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Today, we have a special contributor in the NHL department, Dean Pennington of TBIV.net.
Teams are salivating over Roberto Luongo now that he’s been made available, but is he worth it?
(First off, my apologies for the lack of updates this past week. The Winter bug caught me off guard and rendered me useless for most of the week. We’ll be back full force this week into this weekend.)
He’s been nominated for three Vezina trophies, one Hart Trophy and two Lester Pearson trophies, winning none. He’s carried his team to within one game of Cup glory in 2011, a season in which he put together one of the best seasons by a goalie in recent memory (38-15-4, 2.11, .928) and would have won the Vezina if Tim Thomas hadn’t been better. He’s even the subject of the greatest hockey-related YouTube video ever created. Even with that arsenal in his resume, Roberto Luongo is regarded by many as overrated. Unfortunately for Luongo, their claims may be justified.
2010-11 was the exception, not the rule. Prior to that season, Luongo’s best season by the numbers was 06-07, his first year in Vancouver. That year he won a staggering 47 games and compiled a 2.29 GAA paired with a .921 save percentage. After that? Well, there was his mediocre 2008-09 season where he appeared in only 53 games, winning 33. The fact is, Luongo’s career numbers don’t exactly jump off the page at you. When he was traded from Florida to Vancouver, he was hugely overrated. His best season with Florida came in 2003-04 when he was 25-33-4/2.43/.931. It’s easy to say that with a save percentage that high, it’s obvious that he fell victim to a terrible Panthers team. However, his other four seasons in Florida were much more ordinary, averaging a 2.65 GAA and .913 save percentage in 245 games. In 2006, when Vancouver signed him to a monster four-year deal worth $6.75MM per season, many considered him overpaid considering his body of work in Miami. Plus, Luongo’s enormous ego and numerous failures under pressure have tainted his reputation somewhat, and that’s me being nice. If I wasn’t being nice, I’d say he was a flat out douchebag. Prior to 2011, Luongo had developed a penchant for wilting under pressure. Even though his Canucks teams were among the leagues best from 2008-2010, each team failed to make it out of the Western Conference and were twice eliminated in the second round.
The number of goalies currently playing in the league who have better career lines than Luongo may surprise you. Perhaps most notable is Evgeni Nabokov, who has been relegated to obscurity on Long Island. Nabby’s best season (2007-08) is every bit as good as Luongo’s and their career numbers are strikingly similar. Yet, Nabokov has only been nominated for one Vezina (2008) to Luongo’s three. Nabokov spent the majority of his career in San Jose and suffered from many of the same playoff woes as Luongo. Luongo’s exposure in Vancouver largely eclipsed Nabokov’s in San Jose, yet they have both followed similar career paths. Yet, most would scoff at the notion that the two are in the same class when it comes to goaltenders. That’s not all. Check out the list of all active goalies with 200 or more career starts, sorted best-to-worst by GAA:
Luongo just barely breaks the top 12. Sorted by save percentage, things look a bit better:
Still, Luongo does not break into the top five and many of those below him, like Jonathan Quick and Carey Price, will likely eventually eclipse him.
At age 34, Robby Lu doesn’t have nearly as much value as what’s seemingly been assigned to him. 34-year-old Niklas Backstrom, who has him beat in both GAA and save percentage, will be available this offseason and will likely command much less money than Luongo. Why? Because of the name. Roberto Luongo is the Apple to Backstrom’s Asus. Luongo is flashy, loud, recognized and overpriced while Backstrom is just as capable and half the price, but isn’t ostentatious enough to have separated his brand from the pack. Hell, even ageless Tim Thomas, the 39-year-old relic who seemingly has lost his mind, will be available this offseason at a bargain basement price. Whatever team signs Luongo is stuck with him for eight more seasons and through his 43rd birthday. The team that lands him will be paying an average of $5.33 million per season for his services. They’ll likely also have to entice the Canucks with top prospects. Hopefully, at some point between now and the start of next season, the teams involved will wake up and realize that Luongo is a slightly-above-average goaltender and not the franchise savior he’s been made out to be. Why would a team like the Toronto Maple Leafs cripple a young, budding franchise with a contract that large? They tried that on Long Island with Rick DiPietro and look how that turned out. The Islanders have been spinning their tires for years, having lost the flexibility to pursue big name free agents.
My best advice to teams looking for goaltending help is to pursue the free agent options in 2013. Evgeni Nabokov and Nicklas Backstrom are among those, with Lundqvist, Vokoun and Halak coming up in 2014. Alternatively, recent drafts have been stacked with goalies and many teams have grown from within. Josh Harding in Minnesota, Tuukka Rask in Boston and Anders Lindback in Tampa Bay are prime examples of young, recently drafted goalies coming into their own this season. Sure, Luongo is a great talent and will find a home as a starter somewhere, but a young team shouldn’t mortgage their future to pick up an aging, overrated goalie. It would be a shame to see a team like Toronto give up young talent like Nazem Kadri, Joe Colbourne or Ben Scrivens to sign Luongo. The best place for Luongo to land is a team with an aging core in need of help in goal. Dallas, Winnipeg, Florida and Chicago all come to mind. Carolina, if Cam Ward doesn’t bounce back, may be a solid option also. And you know what? Whatever team signs him becomes an instant contender, but at what cost? How many years of mediocrity is a short-term shot at a Cup worth? By the time this summer comes around, we’ll have those answers.