VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks are elevating Roberto Luongo to their Ring of Honour. That’s nice and all, but it doesn’t go high enough in Rogers Arena.
A first-ballot Hall-of-Famer who won more games than any other Canuck goalie but only in defeat became one of the most beloved players in franchise history, Luongo deserves to have his No. 1 jersey retired by the National Hockey League team.
“Well, listen, I mean, that’s not up to me to decide, right?” Luongo told reporters Thursday morning, ahead of tonight’s game between the Canucks and Florida Panthers. “But either way, it’s a tremendous honour and I’m very grateful to be honoured any way. So I was happy when I got the call yesterday and I’m looking forward to next season.
“You know, the best moments in my career was when I was here obviously. When I played for Team Canada (at the 2010 Olympics), I was with the Canucks, but it was also in Vancouver. Those playoff runs, I mean, those were the best moments of my career. So to be able to kind of relive them a little bit here the next little while and take it in and thank the fans for everything, it’s a nice way to cap it all off.”
Canucks president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford announced late Wednesday that Luongo would become the eighth name added to the Ring of Honour above the Rogers Arena grandstands, with the induction ceremony sometime next season.
Before tonight’s game, the organization will acknowledge Luongo and Canuck icons Henrik and Daniel Sedin, who went into the Hockey Hall of Fame together three weeks ago.
In the franchise’s 52-year history, only Pavel Bure had previously gone from the Canucks to the Hall of Fame. And since Bure’s jersey now hangs from the arena rafters, above the Ring of Honour, it seems unfair, bordering on preposterous, that Luongo will now receive a lesser honour.
The Sedins’ jerseys are already retired, along with the numbers worn by Stan Smyl, Trevor Linden and Markus Naslund.
Bure’s No. 10 was retired in 2013 – a year after he was voted into the Hall of Fame and after he parried overtures from the Canucks about joining their Ring of Honour – because owner Francesco Aquilini pushed for it in the face of widespread support from fans and reporters, most of whom had never covered Bure.
It was a popular decision by Aquilini to honour the most exciting player in franchise history.
The Russian Rocket spent seven seasons with the Canucks starting in 1991-92, but had a rocky relationship with the organization under general manager Pat Quinn and first asked for a trade in his second year.
Acquired in a blockbuster 2006 trade from the Panthers, Luongo became the team’s greatest-ever goalie, but also had a difficult existence at times in Vancouver. He, too, eventually wanted out – but only after he was contentiously replaced as starter by Cory Schneider during the 2012 playoffs.
Even then, Luongo continued to do his best for the team during general manager Mike Gillis’ two-year trade mission. It was during Luongo’s latter years in Vancouver, towards the end of the most successful era in franchise history, that he was humbled and became more self-aware. It was Luongo’s humility and vulnerability, backed by his self-deprecating humour on Twitter, that fans appreciated as much as his franchise-record 252 wins, 38 shutouts and Vezina Trophy nominations in 2007 and 2011.
“After the first year, you start to hit a few bumps in the road and I started having trouble dealing with certain things, I would say,” Luongo told reporters on Thursday.
“I internalized most of it and it affected me in a personal manner. And sometimes I didn’t deal with it the right way, I found. As I got a little bit mature. . . I started to learn a few things and not take things as serious. When Twitter came around, it really helped me. Once I started kind of making fun of myself, it kind of made things a lot easier on myself to accept that things are going to happen and you can just dwell on it all the time.”
Luongo never did anything to hurt the franchise except retire in Florida 3 ½ years ago, his 40-year-old body unable to keep going in the NHL. With three seasons remaining on the 12-year, $64-million contract Gillis gave Luongo in 2009 – with the league’s approval – NHL commissioner Gary Bettman slapped the Canucks with $9 million in cap-recapture penalties over three years.
That penalty certainly was not Luongo’s fault. Surely, it can’t be the reason he now is headed to the Ring of Honour instead of the rafters.