Roberto Luongo to the Canucks’ Ring of Honour: Is that what he deserves?
Photo credit:Vancouver Canucks on Twitter
By Michael Liu2 months ago
On Thursday morning, the Vancouver Canucks announced that Roberto Luongo’s number one would be joining seven others in the Ring of Honour on December 14th, fittingly against the Florida Panthers.
It’s a topic that’s somewhat controversial in this city. The Ring of Honour does have weight to this franchise, a means to celebrate and acknowledge players who made a lasting impact in the 53-year-and-counting history of the team. And thinking of Luongo, most fans would agree that his time in Vancouver had a lasting impact, that most still remember to this day.
But is the Ring of Honour enough to celebrate Luongo’s time as a Vancouver Canuck?
Who is in the Ring of Honour?
Currently, the Canucks have seven members in the Ring of Honour. Orland Kurtenbach, Kirk McLean, Thomas Gradin, Harold Snepts, Pat Quinn, Mattias Ohlund, and Alex Burrows make up the spread, all of whom have been heroes for this franchise. Their contributions to Vancouver all are worthy of honour – but does Roberto Luongo deserve more than them?
What’s fun about history is that everything has already happened. In this case, let’s contextualize Luongo’s time with the Canucks alongside all the other members of the Ring of Honour, to see how he fits in alongside some Vancouver greats.
Starting off with Kurtenbach, the first captain of the Canucks was previously a member of the franchise when they were still in the Western Hockey League in the 1950s. After a professional career that saw NHL stints with the Rangers, Bruins, and Leafs, the 1970 expansion saw Kurtenbach return to Vancouver, being named the franchise’s first captain. He rewarded the Canucks with a 53-point campaign in 52 games that season, following it up with another career-high 61 points in 78 games in 1971-72 before retiring after the 1973-74 season. His four-year stint with Vancouver brought about some of the best hockey in his career – a fan favourite, hard-working center that bore the first C in history. He’ll always be remembered fondly, but perhaps not a legend of the game. Kurtenbach was by no means a spectacular player, not one that was a game-changer each and every night.
Kirk McLean wore the number 1 jersey long before Luongo ever donned it. He was by far the Canucks’ best netminder prior to Luongo, holding numerous franchise records during his ten-and-a-half seasons in the black, yellow, and red. McLean’s stand-up style made the game look easy, but when called upon performed acrobatic saves in big moments. His presence between the pipes helped stabilize the team during a rough 80’s, crescendoing into that 1994 Stanley Cup Finals run before being dealt away to Carolina. At the time of the trade, McLean was the franchise’s all-time leader in regular-season games played (516), wins (211), and shutouts (20), as well as playoff games played (68), wins (34), and shutouts (6). He was a great goalie – but came to a Vancouver team that was never blessed with a good goalie in its history.
Thomas Gradin began the tradition of Swedes in Vancouver. Perhaps the most skilled Canuck of that era, his arrival in 1978 saw him rapidly established as an offensive leader on the team. Jim Robson once described him as “the best player the Canucks ever had,” and that summed up how great Gradin was. He wasn’t just silky – he was a tough customer who played his best against the best competition. The high point of his time in Vancouver was the 1982 Finals, and after that did not see much playoff success. Gradin departed the Canucks as the franchise’s leader in scoring, 550 points (197 goals and 353 assists) across 613 games, before rejoining Vancouver as a scout. Great numbers, ones deserving of being honoured – but not to the degree of having his jersey number retired. Gradin is the perfect fit in the Ring of Honour.
Harold Snepts was the quintessential stay-at-home defenceman. Sporting his iconic mustache, Snepts quickly became a fan-favourite thanks to his blue-collar, hard-nosed defensive style. He earned two all-star nods in 1977 and 1982 and was named the team’s best defenceman throughout that 5-year span. Of course, Snepts’ time cumulated in the 1982 Stanley Cup run, one of the key pillars of that scrappy underdog team that clawed its way deep into the postseason. At the time of Snepts’s departure from Vancouver, he led Canucks defencemen in games played for the franchise and penalty minutes. All great and a cult hero, but the defensive defenceman wasn’t exactly jersey retirement material, honoured appropriately in the Ring of Honour.
Pat Quinn held numerous positions within the Canucks organization. He played for the team between 1970-1972, before becoming the team’s general manager in the 1987-88 season and then the coach in 1991. Quinn was the architect of that 1994 Stanley Cup Finals team, bringing lasting memories for a generation of Canucks fans, ones that still last until this day. His departure in 1997 marked the end of a relative golden age – with the Keenan era coming right after that plunged this team into darkness. While Quinn is a Hockey Hall of Fame inductee, his contributions as a player weren’t the reason for it. As such, for the Canucks to honour him, the highest appropriate status was the Ring of Honour as a builder of this team.
Mattias Ohlund was the Canucks’ best defender through the 2000s. A physical defenceman who was complimented by his smooth skating, Ohlund never put up staggering offensive numbers, quietly dictating the game through excellent defensive awareness. A surefire top-pairing defender, he departed the Canucks in 2009 as second in defenceman games played (770) while scoring the most points by a defenceman (325). His impact off the ice was just as significant as his impact on the ice. The Swede was a key mentor to Alex Edler early on in his career, as well as helping Henrik and Daniel Sedin transition to North America. It was Edler who would go on to surpass his tallies with Vancouver, and as Ohlund’s career came to an end on LTIR, the Ring of Honour was a worthy induction for a stalwart on the backend.
Alex Burrows is the underdog story that everyone in Vancouver got behind. Undrafted, working his way up from the ECHL, to the AHL, then to the NHL, Burrows fought and clawed for each and every minute that he played in the big leagues. From third-line grinder to shotgun along the Sedins, Burrows represented a versatile player on the ice that became the best fit alongside the Hall-of-Fame Twins. He might not have set any records for the team, but the story, the 11 years that he spent during the Canucks’ best period in franchise history, was all worthy of being honoured.
Oh yeah, and there was a pretty important goal scored too.
Where does Luongo fit in all this?
That is probably the biggest question surrounding the official announcement. Is Roberto Luongo Ring of Honour material, or should his number be retired?
Luongo spent 7.5 seasons as a Vancouver Canuck. His arrival in 2006-07 effectively ended the goalie graveyard era and helped propel the Canucks into possibly the most successful period in franchise history. A monstrous playoff performance on April 11th, 2007 against the Stars with 72 saves on 76 shots in the iconic 5-4 4OT victory put the cherry on top of his debut campaign. Luongo would spend his prime in Vancouver, the backbone between the pipes as the Canucks secured two President’s Trophies and a trip to the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals. He became the first goaltender to captain an NHL team since 1947-48. Luongo surpassed McLean as the franchise leader in wins (252) and shutouts (38). There’s no question that his career numbers are worthy of his hall-of-fame induction, with an Olympic gold medal to boot from 2010.
But did he do enough in a Vancouver jersey to warrant a number retirement?
The reality is… complex. Luongo spent 11.5 seasons with the Florida Panthers, where he established himself as one of the foremost NHL netminders in the early 2000s and returned in the twilight of his career as the veteran goalie who helped mentor a young crew. His number hangs from the rafters of the Amerant Bank Arena, the first jersey retirement in Panther franchise history, as well as remaining involved with the team as a special advisor. For all intents and purposes, Luongo’s legacy and ties are closer to the Panthers than they are to the Canucks.
It feels as if Luongo’s achievements in a Canucks uniform are in line with others in the Ring of Honour. Most sport one appearance in a Stanley Cup Finals, with a lot of them playing significant leading roles on the Canucks teams that they were on. Luongo can probably be counted in this category as well – but is that diminishing the excellence that he displayed while in Vancouver?
The criteria for jersey retirement are fuzzy. Each team has standards for which numbers to hang from the rafters, some more stringent than others, but the honour is reserved for those who are truly outstanding, ones that made lasting impacts on and off the ice for the franchise and community. Roberto Luongo brought about a lasting impact on the ice, and his off-the-ice contributions are also many in Vancouver – but they also pale against the Sedins, Trevor Linden, and Stan Smyl, as well as not quite matching the on-ice highs of Pavel Bure and Markus Naslund.
He’s in a weird mushy middle. There is absolutely no doubt that Luongo should at least be in the Ring of Honour. Luongo was loved by the Vancouver fanbase – but did he ever truly reach fan-favourite adoration, and franchise legend status during his tenure? If the criteria for jersey retirement is just the time spent with Vancouver, then it’s a logical argument to say that Luongo accomplished similar milestones and achievements as the names that adorn the Ring of Honour. He was an excellent netminder during his time as a Canuck, but his greatest on-ice achievement came with Team Canada, while he identifies more with the Panthers organization.
But if a jersey retirement recognizes the career of a player, and how each chapter with a different team plays a part in formatting the whole storybook, then Luongo’s number 1 absolutely deserves to be retired. His best years came in Vancouver, and with all-time numbers and performances that have been enshrined in the Hall of Fame, the Canucks would be due to recognize the incredible moments that he brought to the franchise. Luongo was one of the best goaltenders (if not the best)in the entire world during his 7.5-year spell in Vancouver – and that deserves prestige that the Ring of Honour does not necessarily bring. It wouldn’t be like the Colorado Avalanche retiring Ray Bourque’s number – Luongo’s lasting contributions far outstrip that one-and-a-half-year tenure in Denver.
But we aren’t talking about the Colorado Avalanche. We’re talking about the Vancouver Canucks.
How a person views a jersey retirement, the significance of it to a player and a franchise, will determine what view they will take on Luongo’s induction into the Ring of Honour. There is no real right answer in this one – and unfortunately, it takes away from the celebration of a truly special goaltender in hockey’s history, probably the best to ever suit up for Vancouver (yet).
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