October 20, 2011
Lay off Luongo: Canucks
By ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency
CALGARY - To the growing legion of Vancouver Canucks fans who have become increasingly obsessed with running down Roberto Luongo, team management has a message for you:
You are wasting your time.
Yes, Luongo is off to another one of his typically shaky starts, and yes, there were a few horrific outings in the Stanley Cup final. But while public outcry has increased exponentially from the bashing he took last spring, team brass is hell-bent on backing their former captain.
“Its unbelievable to us so much can be made about Roberto,” said Canucks assistant GM Laurence Gilman following a long chat with GM Mike Gillis on the issue.
“To us, this is case of ‘what’s all the fuss about?’ We don’t like what’s out there. For some reason, he’s a lightning rod, but there’s nothing we can do about it.”
Actually, there is. And that’s why Gilman is keen on defending the $64 Million Dollar Man.
“The guy is a perennial Vezina finalist — the people in Vancouver and B.C. should look at it objectively,” Gilman said.
“Roberto Luongo is a valuable player, and Vancouver is fortunate to have him. People should relax. Historically, he never starts well but always seems to come around by December. We’re not happy about (the start), but the guy has the support of the entire organization.”
That support clearly does not extend to the entire fan base, as Luongo not only gets ridiculed following losses or sub-par performances but even after wins in which he lets in a questionable goal or two. Is it because of his attitude, his style of play or maybe the fact he was named captain as part of an experiment that failed through no fault of his own?
“It’s all just white noise,” said Gilman, whose ’keeper is now 1-2-1 with a .856 save percentage and 3.70 goals against average.
“The reality is nobody in our room, including Roberto, is impacted by it. It’s a non-issue in our dressing room and with management. I can tell you from his body language he seems unaffected by it. In the past, it has bothered him more, but he seems to be a different guy.”
The ever-poisonous movement seems to maintain that Team Canada won Olympic gold despite Luongo and that the Canucks lost in the Stanley Cup final because of him.
Even though he was brilliant while backstopping the Canucks to series wins over the Nashville Predators and the San Jose Sharks, and even though he had two shutouts in the final, three rough outings in Beantown only added to the mountain of frustration channeled towards the goalie. It’s a strange fixation in a city that somehow reveres the far less-accomplished Kirk McLean. Just Google ‘Roberto Luongo jokes’ and see there are 446,000 toxic links dedicated to mocking him.
“We scored a total of eight goals in seven games — you could argue we were lucky to be in it,” said Gilman of the final in which a dormant powerplay, injuries and struggles of the Sedin twins played big roles in their loss.
“I think it was a tough summer for everyone on our team, but the guy gives us a chance to win. If the franchise is going to win the Stanley Cup, Roberto Luongo is the guy who is going to backstop us. Roberto is our guy. That said, we’re glad we have (backup) Cory (Schneider). We feel we have one of the best — if not the best — goalie tandems in the league.”
Schneider’s popularity and success have plenty to do with the vitriol, and fans are wondering if perhaps Luongo and his 11-year contract could be moved to make way for the young upstart. After all, the final three years of Luongo’s deal are all in the $1 million range. It’s not in the plans.
“I sat across from him when we were negotiating that deal, and he signed with us because he wants to win a Stanley Cup,” Gilman said.
“Our plan is to lighten his load and give Cory 25 or 30 starts, but Roberto is our guy. If he ever does leave, people here will get a real dose of reality really quick. I just don’t get it.”
Eric Francis appears regularly as a panellist on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada.