Why the Florida Panthers Reacquiring Roberto Luongo Was the Wrong Move

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Why the Florida Panthers Reacquiring Roberto Luongo Was the Wrong Move
Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press
Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo.

As great of a story Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo’s homecoming is now, all signs point to it not standing the test of time and eventually only disappointing.

Need proof? Look only to Luongo’s seven-season tenure with the Vancouver Canucks. It was, in a word, epic.

He got named captain, helped lead the team to five straight Northwest Division titles and even within a game of the Stanley Cup. He even participated in two Olympics, including the 2010 edition in Vancouver as Team Canada’s gold-medal-winning starter.

Even with all those positives, most people will only remember the lows. He had to eventually step down as captain and was in net for numerous embarrassing playoff defeats, including the 4-0 Game 7 loss against the Boston Bruins back in 2011 that led to the city’s post-Stanley Cup Final riot.

There was also, of course, the goaltending controversy between him and Cory Schneider, the goaltending controversy between him and Eddie Lack and, who can forget, the two-year-long trade-watch saga that resulted from the two.

LM Otero/Associated Press
Vancouver Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom.

You know, the one that finally culminated in him being dealt back to Florida for Jacob Markstrom and Shawn Matthias. The one that was thought to be over last summer when Schneider, the younger and better of the two, was traded instead when no one would meet Vancouver general manager Mike Gillis’ demands for Luongo’s sucky contract?

Well, thank God for Dale Tallon. He was able to get Gillis to reduce his demands enough and earn the privilege of taking it on instead. Yay.

Of course, it admittedly doesn’t all suck. Vancouver is retaining 15 percent of Luongo’s salary. And should Luongo retire before his contract expires, the Canucks, not the Panthers, will be the ones hit hardest by recapture penalties, all according to CapGeek.com.

However, for a team that is currently 30th in the league in cap spending, recapture penalties shouldn’t be a major concern. In some instances, i.e., most years for the Panthers, they may even be invited just to allow the team to get over the cap floor.

Really, the big problem with Luongo’s deal isn’t at all cap-related. After all, as far as starting goalies go, Luongo’s annual cap hit of $4.533 million for the Panthers (the Canucks will still have a hit of $800,000) is relatively affordable. It’s the fact that Luongo is going to be 35 this year. It’s also that he’s under contract until he’s 43.

It’s that his best season, save percentage-wise (.931), came 10 years ago, when he was with Florida the last time around. It’s that he hasn’t truly been an elite goalie since 2010-11 when he posted a save percentage of .928. It’s that he hasn’t hit .920 since then.

It’s that for the next eight years the Panthers have committed to a goalie who may be very good, but is still on the downswing.

So, yeah, barring a trade, Luongo will now be a Panther up until the year 2022. But don’t worry, he has a full no-trade clause to ensure that doesn’t happen, at least not without another gong show unfolding for all the NHL to see.

On the plus side, all due respect to the team’s fans, should that ever happen, the Panthers might actually become relevant again. Because the Panthers being 27th in NHL attendance, despite offering season tickets for as low as $7 per game, according to George Richards of the Miami Herald, sure doesn’t indicate there’s much interest in them in Florida, let alone around the rest of the league.

J Pat Carter/Associated Press
Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon.

Maybe that’s what all this is about.

After Jay Bouwmeester was traded away in 2009 and Tallon let Stephen Weiss walk last summer, he might have realized the franchise was lacking a new face. He might have even looked at consistently low attendance figures, saw they were at their lowest (14,785) since Luongo first debuted for Florida in 2000-01 (14,679) and thought to himself the best new face of the franchise would be an old one from the era when the team failed to make the playoffs for 10 straight seasons.

Someone probably should have pointed out to him that Panthers attendance figures this century were the highest in 2011-12 (16,628) and 2013 (16,991), the last season Florida made the playoffs and the lockout-shortened one immediately following it, when Luongo was in Vancouver. It’s almost as if attendance is tied to both playoff appearances and realistic expectations of making them. Huh.

Someone could maybe have also pointed out that, as alluded to earlier, Luongo never once made the playoffs as a Panther, and he left when he was 27 and in his prime. He’s much less likely to single-handedly lead the team into the postseason now. Because that’s pretty much what it would require now, a superhuman effort on his part.

Sure, there are pieces in place that should help make this team competitive, but only in a few years at least, when Luongo is that much more removed from the height of his game. We’re talking about pieces like Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad (whom Tallon wisely held onto instead of parting with, per Gillis’ original demands, according to Andrew Eide at The Hockey Writers).

However, Markstrom was another piece, and he was projected to be a No. 1 goalie in his own right. While Markstrom was taking his sweet time to get there, he’s only 24, over a decade younger than Luongo. Tallon might be expecting Luongo to somehow magically regain his status as an elite goaltender, but Markstrom developing into one is simply more realistic. Tallon drafting a new 18-year-old who develops into one way before Luongo’s contract expires is yet another possibility.

I mean, it’s practically never-ending.

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In spite of all the twists and turns that have brought Luongo back to the state where he first made a name for himself, the narrative as far as this franchise is concerned is too predictable. The only way Florida competes from here on out is by management taking a different direction. While new owner Vinnie Viola seems legitimately determined to do just that, according to Harvey Fialkov of the Sun Sentinel, going backward in time has never been, nor will ever be, a way to move forward.

All trading for Luongo now does is make Florida slightly better in the short term, perhaps to the point that the team misses out on a top pick in this summer’s draft. In addition, the Panthers gave up a serviceable top-nine forward in Matthias.

Seeing as all the Canucks got in return for Schneider was a single first-round pick, it can very much be argued that the Panthers gave up too much—or rather they just didn’t get enough in return. If they were looking for a happy ending, it’s unlikely they will find one here.

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