With the departure of Jaromir Jagr from the Florida Panthers this summer, Roberto Luongo will start the season as the team’s elder statesman. But it remains to be seen if he’ll be healthy or capable enough to maintain his role as the No. 1 goalie throughout 2017-18.
Now 38, Luongo played just 40 games in 2016-17, a season shortened by a hip injury that sidelined him for the final six weeks. Remember too that prior to the start of the 2016-17 season there was some question whether or not Luongo would be healthy enough to start on time, prompting the Panthers to sign James Reimer to a five-year contract both as insurance for the immediate future and a safety net for if (when) Luongo retires in the next few years.
After Luongo went down, Reimer finished March and April with a .916 save percentage and earned shutouts in his final two starts. The fact Florida earned just six wins in those 16 games speaks more to the step back the team took around Reimer than it does to how he played.
All told, Reimer played 42 games to Luongo’s 40 last season and posted slightly better numbers than the long-time Panthers No. 1. All this has left many wondering who Florida’s starter will be come puck drop, or if Florida’s $7.93-million cap commitment to the position determines this is a tandem situation.
Either way, Luongo doesn’t seem to mind how the work will be split up.
“I don’t know how things are going to go, but it doesn’t matter,” Luongo told the Miami Herald. “We’re both capable goalies and we’re a team. I want to help the team win games and so does (Reimer). Whatever the breakdown is, it will be. I know I’m 38 and can’t play as many games as I would like to anymore.
“I don’t have any goals on how many games I play.”
Luongo is fourth on the all-time games played list among goalies in NHL history with 966 and is just five behind Terry Sawchuk for third. In the two seasons prior to 2016-17, Luongo played 61 and 62 games and he could pass Patrick Roy for second on the all-time list if he plays 64 games this season. But given his age, injury history, and Reimer’s place in the organization, that seems highly unlikely to happen.
A total of 13 goalies played at least 60 games in the NHL last season and only three of them (Cam Ward, Peter Budaj and Pekka Rinne) were older than 31 at the start of it. Part of the reason the Panthers were interested in the now-29-year-old Reimer in the first place was that he would be a capable starter to spell Luongo and leave their starter fresh for the playoffs. There’s no reason to believe that desire has changed in the meantime.
“Listen, this has always been his team,” goalie coach Robb Tallas told the Herald about Luongo. “But everyone these days has to manage time better, not just us. Roberto can’t play 60, 65 games a season any more. Reimer shouldn’t either. It only gets tougher every year.”
At this stage in his career Luongo also, of course, remains an injury risk and if he (or Reimer for that matter) sustained an injury the third-string netminder may end up being Harri Sateri, a 27-year-old free agent signing who posted a .929 save percentage in the KHL last season. In that scenario only would it seem possible Luongo or Reimer could hit 60 games played.
But to keep healthy Luongo told the Herald he needs to do something he didn’t do a very good job of last year and stay on top of his exercises even when he feels good to ensure the muscles stay strong. To that end, he may end up taking a page out of The Book of Jagr.
“I’m going to come in earlier than everyone else every day,” Luongo said.