Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Why Vancouver can finally cheer for Lu

"I had a great six years in Vancouver... Unfortunately, I was not able to bring a Stanley Cup there.  Probably my biggest regret." -(See this YouTube video at 10:15)

Here's a probably suprising fact about Roberto Luongo.  At 339 regular season wins, he stands behind only Curtis Joseph (454) and John Vanbiesbrouck (374) as the most prolific goaltender in NHL history not to win a Stanley Cup.  (See the all-time wins list here.)  At age 33, it stands to reason that Luongo has a legitimate shot at topping the list before he calls it a career.  And by as early as next season, if he's not still mired as a backup in Vancouver, he will likely surpass the Beezer for a dubious second place ranking.
Of the three hard-luck goalies, Luongo has come the closest with a Game 7 in the Finals to his credit.  Vanbiesbrouck made it as far as the 1996 Finals with the Panthers, where they were swept by Colorado, while Joseph has two third round appearances (1999, 2002) to his name as a Maple Leaf.  Coincidentally, Florida and Toronto represent the two most likely destinations for the Canucks' three-time Vezina nominee. 

Now, the Canucks may not be the sure-fire contender they were two years ago, but you have to think his best shot would have been with the Sedins and a healthy Kesler playing in front of him.  I won't even begin to consider the Maple Leafs' merits as a championship team, largely in part to their complete absence of any.  But Florida, which Luongo has already personally earmarked as his next destination, represents a scenario brighter than it initially seems.

Having already taken the current Eastern Conference champs to a seventh game in the opening round, the Panthers are a young team that are only getting better.  Nobody's going to accuse Florida's goaltending for their playoff exit (their netminders posted a combined 2.41 GAA and .920 save percentage), but as long as Jose Theodore and Scott Clemensen is your tandem in net, you're not getting confused for a Cup contender either.  Consider Luongo a hefty step in the right direction.

Will we see Luongo in a Panthers jersey again?
Or will he remain in some form of blue and white?

Assume the Panthers do land him.  The invariable question is: Can Luongo remain an elite goalie¹ long enough for their young-and-upcoming roster to catch up to his level? If the conditions are right – and Panthers GM Dale Tallon accomplishes the same kind of rebuild that Canucks fans are all too familiar with in Chicago – there is a remote possibility Luongo could do with the Panthers what he couldn't here.

And when it comes to a player as consistently successful as Luongo has been in this league, if he does end up having another sniff at the Cup, you are almost required to root for him. Not because he was once our own, but for the same reason you cheered for guys like Ray Bourque and Dave Andreychuk when they finally got their moments. 

You might knock him for some of his playoff performances as a Canuck. And you might be glad his days in Vancouver are numbered. But in the grand scheme of things, Luongo doesn't deserve the Cujo fate. Not for someone with three Vezina nominations. Not for someone who practically carried the Canucks in his first three years here. And not for someone with 339 wins.


¹ This is assuming you belong to the 50% of hockey fans in Vancouver that believe Luongo is, indeed, still an elite goalie.

*See the online discussion regarding this article on the forums here.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The deepest blue are Canucks

Outside of Vancouver – with the exception of the most observant NHL followers – the Canucks' group of defencemen may be among the league's most underrated.  For virtually as long as the team has been in existence, the Canucks have lacked a bonafide Norris Trophy candidate and this past year's edition was no exception.  But what the Canucks' blueline may lack in a world class player à la Shea Weber or Zdeno Chara, they make up for in, arguably, unparalleled depth.  This was reflected in the Norris's most recent voting results, as the Canucks were one of only two teams to have three defencemen receive a vote for the award – Dan Hamhuis, Alex Edler and Kevin Bieksa.  (The other team was the New York Rangers with Dan Girardi, Michael Del Zotto and Ryan McDonaugh.) 

Offensively, this was further exemplified by the Canucks' fifth place ranking in defensive goal-scoring (see table to the right).  Among the top five teams, Vancouver and Los Angeles were the only ones to statistically do so "by committee".  Alex Edler led the Canucks' defencemen with 11 goals, accounting for just over a quarter of the Vancouver blueliners' total output.  Comparatively speaking, the other three teams topped the league by virtue of one standout player.  At 19 goals a piece, Shea Weber and Erik Karlsson scored nearly half of their teams' defensive goals, while Niklas Kronwall's breakout 15-goal campaign accounted for more than a third of Detroit's total. 

Statistically, that may all change for Vancouver if newly-signed Jason Garrison (who himself accounted for 53% of the Panthers' goals by a defenceman – the highest proportion in the league) can match his 16-goal output from last season.  And while Edler's play in the post-season left many wondering how he ever got voted best defenceman by Canucks fans, the reality is, when he's at his best, the big Swede could be just a few years out of a Norris nomination.  All things considered, however, Vancouver remains a balanced force on the blueline with no individual head-and-shoulders above the rest.  Garrison and Edler will share their equal portion of the load with Bieksa and Hamhuis, not to mention the ever-enigmatic Keith Ballard and the ever-improving Chris Tanev representing the blueline's potentially high-reward wild cards.

No one's saying that a player like Weber wouldn't put Vancouver over the top, cause that could very well be the case.  But Canucks fans would be wise to appreciate the group of guys we do have, 'cause collectively, they're among the league's very best.  So in salute of Vancouver's standout rearguards, here are the Top Five¹ of the group's 40 total goals from last season:


¹ Technically 4 of the Canucks defencemen's 40 goals, as Edler's shootout goal does not count towards official statistics.  Bonus fact: Edler had four shootout goals to lead all league defencemen.

*See the online discussion regarding this article on the forums here.