Roberto Luongo as a Toronto Maple Leaf: A Data-Supported Case for the Move

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Roberto Luongo as a Toronto Maple Leaf: A Data-Supported Case for the Move
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

While hockey fans speculate Roberto Luongo’s future with the Vancouver Canucks, I’m going to do a comprehensive analysis of the case of Luongo going to the Leafs.

This article does not offer details about the approach, but I hope this will inspire my readers to think about Luongo in a different manner. The aspects analyzed in this article are, in order of importance:

1)      Mental strength
2)      Age
3)      Consistency
4)      Contract
5)      Salary
6)      Externality

1) The Net-MIND-der

The goaltender on a hockey team plays a different game than the rest of the team. While everyone else tries to get the pucks into a net, the goaltender does whatever it takes to keep it out.

Goaltenders playing in the Toronto market face an even bigger challenge—mental pressure from the fans, management and the media. Mental stability is the most important asset for a goalie suited to playing for the Blue and White.

Look no further than Raycroft and Toskala to see why even decent goalies become mediocre once they play this market.

Roberto Luongo lacks the mentality to perform. He has failed to come up with big saves in key moments. While many praise Luongo as a great goalie by citing his performance at the 2010 Winter Olympics, keep in mind that he did let in the tying goal that put Canada in OT.

Though we saw improvements in Luongo’s game in the season following his Gold Medal at the Olympics, not much has changed in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Luongo fails to make key saves in key moments. In Toronto, the pressure to perform is as high as ever.  Luongo is not fitted to play for the Leafs.

However, mental stability seems to improve with experience. Goalies who have had success in the oronto market in the last decade are Cujo and Belfour; both were in their early 30s when they joined the Leafs. Luongo fits that profile. He just turned 33 last April.

2) Consistency

Consistency of the goaltender has been haunting the Leafs during the last seven years. When it comes to Luongo, consistency is not an issue.

His goals against average and save percentage are excellent in the regular season, regardless of his team. With the addition of mental pressure, however, “playoff-Luongo” is not quite the same as “regular-season-Luongo”.

Statistics, courtesy of TSN.ca

Year

Team

League

GP

W

L

OT

Min.

GA

SA

GAA

PCT

SO

2011-12

Vancouver

NHL

55

31

14

8

3162

127

1577

2.41

.919

5

2010-11

Vancouver

NHL

60

38

15

7

3590

126

1753

2.11

.928

4

2009-10

Vancouver

NHL

68

40

22

4

3899

167

1915

2.57

.913

4

2009-10

Canada

Olympic

5

5

0

-

308

9

123

1.76

.927

1

2008-09

Vancouver

NHL

54

33

13

7

3181

124

1542

2.34

.920

9

2007-08

Vancouver

NHL

73

35

29

9

4233

168

2029

2.38

.917

6

2006-07

Vancouver

NHL

76

47

22

6

4490

171

2169

2.29

.921

5

2005-06

Florida

NHL

75

35

30

9

4305

213

2488

2.97

.914

4

2005-06

Canada

Olympic

2

1

1

-

119

3

42

1.51

.929

0

2004-05

Canada

W-Cup

1

1

0

-

64

3

40

2.82

-

0

2004-05

Canada

WC

2

1

0

-

120

3

43

1.50

-

1

2004-05

Did not play

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

2003-04

Florida

NHL

72

25

33

-

4252

172

2475

2.43

.931

7

2003-04

Canada

WC

7

5

1

-

440

17

-

2.32

-

1

2002-03

Florida

NHL

65

20

34

-

3627

164

2011

2.71

.918

6

2002-03

Canada

WC

4

-

-

-

212

7

100

1.98

-

1

2001-02

Florida

NHL

58

16

33

-

3030

140

1653

2.77

.915

4

2000-01

Florida

NHL

47

12

24

-

2628

107

1333

2.44

.920

5

 

3) The Age Factor

Goaltenders belong in a class of their own. When it comes analysing a goalie, Leafs management should not be discouraged by age.

A goalie’s hockey career is longer than players’ beacuse their bodies go through fewer bumps and bruises and less wear and tear during their career.

Veteran goalies such as Tim Thomas, Dwayne Roloson and Dominik Hasek have been key factors in their club’s playoff success despite their age. A more important factor to consider is the severity of injuries a goalie has had.

Goalies who appeared in the Stanley Cup final in the last decade are:

Year

Goalie (Champion)

Age

Injury

Goalie (Finalist)

Age

Injury

2000

Brodeur

28

1

Belfour

35

0

2001

Roy

35

3

Brodeur

29

1

2002

Hasek

36

5

Irbe

35

0

2003

Brodeur

31

1

Giguere

25

5

2004

Khabibulin

32

0

Kipprusoff

28

28

2005

 

 

 

 

 

 

2006

Ward

22

0

Roloson

36

2

2007

Giguere

29

25

Emery

25

4

2008

Osgood

35

53

Fleury

23

39

2009

Fleury

24

39

Osgood

36

54

2010

Niemi

27

0

Boucher

34

31

2011

Thomas

37

6

Luongo

32

54

The data above shows that older goalies are capable of high level performance if they have been healthy in prior years. Of course, this analysis assumes a positive relationship between the length of injury and its severity.

The exceptions are Osgood and Boucher. Osgood played for a nearly invincible Detroit Red Wings squad, and Boucher played on a team that struggled to find a No. 1 goalie.

The above is a rough analysis. Leafs management should take a step further to study Luongo’s injury history to decide a more accurate trade value

4) Contractual Matters

When it comes to signing players, Brian Burke has been clear that he will not do front-loaded, long-term contracts. Let’s take a look at Luongo’s contract.

Age

31

32

33*

34

35

36

37

38

39

40

41/42

Salary

$10M

$6.7M

$6.7M

$6.7M

$6.7M

$6.7M

$6.7M

$6.7M

$3.4

$1.6M

$1.0M

Front-loaded, long-term contracts like this are exactly the type Brian Burke will not engineer. However, does this mean he will not take one of them? No.

To understand this, we need to understand “why” Burke doesn’t like this type of contract. After the Leafs lost on Richards sweepstake, Burke had this to say about FLLT contracts:

“These deals that are front-loaded and have small amounts at the back end, in my opinion, are designed to circumvent the salary cap… I won’t do them, I never have, I’m not going to…That’s not a contract structure we’re interested in.”

We know that Burke is a man of principle. It is against his principle to offer such a contract; however, it is not against his principle to take on an existing contract. Furthermore, by the time Vancouver trades Luongo, his contract is no longer front-loaded.

Luongo will have five years at $6.7 million, and the deal gradually drops to $1.0 million over three years. This type of contract is common.

5) Money matters

Leafs have the money. No biggie.

6) Externalities

As a GM, Brian Burke runs the team on an “asset management” model. Besides his hockey skills, does Luongo bring anything more?

For the Leafs to consider him, Luongo will need to be more than just a goalie. He'll also need to be a mentor to Reimer, Gustavsson (if he resigns), Scrivens and the rest of the crew.

Although he was stripped of the “C”, as a former captain, Luongo nevertheless possesses the leadership skills to help the young Leafs. Luongo will have to do the hard work to prove himself in the new club.

Lastly, what price should the Leafs pay if they were to trade for Luongo?

I’ll discuss the answer to that question next time, as well as talk about Leaf’s trading strategy.


**The author is an economic analyst**
peter.guo.43@gmail.com 

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