Vancouver Canucks: Are the Expectations for Roberto Luongo Too High?

Adam GrahamAnalyst IIOctober 20, 2011

VANCOUVER, CANADA - OCTOBER 6:  Roberto Luongo #1 of the Vancouver Canucks makes a save against the PIttsburgh Penguins at Rogers ArenaOctober 6, 2011 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)
Marissa Baecker/Getty Images

After the Vancouver Canucks' 4-0 loss to the New York Rangers on Tuesday, one thing was clear: Roberto Luongo was outplayed by Henrik Lundqvist. It was obvious to even the most casual observer.

Unfortunately, many of those casual observers happened to be sitting in Rogers Arena and couldn’t figure out why Luongo wasn’t stopping everything in sight like his counterpart at the other end of the ice.

That’s why, despite not having much of a chance on any of the Rangers goals, much of the crowd reacted by giving Bobby Lou the Bronx cheer when he stopped a slow roller that was shot from the other end of the ice.

Thankfully for these fans, Luongo didn’t take a page out of Mr. Roy’s book on how to act as an NHL goalie, because that would have been the last we ever saw of Luongo in a Canucks uniform.

These fans don’t know how thankful they should be to have such a great goalie.

So, why is Luongo such a hated man whenever things don’t go his way? Why is he never responsible for a Canucks victory and always to blame for a loss? Why do we expect him to be perfect all the time?

I realize this is far from the first time these questions have been asked, and I’m also aware that I’m not breaking ground by writing about this topic.

However, I can’t think of a single regular season game with as critical a reaction as how Luongo was treated by Canucks fans and the hockey world in general in Tuesday’s loss against a Rangers team that’s led by the best goalie in the world.

That’s right, I said it.

The best goalie in the world plays for the New York Rangers. His name is Henrik Lundqvist. I’ve been of this opinion for the last few years, and last night’s game only confirmed it. If you are reading this in shock that I don’t believe Roberto Luongo is the best goalie in the world, then you are a part of the problem.

Luongo has never been the best goalie in the world, and he will never be the best at any point in his career. Even when he carried a mediocre Canucks team to a division title and an appearance in the second round of the playoffs in his first season with the team, he didn’t win the Vezina trophy.

The misconception that the Canucks were getting the second coming of Patrick Roy or Dominik Hasek upon the arrival of Luongo in 2006 is one of the reasons he is held to such a ridiculously high standard.

Unfortunately, the reason for this misconception is a simple case of comparison.

Before Luongo there was Dan Cloutier. There was also Alex Auld, Kevin Weekes, Felix Potvin and other goaltenders who we’d love to forget in Vancouver. Compared to those guys, it’s easy to see why Canucks fans viewed Luongo as Superman, especially when he was the only reason the Canucks did so well in his first season with the team.

This combination of Luongo’s play early on in Vancouver, along with who was in net for the Canucks before him, is why the bar has been set so high.

If Luongo can lead the Canucks to the second round with such a subpar team in front of him in 2007, then why isn’t he pitching a shutout every night with a great team in front of him?

Unfortunately, hockey doesn’t quite work that way and neither does any other sport.

The game isn’t played on paper. It’s played on the field, court or ice, where the best team on paper doesn’t always win. Furthermore, sometimes the same talented athletes who look like gods on mediocre teams don’t deliver in the same way on great teams. The need to rise up and do everything just isn’t there.

It’s why Kobe Bryant had 40-point games on so many occasions for the otherwise hapless L.A. Lakers teams of five and six years ago, but doesn’t look nearly as dominant on the current edition of the Lakers.

It’s why LeBron James doesn’t take over games in Miami like he did in Cleveland. It’s why Sidney Crosby didn’t stand out for Team Canada in the Olympics like he does for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Superstar athletes don’t do more on great teams. They usually do less, and Luongo is no exception.

It’s not what Canucks fans want to hear, but it’s the harsh reality. We will never see the Luongo of the 2006-07 season again, because he doesn’t face nearly as many shots as he did back then, and he doesn’t need to be anywhere near as good as he was either.

The only thing the Canucks really need from Luongo these days is to just be solid and not hurt the team by giving up soft goals, which might be part of the problem as well.

For better or for worse, Luongo has never been the type of goaltender who simply makes all the saves he should make and none of the ones he shouldn’t.

Even in his first season with the club, you’ll probably recall the goal he let in that eliminated the Canucks from the playoffs. It came while he was busy lobbying for a penalty call as the puck floated by him after he had stopped 56 of the previous 57 shots, many of which had no business being stopped.

He’s always mixed the remarkable with the questionable, but it’s much more noticeable now that the opposition only fires approximately 25 shots on goal per game, as opposed to 40.

At the end of the day, you really need to just accept Roberto Luongo for what he is.

He has a Jekyll and Hyde-style of goaltending, which will make you marvel in awe of how wonderful he is and then cause you to plant your face directly into your hands a minute later.

The majority of the time, he is great. However, if all you ask of him is to eliminate those bad goals, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

He’s among the best in the world at his position, but he’s not the very best. So, please don’t wonder why he’s not outplaying or at least playing even with the best of the best. He’s not the highest-paid goalie in the league, nor is he the highest paid member of the Canucks.

This is another misconception about him.

For the record, Ilya Bryzgalov, Cam Ward, Niklas Backstrom, Miikka Kiprusoff, Ryan Miller and the aforementioned Lundqvist all have a higher annual cap hit than Luongo and so do both Sedin twins as far as the other Canucks are concerned.

It’s all of these misconceptions that have caused the unusually high expectations for Roberto Luongo to become even higher over the last few years.

Then again, if the goalie isn’t to blame in Vancouver, then things just wouldn’t seem right.

Follow me on Twitter: @adam_graham


This article also appears on Bottom Line Hockey