Kevin Weekes knows both goaltending and Vancouver, having played for the Canucks behind Kirk McLean from 1998 to 2000. So there is weight to the analyst’s strong opinions on the city’s treatment of its new-old-new starting goaltender.
Sportsnet.ca caught up with Weekes, 38, to discuss Vancouver’s relationship with the Canucks, Roberto Luongo’s unique situation heading into the 2013-14 campaign, and the difficult angles facing whoever claims Team Canada’s crease in Sochi.
SN: What do you read into Roberto Luongo switching agents this summer even though he’s locked into his contract until 2022?
Kevin Weekes: “One of the things about an agent role, it’s not only about getting a new contract or signing as a free agent or getting you drafted. There’s a lot of advice and counsel that comes with being an agent. Roberto had a longstanding relationship with his past agent, Gilles Lupien. He had him since he was in the Quebec league, and it’s been a challenging three years in Vancouver.
"Now that I’m on the other side, I understand the value of perception even more. Take Luongo and take McLean -- I played with both of them. Both of them were excellent goalies, and I think Roberto has a chance to be a Hall of Famer. Both these guys are great goalies for the Vancouver franchise, yet everybody raves about Kirk and you still have people that don’t give Roberto his respect and are hypercritical of Roberto.
"When you look at that, the way he handled himself this past year was awesome, especially on his Twitter feed. The way he was with Cory (Schneider) was great. Covering West Coast games for Hockey Night in Canada, I know they had a great relationship. Even though things got turbulent at times, he handled himself well behind the scenes with his teammates."
SN: So where does Luongo go from here?
Weekes: "Vancouver missed the boat. They should’ve traded him two years ago – I said that. They’ve should’ve traded him a year ago. Bo Horvat (draft pick selected by Vancouver in the Schneider trade) has a chance to be a really good player; I watched him a few times this year in London. They need centres, there’s no doubt about that, but I don’t think they got the max return.
"It’s time for Roberto to establish new representation. J.P. Barry is a great agent; he worked for us at the NHLPA. Pat Brisson is one of the best agents in the business as well. It’s a natural evolution. When you take stock of things, if I’m Roberto, (switching agents) is a move that makes sense."
SN: How do you think he will be received as the starter this fall?
Weekes: "Van City is an unbelievable city and a great hockey market. There’s just so much negativity that comes out of there. At this point in time they’re one of the best franchises in the league; they came within one game of winning the Stanley Cup (in 2011). They had the best overall power play that year, the best penalty kill (in the West) that year. They won the Jennings that year, scored the most goals in the league. High-energy team, fun team to watch. What’s there to complain about? O.K., you didn’t win and everybody’s in the business to win, but that ticks quite a few boxes. (In 2012) they won the Presidents' Trophy.
"At what point in time does Roberto start earning their respect? He won a gold medal for Team Canada on home ice. I think he’s done an exceptional job. The luxury is they had two great goalies. Now, ironically enough, it’s Roberto’s net again. I don’t think it’s incumbent on Roberto; it’s incumbent on management, it’s incumbent on ownership and the coaching staff and, to some extent, the fan base. They need to embrace him.
"Not every time a goal goes in, you’re yelling at him or chirping him on Twitter or on talk radio. You got to get behind your guys. It’s a basic premise in life: If you tell someone, ‘I believe in you’ and you’re supportive of them, it increases their chances of being successful.
"Get behind your team. Being negative won’t help you win the Stanley Cup. There are people in those uniforms."
SN: So will Luongo get the start for Team Canada in Sochi?
Weekes: "I don’t know, man. You look at his experience and how many times he’s repped Team Canada, going back to junior, he has a great chance. Corey Crawford has a chance; he’s been deserving of one all year, and naturally he’s been invited to the orientation camp.
"Mike Smith had a season for the ages (in 2011-12) in Phoenix. He’s on the radar; (Coyotes goaltending coach) Sean Burke has done a great job with him. He’s on the radar. It’s anybody’s ball game, but Roberto has the inside track. Whoever is on fire as we get closer to Sochi could be the guy, but those are the three I think they take."
You’ve played on international ice. What’s the biggest adjustment for NHL goalies?
Weekes: "I played in the Spengler Cup. It took some getting used to. I ended up being the tournament MVP that year, Spengler ‘96, but to get oriented… the first couple practices were like, ‘Whoa, that’s a lot of room in the corner! Whoa, that’s a different angle!’ You cut down angles wrong and your margins for error are slimmer.
"The players attack differently on the ice. We’re starting to see it more in NHL, but the (defence) join the rush more often (on big ice). You used to see it all the time at the Canada Cup or World Cup -- Brian Leetch or Larry Murphy are jumping up in the rush. But when you go back to the NHL, only four or five teams play that way. On international ice, when the D join the rush, it spreads out the options and makes for a different game."
Which Canadians do you believe were unjustly left off the orientation camp roster?
Weekes: "Spezz (Jason Spezza) should’ve definitely got an invitation. Jarome (Iginla) should’ve, just based on his body of work. Here’s one the challenges: With the orientation roster, everyone says, ‘We have enough talent to fill two or three teams in Canada,’ and we do. But we can’t! We have to narrow it down to one team, so naturally it leads to guys being omitted that should be on."