Roberto Luongo hasn’t announced his retirement, nor has he signalled a farewell tour.
Henrik and Daniel Sedin hadn’t either at this point last season.
But as Luongo prepares to play the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena this Sunday, you can’t help but wonder if it’ll be for the last time. Less than three months away from his 40th birthday, Luongo is now the oldest goalie in the NHL, and is the third oldest player in the entire league, younger than only Matt Cullen and Zdeno Chara.
The difference between Luongo and the Sedins, of course, is that Luongo isn’t in the last year of his contract, though not many believe he will play the duration of it.
Luongo still has three years left beyond this season on his now infamous 12-year deal, which paid him $10 million in Year 1, before dropping to $6.7 million for the next seven seasons.
This season it dipped to $3.4 million. If he plays next season, he’ll earn just $1.6 million. The final two years of the deal carry an annual salary of $1 million.
Luongo insists that he didn’t sign the deal with the intention of retiring once the money dropped and says he’s willing to do “whatever it takes to keep going.”
Money aside, committing to play beyond this season would be difficult for any player.
It’s been a trying season for Luongo, who has suffered two injuries already. He strained his MCL in the first game of the season, keeping him out of the lineup for nearly a month. Less than a month after he returned to action he got banged up again, suffering a lower body injury that kept him out more than a week.
This has become the norm for Luongo, who has battled injuries with more regularity, as you would expect with a goalie in his late 30s. He was limited to 35 games last season and played just 40 the year before that.
“It’s tough. I’m not going to lie. It’s not easy,” Luongo said last month of the challenge of playing in the NHL at his advanced age. “There’s a lot of stuff you have to deal with. When you get up there (in age), recovery is not as fast and you have to put a lot of work in.”
When Luongo retires is of added interest to the Canucks, who face a cap recapture penalty if he retires before the end of his contract. If he retires this summer, Vancouver will get dinged $2.84 million on their cap for the next three seasons.
The penalty gets most severe if he retires before the last year of his deal in 2021. If that were to happen, the Canucks would be penalized $8.52 million off their cap for the 2021-22 season.
Here are the cap penalties from Roberto Luongo's contract for the Canucks if he retires early. Could be really ugly pic.twitter.com/0dNIQAipg6
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) March 4, 2014
Of course, if Luongo conveniently suffers a career-ending injury, like others in his situation have done, he goes on long-term injury reserve and there will be no cap penalty.
Funny to think that Luongo’s contract was once untradable because he’s been excellent in the twilight of his career. In 233 games since returning to Florida in 2014, he has a .919 save percentage, which is tied for seventh best in the NHL among goalies with at least 100 games played during that span.
But this season hasn’t gone well for the greatest goaltender in Canucks franchise history. His current .891 save percentage is below his single-season low of .904 from his rookie season with the New York Islanders. Of the 36 goalies that have played 20+ games this season, only Calgary’s Mike Smith has a worse save percentage.
Even if Luongo manages to return to form and stays healthy the rest of the season, it could be rather difficult to get motivated to return for a 20th NHL season. Despite his great play since returning to Florida, the Panthers haven’t had much team success. They’ve made the playoffs just once in that time, losing in the first round. They’re currently 10 points back of a playoff spot this year too.
Whenever he decides to retire, Luongo is a sure bet to enter the Hockey Hall of Fame. Just five wins back of Ed Belfour (484) on the all-time list, only Martin Brodeur (691) and Patrick Roy (551) will have more career wins than Luongo.
Nobody has more wins in Canucks history though, as 252 of Luongo’s 479 wins came with Vancouver. When he retires, bet on him having two jersey retirements to attend, one in Florida and another in Vancouver.