It’s all about legacy in the end, and the ultimate legacy each and every NHL player wants to leave is that of a Stanley Cup champion.
Considering that, you had to wonder what Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price was thinking as he looked on from somewhere inside BB&T Center as Roberto Luongo’s No. 1 became the first number retired in Florida Panthers’ history on Saturday.
Not that Price, or anyone else, should look down on Luongo’s legacy just because the Saint-Leonard, Que., native never got to lift that fabled Cup over his head; it’s just that it’s patently obvious it’s not the one he wants for himself when all is said and done. He made that abundantly clear in this exclusive interview with the Athletic last summer.
That had to be on the mind of the 32-year-old from Anahim Lake, B.C., prior to yet another loss for his Canadiens, who are tumbling towards a lottery pick and in the midst of winding down a third consecutive season that is bound to end in early April.
Still, Price had to be happy for Luongo, who carved out a remarkable career and was being celebrated for it. We’re talking about a player who came within just one win of a Cup as a member of the Vancouver Canucks in 2011, a player who won the William Jennings Trophy that year, a gold medal winner for Team Canada in two World Championships, two Olympic Games and a member of Canada’s 2004 World Cup of Hockey team.
If you’re unsure if those are Hall of Fame credentials, consider that Luongo played 1044 NHL games (second-most in league history) and he retired in 2019 having made the second-most saves (28,409) and having recorded the third-most wins (489) of any goaltender before him. His numbers—a .919 save percentage and a 2.52 goals-against average—are beyond respectable considering the length of his career and the (often poor) quality teams he played for.
And when Luongo was on an edition of the Canucks or Panthers worthy of participating in the playoffs, he made the most of it by posting a .918 save percentage and a 2.49 goals-against average in his 70 post-season games.
“Bobby Lou,” as he’s affectionately become known, spent his first five seasons in Florida and returned there to play in parts of six more after spending eight seasons with the Canucks. No member of the organization was more influential on or off the ice over that time.
On it, Luongo won 230 times and recorded 38 shutouts for the Panthers. Off of it, he rallied his teammates often.
And we’ll never forget how he rallied the entire Parkland, Fla., community with this speech in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which claimed the lives of 17 people and injured another 17 in February of 2018.
All of that was commemorated in the most profound way when Luongo’s jersey was pulled to the rafters on Saturday evening.
We’re sure Price was as thrilled to see it happen as anyone else in the building. Earlier in the day, he was unequivocal in his support for his former Olympic teammate.
“I’m very happy for him,” Price told reporters. “He’s such a fun personality to be around. He has very quick wit. I got to play with him in Sochi (in the 2014 Games), and he was a great partner for me there. He was always a great ambassador for goaltending. I definitely followed his career. He’s been a role model for myself and many other Canadian goaltenders. His style, his competitiveness, he definitely had the right attitude coming into games.”
But Luongo doesn’t have a Cup, and we can’t help but wonder if Price is thinking about his own legacy possibly being marked by the same distinction when all is said and done.
It would be normal if he was—especially just one day after Canadiens legend Henri Richard passed away and his Hall of Fame career, marked by an NHL-record 11 Stanley Cup wins, was paid beautiful tribute. If he wasn’t thinking about it while Luongo’s jersey was ascending, it might have popped into his head a couple of times as he watched backup Charlie Lindgren and his Canadiens teammates lose 4-1 to a Panthers team that had just lost six of its last seven games and a franchise-worst eight straight at home.
The goaltender might be under contract for six more seasons with the Canadiens, at an annual cap hit of $10.5 million, but it would be understandable if his patience was wearing thin at the end of a week that started with the team’s general manager, Marc Bergevin, stating in multiple interviews that he doesn’t see it as a necessity to make many fundamental changes.
“I know I’m going to sound crazy, but I like our team,” Bergevin also told our Elliotte Friedman on Tuesday, from the GM meetings, which were held just a couple of dozen miles away from where the Canadiens recorded their 39th loss of the season on Saturday. “When our team is playing to their optimum level and we’re healthy, I believe our team is a playoff team.”
Whether or not Price agrees is a subject that’s bound to be broached with him several times between now and when he returns to Kelowna, B.C., for his summer vacation.
And even if the goaltender does believe that the Canadiens, as currently constructed, are at least good enough to do what more than half the league does every spring—16 of 31 teams qualify for the playoffs—the hope has to be that he believes they can contend for a Cup sooner rather than later. Because Price isn’t getting any younger, and his legacy—of being the Canadiens all-time leader in regular-season wins, an Olympic Gold medalist, a World Junior champion, a Calder Cup champion, a Hart, Vezina, Jennings Trophy winner and a Ted Lindsay Award winner—has to be at the top of his mind.
It’s a legacy that’s likely to see him eventually elected to the Hall of Fame, a legacy that will inevitably have his No. 31 raised to the rafters at the Bell Centre.
But he knows it’ll be slightly out of place among the 14 that already hang there if he doesn’t win a Cup, and that’s definitely not how he’d like to stand apart when his magnificent career comes to an end.