Roberto Luongo is having a bounce-back season with the Florida Panthers.
After his traditional slow October start – he still has those, apparently – the 38-year-old former Canucks goaltender has found his groove this month.
With a .927 save percentage this season, Luongo currently ranks sixth in the league in that category among starting goalies. And on Monday he joined an elite club, as the only goalie other than Patrick Roy to win 200+ games with two different franchises.
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) November 28, 2017
Luongo has been a great story early on, particularly given how last season went for him.
Still gas left in the tank
Coming off a 103-point campaign in 2015-16, the Panthers appeared to be a good young team on the rise. Instead, they had a significant drop off, partially because of injuries to some key players. They missed the playoffs last spring by 14 points.
Luongo, at least statistically, was part of the problem.
Posting a season-ending save percentage of .915, he had one of the worst statistical years of his career. His heir apparent, James Reimer (who is under contract for three more seasons), had more wins, a better goals against average, and a better save percentage.
So you could be forgiven if you thought this might be the beginning of the end for the oldest active goalie in the NHL.
Now as the fourth-oldest player in the league, Luongo is clearly outplaying his goaltending partner this year and showing signs that there may be plenty of gas left in the tank.
And just how much gas, could have a profound effect on the Canucks going forward.
That sucky contract
When former Canucks GM Mike Gillis signed Luongo to a 12-year, front-loaded contract, the motivation behind it seemed fairly transparent.
Luongo would be paid big money for the first 8-9 years, with the final three years of the deal (in which he receives under $2 million per season), likely being retirement years.
It was all in the name of lowering the average annual value of his deal, thus making his contract more cap friendly to help the Canucks compete for a Stanley Cup.
The structure of the deal worked great until the 2012-13 NHL lockout when Gary Bettman got his revenge.
Enter the cap recapture penalty and suddenly Luongo’s contract, as he put it, sucked.
With Luongo nearing the ‘bogus’ years of his deal, you have to wonder how long he’ll keep playing.
This is the last season of an eight-year run where Luongo will make more money ($6.714 million) than his cap hit ($5.333 million).
Next year, his salary will drop to $3.382 million, and the season after that, he’s scheduled to make $1.618 million.
Should he stick it out until he’s 43 years old, he’ll make $1 million in each of the last two seasons of the deal before it expires in 2022.
The impact on the Canucks
Back to what this could mean for the Canucks, Luongo’s decision will impact their salary cap because of the dreaded recapture penalty. If he retires before 2022, every team that capitalized on bogus years of his contract will receive a penalty (provided a ‘convenient’ long term injury doesn’t materialize), in the form of dollars towards their salary cap.
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
Should Luongo retire after this season, his contract would carry a $2.13 million hit on Vancouver’s salary cap for four more seasons. That number would rise to $2.84 million in each of three seasons should he retire after next year.
It gets really interesting if Luongo plays any of the ‘bogus’ years though.
The Canucks would be penalized $4.26 million for two years if Luongo retires at age 41. They’ll suffer an $8.52 million cap hit for just one year, if he retires when he’s 42.
Vancouver appears to be finally climbing out of a dark hole this season.
Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, and Sven Baertschi are becoming impact players. In two years, they could be ready to do some damage in the playoffs. In three to five years, if all goes well, they could be challenging for a Stanley Cup.
That might be harder to do with their former goalie’s contract dragging them down.
A reason to hang on
It remains to be seen what Luongo will have left to play for, because it won’t be money if he’s making just (by his standards) $1 million.
The Panthers are already five points out of a playoff spot, sitting in second-last place in the Eastern Conference. They’re a young team with lots of potential, but time isn’t on his side.
He’s never won a Stanley Cup, and that’s a motivation for any player. Perhaps a trade to a contender would be possible next year, as the impact of the cap recapture penalty is reduced along with his salary.
Maybe he likes the idea of solidifying his legacy.
With 459 career wins, catching up to Patrick Roy (551 wins) and Martin Brodeur (691) is probably too tall a task. But catching Ed Belfour, who is ahead of him by 25 wins for third all-time, is within reach.
It’s important to note that Luongo isn’t a lock for the Hockey Hall of Fame – although I believe he should be.
Goaltenders are criminally underrepresented in the Hall. Just four netminders that played in the 1990s have ever been inducted. Meanwhile, four forwards that played in the 90s were inducted just a few weeks ago.
Curtis Joseph, the guy that Luongo just passed in all-time wins, isn’t a Hall of Famer yet and may never be. Like Joseph, Luongo doesn’t have a Cup or a Vezina Trophy on his resume.
Mike Vernon, who is 14th all-time in wins, hasn’t been inducted despite having won two Stanley Cups.
So passing Belfour, who is in the Hall of Fame, might be important for his legacy.
Whatever happens, it’ll be an intriguing story to follow, as a Canucks legend plays out the final years of his great career.