Opinion: Not retiring Roberto Luongo’s jersey is an embarrassing decision by the Canucks, and they need to rectify it
Photo credit:Vancouver Canucks on Twitter
11 months ago
For just about any other player in Vancouver Canucks history, a place in the Ring of Honour would be an amazing and momentous honour that very few will ever reach.
But when it comes to Roberto Luongo, it just seems more like one more punch to the gut.
Throughout his eight years in Vancouver, Luongo did everything asked of a Canucks leader. He was always active in the community, represented the city proudly at NHL events, and always put the team first. He reached the pinnacle of his career as a Canuck, and became a first-ballot Hockey Hall of Famer thanks in large part to his amazing tenure here. And yet, despite being the undisputable best goaltender in franchise history, the Canucks have decided that it still wasn’t enough to warrant jersey retirement.
To his credit, Luongo was as professional as always and still expressed his gratefulness for the decision when he met with reporters Thursday before he and the Sedins’ Hall of Fame night against the Panthers. But it wasn’t hard to sense at least a shred of disappointment at not getting the far more important honour.
“Well, listen, that’s not up to me to decide,” Luongo said. “But either way, it’s a tremendous honour.”
“It was nice to see that the work I put in here for eight years is gonna get recognized, and I’m very grateful to be able to go up there with those guys.”
The way to honour the legacy of those eight years seems to have been decided on at somewhat last minute. Luongo told reporters that he had received the call from President of Hockey Ops Jim Rutherford yesterday, just before the Canucks made the announcement public. But the specific decision not to retire Luongo’s #1 jersey has been met with swift and much-deserved criticism from across the hockey world.
Still, plenty of people have made half-baked attempts to argue that Luongo doesn’t deserve jersey retirement. Attempts like suggesting that losing a Stanley Cup Final is solely the goaltender’s fault, even when the whole team in front of him laid just as big an egg across seven games. That retiring #1 for Luongo would somehow be an insult to Kirk McLean, as if McLean wouldn’t back his fellow netminder and almost assuredly agree that Luongo deserves the honour for his Hall of Fame tenure. Or that a cap recapture penalty levied against the Canucks is somehow Luongo’s fault, as if he somehow knew when he signed his contract that three years later, the NHL would make the ludicrous decision to retroactively punish teams for finding loopholes in the league’s poorly constructed salary cap system.
But when it comes to this particular player, underappreciation is just par for the course. Luongo has been disrespected by the Canucks organization and a small, but vocal, portion of its fanbase time and time again since 2011, so why would that change now?
He watched as the team actively downplayed his importance to their continued success, routinely demoted him to a backup role at the first sign of trouble, and denied him a proper farewell to the city by benching him for the Canucks’ only outdoor game. Sure he cracked a few jokes about the situation, but throughout it all, he did nothing short of play his ass off every night.
Some people like to say that the Canucks have retired too many jerseys for a team with no championships, as if a player can’t be impactful and special without some sort of silverware to prove it. But that argument was muted for the first six players to have their numbers raised to the rafters. It only became a massive issue when Luongo’s name came up, even though he’s likely to be the last player worthy of that high an honour until decades into the future.
If we judged a player’s importance to a franchise based on how many championships they won, the debates surrounding the best players in NHL history would look very different. Henri Richard won nearly triple the number of championships that Wayne Gretzky did, but it’s hard to imagine there are many people prepared to make the argument that Richard was the superior player of the two. Heck, most of Gretzky’s old Edmonton teammates won a fifth championship without him in 1990, but there’s still no doubt who the best Oiler of all time was.
For a netminding comparison, Corey Crawford was a very good, often undervalued goaltender who backstopped the Chicago Blackhawks to a pair of Stanley Cups in 2013 and 2015. But do those two trophies mean he was far more impactful or an objectively better goalie for his franchise than the likes of Henrik Lundqvist, Carey Price or Ryan Miller? The answer is likely no.
And that’s without going into the glaring issue behind such logic in a league with 32 teams. There are lots of amazing NHLers who either have already walked away from the game without Stanley Cup glory or are going to in the future.
Would you tell Jarome Iginla or Joe Thornton that their accomplishments in Calgary and San Jose weren’t enough to warrant a banner because it didn’t end with a Cup? What about Henrik Lundqvist, who set all the same records for the Rangers that Luongo did in Vancouver, but didn’t win New York a fifth championship? Dominik Hasek won his only Cups in Detroit, should he have a banner there instead of in Buffalo? Ryan Miller never got past the conference final with the Sabres, is he somehow less deserving of getting his jersey retired next month?
The answer, to all of these, is a rock solid ‘no’. Because championships are team awards, and you can still be an all-time great without one. If Roberto Luongo and his teammates win Game 7 against the Boston Bruins and hoist a Stanley Cup that night, does that make him an objectively better goaltender than he’s currently perceived? Absolutely not.
Luongo proved on a nightly basis just how much he mattered to this team, with stats and elite play that dwarfs the numbers of any existing Ring of Honour member. He simply doesn’t belong one floor from the top, and yet here we are.
Regardless of past precedent, the Canucks have suddenly set a standard that a Hockey Hall of Famer couldn’t break through. And if that’s the new bar to clear, then it’s likely that no future Canuck will ever break through it again.
But the good news is, there’s still plenty of time to rectify it. The Canucks will have until at least October to change course and properly bestow the franchise’s highest honour befitting the greatest goalie in team history.
Because until the organization comes to their senses, lets the past go and retires Luongo’s #1 to the rafters as he deserves, this embarrassing decision will only look worse and worse.
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