After 19 seasons in the NHL, goaltender Roberto Luongo has announced his retirement.
“This is one of the toughest decisions I’ve faced in my life and it took me a long time to make it,” Luongo said. “After thinking about it a lot over the past two months and listening to my body, I made up my mind. It just feels like the right time for me to step away from the game.”
Luongo leaves the game as the third winningest goaltender in NHL history, with a career record of 489-392-91-33 in 1,044 games with the New York Islanders, Florida Panthers and Vancouver Canucks.
Luongo began his career by becoming the highest-drafted goaltender in QMJHL history, going second overall in 1995 to the Val-d’Or Foreurs. He was a standout at the 1997 CHL Top Prospects Game and that led to his drafting into the NHL at the hands of the Islanders, who picked him fourth overall in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft.
Luongo was part of a draft class that included first overall pick Joe Thornton, second overall pick Patrick Marleau, third overall pick Olli Jokinen, and fifth overall pick Eric Brewer. Marian Hossa and Nick Boynton were also part of the group.
Luongo struggled to join the Islanders until after his performance at the 1999 World Junior Championships and contract troubles kept him out of the bigs. An injury to backup goalie Wade Flaherty finally led to his debut against the Boston Bruins on November 28 of 1999. He won, stopping 43 shots for the 2-1 victory.
Luongo began to impress on Long Island and his play eventually led to the trading of Felix Potvin to the Vancouver Canucks for Kevin Weekes. But the honeymoon didn’t last long, as public clashes with general manager Mike Milbury eventually led to both the drafting of the new “goalie of the future” and NCAA star Rick DiPietro and the trading of Luongo to Florida – all on June 24, 2000.
Starting his tenure with the Panthers by splitting action with Trevor Kidd, Luongo took strides to improve his game and finally played his rookie season in 2000-2001. He was nominated for the Vezina Trophy and Lester B. Pearson Award that season and, by his fourth year in Florida, he was started 72 games and facing a small army of shots.
By 2006, Luongo had become the winningest goalie in Panthers. But he couldn’t come to terms on a deal with Florida and general manager Mike Keenan shipped him to Vancouver on June 23, 2006.
Luongo’s tenure in Vancouver helped stabilize the franchise. He set various franchise records, including a blistering 210:34 shutout streak that broke Ken Lockett’s 1975 marker. He was named team captain, just the seventh NHL goalie named captain in history, and surpassed his own shutout streak with a 242:36 run in the 2008-2009 season.
There were other highlights, like the signing of a 12-year contract worth $64 million and the October 2009 surpassing of Kirk McLean as franchise shutouts leader. In March of 2011, he became the sixth youngest goalie to reach 300 wins and he won the William M. Jennings Trophy along with Cory Schneider that season.
Things began to fall apart somewhat in Vancouver, with Schneider supplanting Luongo as the starter. Luongo was nevertheless supportive and turned any “goaltending controversy” into a series of good-natured ribs. But shockingly, Schneider was traded out of town in June of 2013 and Luongo was thrust back into position as the starter. He served as mentor of sorts to Eddie Lack.
That situation hardly lasted long, though, and Luongo was sent back to the Panthers in March of 2014. He played his 1,000th game – becoming just the third NHL goalie to do so behind Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur – and he surpassed that mark in February of 2019. He also became the third winningest goalie in February of 2019, passing Ed Belfour.
With his retirement, there is financial fallout. And we can talk about how his retirement leaves the Canucks and Panthers with salary cap recapture penalties built into that monstrous 12-year deal.
But for now, we’ll say goodbye and thank you to the one and only Bobby Lu. It’s been a remarkable run.
(Lead photo credit: NHL.com)