The Vancouver Canucks experienced their greatest stretch in franchise history with Roberto Luongo in the crease. But the non-stop criticism and poor treatment of ‘Bobby Lou’ forced the team to send him back to the Florida Panthers.
When former Vancouver Canucks general manager Dave Nonis traded for Roberto Luongo in the 2006 offseason, you just knew that this team was going to contend for many Stanley Cups. Oh, they sure did alright.
In his first year with the Canucks, Luongo won 47 games and posted a .921 save percentage, leading the Canucks to a Northwest Division title. Vancouver would go on to win the crown again in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. Luongo also led the Canucks to the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, where they infamously fell to the Boston Bruins in a crushing seventh game on home ice.
But despite the dominance of the Canucks during ‘Bobby Lou’s tenure here — and the fact his 367 wins are most in franchise history — Luongo couldn’t handle the demanding Vancouver market any more.
Luongo had requested a trade at the 2013 trade deadline, but the Canucks couldn’t find a taker on his mammoth contract. That prompted Luongo to simply say this, per Hosea Cheung from the Toronto Sun:
My contract sucks. That’s what the problem is. It’s a big factor in trading me and probably why I’m still here. I’d scrap it if I could right now. It’s a hit on your pride that teams aren’t willing to give up much and obviously that doesn’t mean it’s a knock on me but my situation with my contract. It’s a tough spot to be in for myself, for the organization and for everyone involved.
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Another factor that led to this whole ordeal was the fact that the Canucks had another star goalie in Cory Schneider — who was seven years younger, cheaper and probably even better than Luongo.
But former general manager Mike Gillis felt the pressure to clear up Vancouver’s goalie controversy in the offseason.
At the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, he dealt Schneider for the New Jersey Devils’ first round pick (ninth overall), which became Bo Horvat.
And so, Luongo was forced to duke it out for another season in Vancouver. But he would clash with new head coach John Tortorella, and it would eventually signal his inevitable departure from the west coast.
Back to Florida
Prior to the 2014 NHL trade deadline, the Canucks hosted the Ottawa Senators at BC Place for the Heritage Classic. But Tortorella questionably chose to start backup goalie Eddie Lack over Luongo, prompting the latter to say this.
That would be the final straw. Luongo was dealt back to his old Florida Panthers team (along with prospect Steven Anthony), in exchange for Jacob Markstrom and Shawn Matthias. And so ended a decorated yet controversial tenure with Luongo in Vancouver.
For what it’s worth, Luongo did admit that he could have remained a Canuck if Tortorella had started him in that Heritage Classic. But it wasn’t meant to be, and ‘Torts’ himself would get fired after the season.
Luongo has struggled since returning to Florida, as the Panthers have made the playoffs just once. At 38 years of age and with his production declining, Luongo’s career may be over sooner rather than later.
Different teams, same directions
Luongo left a Vancouver team that was a sinking ship. Just months after he got traded, fan favourite Ryan Kesler was eventually dealt to the Anaheim Ducks. Vancouver started a new regime by hiring new head coach Willie Desjardins and general manager Jim Benning — taking over for the fired Mike Gillis.
The Canucks would then try “rebuilding on the fly” for the next three years, and it got them nowhere. So even if Luongo had stayed in Vancouver, it’s unlikely that they would have come close to a championship.
But Luongo’s Florida Panthers haven’t fared much, either. Despite winning the Atlantic Division in 2016, the underdog New York Islanders defeated them in six games. It’s been complete mediocre in the Sunshine State since.
The Roberto Luongo trade was undoubtedly one of the most controversial moments in Vancouver Canucks history. Over three years after the deal took place, both Luongo and the Canucks are still searching for their first respective championships.