On June 23, 2006, the Vancouver Canucks began their ascent from a fringe playoff team to a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
That ascension began with the acquisition of Roberto Luongo. While it wasn’t quite the “Markus Naslund for Alex Stojanov” type of steal, it should go down as one of the best trades in Canucks history.
Former Canucks GM Dave Nonis traded an aging Todd Bertuzzi, career backup Alex Auld, and bottom-pairing defenceman Bryan Allen in exchange for a 27-year-old Luongo.
What transpired over the next eight seasons was inarguably the best stretch in Canucks history.
The two most impactful players for the Canucks between 2006-2014 were the Sedin twins. Both of those players have rightfully had their numbers retired by the Canucks.
Luongo undoubtedly deserves to join them in the rafters as well.
That makes the Canucks announcement that he’ll join the Ring of Honour – as opposed to having his jersey retired – a slap in the face for the best goaltender in franchise history.
Making the case for Luongo’s jersey retirement
It cannot be understated how much the Luongo trade changed the trajectory of this franchise.
For years (decades even) Vancouver was considered a goalie graveyard.
Heck, even Thatcher Demko, who only became a full-time starter halfway through the 2020-21 season, is already seventh overall in franchise wins.
Of course, the leader for franchise wins is Luongo.
Not only did Luongo win games for the Canucks, but he also performed like one of the best goaltenders in the NHL while doing so.
For the eight seasons while Luongo was with the Canucks, he was a top-five goaltender in hockey. He had the fourth-most wins (252), third-most shutouts (38), and third-best save percentage (.919), among goaltenders who played at least 200 games in eight seasons.
The Canucks only missed the playoffs in two of Luongo’s eight seasons in Vancouver. In one of those seasons (2007-08), Luongo helped the Canucks allow the seventh-fewest goals in the NHL. It was the offence that let them down.
In the other (2013-14), Luongo was traded back to the Florida Panthers and didn’t finish the season in Vancouver.
Luongo and the playoffs
For those that don’t think Luongo should have his jersey retired by the Canucks, they’ll likely point to a few bad games in the postseason.
That’s largely unfair to the entirety of Luongo’s career with the Canucks.
Even after a few spotty playoff performances, Luongo finished his postseason career with a .916 save percentage, which is well above the average for an NHL goaltender.
The other issue with nitpicking a few bad performances is that it conveniently ignores his larger body of work. Without Luongo, the Canucks likely wouldn’t have had as much success as they did.
Back in 2007, Luongo had a legendary 72-save performance in his first-ever playoff game, when Henrik Sedin scored the winning goal in the fourth overtime period. Luongo finished that series with a .950 save percentage in seven games.
In 2011 against the Chicago Blackhawks, Luongo stopped 31 of 32 shots, including a monstrous save on Patrick Sharp, which later led to one of the most memorable moments in Canucks history.
Later in that run, Luongo stopped 54 of 56 shots, which led to Kevin Bieksa’s double-overtime winning goal which sent the Canucks to the Stanely Cup Final.
Oh, and he had two shutouts in the Stanley Cup Final.
Winning the Stanley Cup is also, to be frank, really hard. Luongo and the Canucks came close but the sad truth is that not every team/player gets to win.
The Luongo/McLean thing
Another argument against Luongo having his jersey retired is that the other most beloved goaltender in franchise history, Kirk McLean (who also wore No. 1) is in the Ring of Honour.
Both goaltenders are franchise icons. However, one was good, while the other is a Hall of Famer.
McLean is the only goalie to log more minutes in a Canucks uniform than Luongo. Despite that, Luongo has 41 more wins than McLean and has nearly double the number of shutouts (38 to 20).
There were two seasons where McLean received Vezina or All-Star team votes. Luongo received votes for at least one of those honours during five of his eight seasons in Vancouver.
Jersey retirement would appease both Luongo and fans
The Canucks may have overthought this whole “not retiring Luongo’s number” thing.
Across the NHL, there are 175 jersey numbers that are retired or will be retired in the near future.
Many of those players didn’t have the same impact on the game that Luongo did.
For instance, both Ryan Miller and Pekka Rinne will have their numbers retired by the Buffalo Sabres and Nashville Predators respectively.
That’s a nice honour for two good goaltenders…neither of whom are Hall of Famers or are as accomplished as Luongo is.
Rogie Vachon, who was a good goaltender in his day, had his number retired by the Los Angeles Kings despite winning nine playoff games in seven seasons for the franchise.
And, for an example of just how easy a jersey retirement can be, both the Minnesota Wild and Seattle Kraken retired jersey numbers as a tribute to their fans!
Jersey retirements are a positive way of engaging fans while honouring a meaningful player to an organization… and it’s clear that the Canucks badly missed an opportunity to capitalize on that with Luongo.