Vancouver Canucks: 4 Reasons Roberto Luongo Will Turn It Around in 2012-13
His 2011 Stanley Cup Finals meltdown led to a drop in all his regular-season stats in 2011-12, including games played.
Cory Schneider made 33 appearances in what was partially an attempt to keep Luongo fresh for the playoffs. But the veteran netminder dropped his first two postseason games to the Los Angeles Kings. When Schneider stepped in to finish the series, it looked like Luongo's time in Vancouver was effectively finished.
It's still not known where Luongo will start next season, but here are four reasons to expect a bounce-back year from the mercurial goaltender, wherever he lands.
The Honeymoon Period
Luongo's first season in Vancouver was arguably his best.
He took a non-playoff team and played a remarkable 76 games, leading the Canucks to a Northwest Division championship and the second round of the playoffs.
Along the way, he posted his best goals-against average to that point (2.28), along with five shutouts.
There's no reason to think the same won't happen here. Luongo is a proud competitor and more than ever, he has something to prove.
More Fan Support
Luongo's stellar first season in Vancouver may have set the bar unsustainably high over the long term.
Once fans bought in to the idea that he was a true No. 1 goaltender who wouldn't let them down, expectations rose.
Eventually, so did the criticisms. Luongo was usually great, but when he did fail, he tended to do it spectacularly.
Despite his nerves of steel during his gold-medal winning performance in the 2010 Olympics, Luongo had developed a reputation as the opposite of a big-game goaltender.
Once the Canucks lost the first two games of the 2012 playoffs to the Los Angeles Kings, fans were ready for a change in net, even as they acknowledged that Luongo was not at fault for the losses. Cory Schneider came in and performed admirably, and Vancouver lost anyway.
Even though the sequence of events sets the stage for Schneider's ascension as a No. 1 goalie in Vancouver, it also softened the mood towards Luongo.
No longer the whipping boy, fans began to remember the good moments instead of dwelling only on the bad. They even fretted about whether Luongo's skills would come back to haunt them when he took to the NHL ice in another team's uniform.
Players will never admit that fan reaction impacts their play, but for Luongo, it's like a pressure valve was released at the end of the playoffs. He'll enjoy returning to the days of adoration and shouts of "Looooouuu" from his hometown fans.
That Contract's Not so Bad Anymore
It could be fair to say that attitudes towards Luongo changed in the summer of 2009, when the Canucks announced that they'd signed their star goaltender to a 12-year contract extension worth $64 million.
Big money for sure, which was made to seem even bigger by the fact that Luongo would be paid $10 million in the first year of the contract.
Lost somewhere in the outrage was the fact that Luongo was already making $7.5 million in the final year of his existing deal, which carried a cap hit of $6.75 million per season (from CapGeek.com). His current cap hit of $5.3 million, while extending over a long period, was designed to give the Canucks some flexibility in signing other players, which they have continued to do within a reasonable budget.
While Luongo's deal remains one of the longest for a goaltender, eight goalies now carry bigger cap hits, including Ilya Bryzgalov on his nine-year deal. Jonathan Quick's new 10-year, $58 million contract is in the same ballpark, but it doesn't take effect for one more season.
If Luongo plays like a top-10 goaltender with his new team, his salary numbers fall right in line and fans should quickly stop grousing about his contract situation.
A New Attitude
During his time in Vancouver, Luongo made a number of public relations missteps.
Even while fans embraced his on-ice performance, they found it hard to love the man behind the mask when he skipped the All-Star Game to fly to Florida to be with his pregnant wife or when his interviews provided so little insight into his personality.
Luongo probably took the most heat during the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, when he remarked how he had been complimenting his rival Boston netminder Tim Thomas and 'pumping his tires,' implying that he hadn't gotten enough respect for his own play (from USA Today).
Since being replaced by Schneider during the playoffs this spring, we've seen a different attitude. Luongo embraced the notion of putting his team first and not being a distraction, and admitted in this Canadian Press story that there has been a change.
"I'm a competitor," said Luongo. "Obviously, you guys all know that, and it's tough (not to start). But at the same time, this is about the team, and I'm not going to put myself ahead of the team. We're in this together."
Luongo's new, classy attitude continued to show itself at the end of the season, and even during his summer interview when he admitted that it's time to move on.
A more mature, team-first Luongo will be a welcome addition in any dressing room.