When Roberto Luongo retired as a Florida Panther in June 2019, it triggered a $3.035 million cap recapture penalty against the Vancouver Canucks for signing him to a twelve-year extension in 2009. But according to Sportsnet 650’s Satiar Shah, Luongo’s career could’ve officially finished in a very different way.
Before Luongo announced his retirement, then-Panthers GM Dale Tallon offered the Canucks the opportunity to reacquire Luongo’s contract, allowing the team to place the Hall of Fame goaltender on LTIR instead and eventually finish his career in Vancouver.
The Canucks, then run by GM Jim Benning, turned the offer down.
“They gave the Canucks a chance to trade back the contract to do some LTIR stuff or whatever, they never did,” Shah said. “Ultimately, he ends up retiring.”
Despite the extremely valuable opportunity to reacquire the best goalie in franchise history and avoid a costly recapture penalty, the Canucks felt such a move didn’t tie into their existing plan at the time. But that didn’t stop Benning from using it as a frequent excuse for his front office’s inability to improve the team.
Immediately following Luongo’s retirement, Benning called the recapture penalty “frustrating”:
“The NHL kind of let us know a week ago that this could happen. We planned that if this happened we’d have the cap space available, and we do. It’s not the best situation for us, but it’s something that we knew could happen. Looking at the bright side of it, it’s better to happen now than two years from now when it’s an $8M-plus cap hit. The rules are the rules and that’s just the way it is.”Benning was also asked if he tried to appeal and if he was frustrated by the penalty.“We talked to the league. The rules are in there for a reason. There isn’t much we can do. It’s frustrating. We knew it could happen and we planned accordingly.”
In one of his last press conferences as Canucks’ GM, as detailed in a Pass it to Bulis article by Daniel Wagner, Benning referenced its eventual expiration as to why the team was comfortable buying out Braden Holtby and giving Jaroslav Halak a hefty performance bonus:
“After this year, we lose Luongo’s $3 million on our cap,” said Benning. “So it’s not perfect, of course, we wouldn’t like to have that situation, but I think trying to make our team as good as we could this year and as competitive as we could, that’s something that we looked at.“In any given year, you look at any team, and there could be some dead money on, but the fact that we’re losing Luongo’s money next year I think played a part in accepting the fact that we’re going to have a little bit of money on the following year.”
The franchise’s use of Luongo’s cap recapture penalty as a crutch for poor decisions has led some people to point fingers at the former Canuck for retiring. But aside from the fact that the NHL made the retroactive choice to punish a team for signing a then-legal contract, Shah also mentioned that Luongo didn’t have many other options aside from retirement in Florida.
“Sure, he retired and he hit the team with a cap recapture penalty. But that was also the circumstance he found himself in. He essentially was squeezed out by Florida,” Shah said.
“[The Panthers] said ‘You’re either retiring or we’re making your life miserable’ essentially, and ‘you want to work in our front office afterwards?’ It’s kind of what you have to do.”