It is common belief in Canuckland, at least in the media, that trying to juggle responsibilities as both starting goaltender and captain of the Vancouver Canucks put undue pressure on Roberto Luongo and was responsible for his, and the teams, recent playoff failures.
The recent decision by Luongo to give up the captaincy has many believing that this will allow him to focus solely on stopping the puck and will help him, and the team, to finally get beyond the second round.
Is this line of thinking mistaken?
In my opinion, yes. It absolutely is.
Let me explain.
The Canucks had a tremendous offseason. Mike Gillis addressed what was the teams obvious weakness, defence. The additions of Keith Ballard and Dan Hamhuis greatly bolster the Canucks blue line, making it one of the best in the conference. In addition, he added penalty killing and faceoff depth in Manny Malhotra.
These acquisitions have vaulted Vancouver into the team to beat in the West and has caused many analysts (including THN) to choose the Canucks as the eventual Stanley Cup winners for this season.
The Vancouver Canucks are now Stanley Cup favourites.
Think about that statement for a second. The Vancouver Canucks, the only Canadian team to have never won a cup, are now expected to win.
They are no longer a team that just has a chance to win, they are now a team that is expected to win the Stanley Cup.
Henrik Sedin's recent Hart Trophy not withstanding, Roberto Luongo is the face of the Canucks, captain or not. Now that the team is expected to win the pressure placed upon Luongo's shoulders will be unlike anything he has ever felt before. Captain or not.
As if that wasn't enough, the Canucks window for winning a cup is very small. Right now is the best opportunity they will have for quite some time. Washington still doesn't have a goaltender, Chicago has some holes left by the offseason exodus, LA, Phoenix, Tampa Bay and Colorado are still a season or two away from being legitimate contenders. The time is now for Vancouver. If they are unable to win a championship in the next two years, it may be many years before they find another opportunity as golden as this one.
Most Canuck fans and media realize this and are ramping up the pressure as a result.
What in Luongo's history leads anyone to believe that he is capable of dealing with these expectations?
Yes, he won an Olympic gold medal, but one has to ask if that was more a result of the team in front of him rather than a result of the play of Luongo. At times he seemed like more of a hindrance than an advantage.
Luongo is a phenomenal goaltender, but simply being elite is not enough right now. The city of Vancouver is demanding a championship and that burden falls squarely on the pads of Roberto Luongo.
Captain or not.