by Boston’s Tim Thomas. In the end, the erratic play of Luongo wasn’t enough to claim the Cup.
Now the two netminders on either side of the ice in that series will be on the same squad, with Thomas already playing out the end of his career in the sunshine. After famously saying during that Stanley Cup series in 2011, “I didn’t realize it was my job to pump [Luongo’s] tires,” it will now be the Thomas’ job to do just that for the man who will presumably take over his starting spot in the Panthers’ crease.
“It looked like [Florida GM] Dale [Tallon] went kicking some tires and found one that needed pumping,” Thomas joked after learning about the trade.
It wasn’t always a marriage made in heaven for Luongo and the Vancouver organization and its fans. But a change of scenery will allow both sides to better appreciate what they had in each other. The trade probably dooms Luongo to a career without a Stanley Cup, but at least he will be able to play out the final years in the NHL with the team that birthed his legend.