Opinion

Roberto Luongo Didn't Deserve Us, And We Didn't Deserve Him

Roberto Luongo, seen here practicing with the Vancouver Canucks in 2008, has been traded back to the Florida Panthers. - Wikimedia Commons
Roberto Luongo, seen here practicing with the Vancouver Canucks in 2008, has been traded back to the Florida Panthers.
— image credit: Wikimedia Commons

I’m not mad. At all. I really couldn’t care, and that should tell you everything you need to do about Vancouver. This season, and right now.

The mood here is… I don’t care anymore. Every day in Canuckland for a Canuck fan is like 'The Red Wedding' for a Game of Thrones fan. You stare at the screen a little bit. You want to call your friends and talk about it but, at the same time, you don’t. You just don’t know what to say, or even if you want to watch next week.

Now, I could be the only one thinking like that – the never-ending, predictable, understandable wave of Facebook statuses that flooded the homepage of the only URL I type in through reflex showed a fan base that still very much cares for its team, and certainly cared for this goaltender. Their words were more like a eulogy than a get well soon, from "he deserved better"to "FIRE MIKE GILLIS GTHEGHFSG!!!!!!!"

Luongo deserved better? Well, he just got better.

He was traded to the place he never wanted to leave at one point, South Florida. He got to ride the Vancouver Canucks to a Stanley Cup Final, two Presidents’ Trophies, two Olympic golds, and a Hart Trophy nomination.

He played great along the way. So did Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler, Dan Hamhuis, Kevin Bieksa, Christian Ehrhoff, and Sami Salo.

He also played poorly along the way. So did Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler, Dan Hamhuis, Kevin Bieksa, Christian Ehrhoff, and Sami Salo.

(*Keep in mind… a lot of guys go through trade rumours and a lot are chained to the radiator, from Carey Price in Montreal to Wayne Rooney in Manchester, and they tend to move on. Judging by Luongo’s interview today, he had, too. But it always hung over my head that Luongo never really wanted to be here in the first place, and I couldn’t blame him for that. He was traded to Vancouver; he didn’t come here as a free agent. He seemed like he was a guy who always had his eyes peeking over someone else’s fence, checking his phone on New Year’s Eve to see if he had, in fact, picked the wrong party. Again, you can’t blame the guy for wanting to be there when his son was born – Luongo skipped out on the Canucks’ playoff push in 2008 to fly down to Florida and be with his pregnant wife, and Vancouver missed the playoffs – or for just wanting to be in Florida all the time… but it just never seemed like Vancouver was playing with a strong hand. I’m not sure the Canucks ever were his home, and I don’t think they were ever going to be.)

At 34 years old, Luongo leaves Canada for the Caribbean, and he does so as – unquestionably, in my opinion – the greatest goaltender to never have won a Stanley Cup. And the guy still has five more years to go, at least.

So don’t cry for Roberto. Just hope he remembers you.

Because Canucks fans are right – somehow, even with all the accolades I listed above, Luongo did deserve better. But he didn’t just deserve better than his general manager or his most recent head coach or the sometimes asleep team in front of him.

Luongo also deserved better than us.

We called him a dolphin and we BOO’d him as often as we LUU’d him. And he was a dolphin. His shootouts were disgusting, at times. His rebound control? A thing of inverted beauty. And his puck control was as comical as a Sportsnet host isn’t.

At his worst, Luongo gave more away than a Tyler Perry trailer.

But at his best, he was the kind of goalie you’d want your son to see, the sort of all-world talent you were thrilled to have in your hometown. He’s a goalie you’ll remember watching once, or twice, and you’ll talk about how you get to see him like old people now talk about Mike Bossy or Guy Lafleur or Bobby Hull.

A friend from Toronto told me today, "At least we’ll get to see Luongo some more." That’s the sort of effect he has.

I remember saying to myself, "Well, honestly, how good can he really be?" when he came to the Canucks from Florida, and I thought the same thing when he slowly squeaked out of the gate with us in 2006. I was going to school in London, Ontario, and I saw him on highlights and in the occasional Wednesday night game.

But when I saw him live, when I came back at Christmas that year… it was like seeing Pulp Fiction or hearing Jimi Hendrix for the first time. Like, "Oh, this is what a goalie should be… this is the kind of guy they make documentaries about. Or, at the very least, YouTube montages."

We were lucky to have him for eight years.

So, yeah… Roberto Luongo deserved better.

But we didn’t.

And that’s why we have the team we do now. That’s why today’s trade doesn’t swallow the same way it did when we thought it would happen 18 months ago. (And, holy cwap, can you believe it’s been 18 months since this, already?)

The first thought I had when this trade went down today was the exact though I had when the trade was first passed around as gossip on Saturday…

The thought? So, what in the hell was the point of trading Cory Schneider?

That’s no disrespect to Eddie Lack or Bo Horvat. In the same way, I hated the Cody Hodgson trade in 2012 and I still do today – mostly because now it’s clear the Canucks will also trade Ryan Kesler, and they only traded Hodgson in the first place because Kesler was in the way – but that has nothing to do with Zack Kassian.

But Cory Schneider was groomed to become either Luongo’s heir or our greatest trading tool. And in the end, he was neither.

(Someone at a news station told me once, while advising me to start on TV or Radio in a tiny town in B.C.’s Interior, “Go somewhere where nobody will see you fu*k up.” In essence, that was the freedom Schneider had and that was how he was trained. That’s been the freedom the Vancouver Canucks had for their first 40 years of existence, really, but they decided to become loud, to be big, and to be famous. Now they’re realizing just how hot the spotlight is.)

Schneider was traded a year and a half too late, and Luongo, well, about the same.

Even more frustrating is that you have to imagine that deal from Florida was on the table last season – Jacob Markstrom and Shawn Matthias for Bobby Lu and 15% of his contract, which is actually a much bigger deal than we’ll pretend it isn’t.

You have to imagine they could have plucked some prettier pieces from Toronto when their confidence was still fragile, too, because the Leafs were rumoured to be in on Luongo as soon as Vancouver sat him in 2012.

The rumour was Nazem Kadri and Jake Gardiner for Luongo, but neither had proven themselves to be NHL regulars. (Apparently, though, Eddie Lack and Jacob Markstrom have. Go figure.)

And now, the focus shifts to Ryan Kesler. If he wanted out last week, well wish job either got a lot easier to grant or a lot more difficult.

For Vancouver, however, the choice is simple… they have to trade Kesler. They have to go all-in on something, and that something is whatever they’re currently in the middle of. We don’t know what they’re in the middle of because it has never been obvious.

Simpletons will look at Gillis’s track record and blast him for it. That’s fair and it’s warranted… but it’s also too easy.

Canucks fans, don’t just knock the GM for his trades. Don't forget to knock him for how he handled everything around them, too.

Don’t knock him for trading Michael Grabner for Keith Ballard (and Mason Raymond). It was a terrific trade at the time, and it was used to sure up a Canucks team that was on its way to one of the greatest regular seasons of all-time, on its way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

But blame him for what came after. Blame Gillis and Alain Vigneault for how they grossly mismanaged Ballard, Raymond, and then Cody Hodgson. Blame them both for underestimating just how grave the Luongo situation was.

And if you’re going to blame Mike Gillis for anything, at least blame him for how her blamed everything on someone else. Gillis drives a big bus, and there are a lot of bodies underneath it.

We can blame him for that, at least, because we do it, too.

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