The Goalie Guild

My Current Thoughts on Roberto Luongo

Last night, I appeared on Sportsnet Overnight on FAN590 in Toronto to discuss Roberto Luongo’s potential trade to Toronto. The segment also included a discussion on Cory Schneider, the current Leafs tandem, and young goalies that butterfly too often. If the above file doesn’t work, you download and listen here.

It’s impossible to not get caught up in the hype surrounding Roberto Luongo.

Everyone’s buzzin’ from the intoxicating taste of the upcoming season, and he’s by far and away the best goalie “in play” right now. That leads to quite the array of crazy rumors, thus adding to the madness of the current pre-season maelstrom.

Regardless of how he’s been portrayed by the media and fans over the years, Luongo is the type of goalie many teams would love to have.

Since arriving in Vancouver for the 2006-07 season, he has won 224 games, an average of 37 each year. He has also averaged a workload of 64 games each year, all while posting a .921, .917, .920, .913, .928, and .919 save percentage (each season, respectively).

Photo courtesy of DobberHockey

That’s the type of long-term consistency that solves problems in goal. And last time I checked, Toronto has suffered from problems in goal over the past few seasons. Luongo may have failed to display the same type of consistency in the post-season, especially when the “chips are down” and it’s a “do or die” situation, but in my opinion, that doesn’t mean he’s not worth acquiring in a trade.

Look around the league at the top goaltenders right now. If you want a durable, steady, experienced starter, you have to pay a premium. Jonathan Quick’s extension was very costly for the Kings, as was Pekka Rinne’s and Kari Lehtonen’s. Many fans and media members don’t even think Ondrej Pavelec comes close to earning the contract extension he received from the Jets, and even Antti Niemi went to arbitration and eventually landed a juicy deal with the Sharks.

But in many instances, that’s the price a GM has to pay if they want to secure a goalie that is “proven” and can play at a high level for more than 65 games. Even if the contract is way too long, that’s how the goalie market works (prior to the CBA expiring). You had to over-spend for “elite” goaltending, because that type of talent is few and far between.

So despite the fails and the blunders in the Stanley Cup playoffs, Luongo still legitimately belongs in that “Tier I” platform of starting goalies. A wide spectrum of basic and fancy stats back that up, many of which we’re seeing right now throughout the blogosphere.

Furthermore, when you look at the current state of the Toronto Maple Leafs, I don’t think this is a time where they have the option of being stubborn. The current tandem of James Reimer and Ben Scrivens leaves me very apprehensive, especially if either one were to experience some type of injury or setback.

My advice? “Over-spend” for a legitimate starting goalie now, take on the contract, and worry about it down the line. Take a risk on a goalie that isn’t even really a risk in the short-term, make the playoffs, and go from there.

Sure, there’s no denying that Luongo has bombed in some big games, but that’s the price he’s paid for pretty significant experience. If he gets another crack at it, he’ll be able to draw on those past experiences, and he’ll be a little more relaxed, a little more prepared, a little more comfortable.

And for all of you Reimer fans, aside from J-S Giguere, I don’t think you could ask for a more “perfect” mentor in Luongo. Just ask Cory Schneider if he thinks Reimer would benefit.

I didn’t get a chance to mention this during my appearance on Sportsnet Overnight, but I really wanted to point out just how high Luongo’s “I-don’t-give-a-shit” meter is.

For someone who has seen it all — from a Gold Medal game in Vancouver to a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Finals — I don’t think he could face any more adversity and pressure than he’s already faced. In that regard, if anyone would be able to handle the frustrating daily minutia of being poked and prodded by Toronto’s rabid media and fans, it’s him.

So again, his “give-a-shit” meter is full; he’s unfazed by a media circus, or the external pressure that comes from having to perform at a high level, and that’s a good situation for both Luongo and the Leafs. He’ll show up every day and do what he did in Vancouver (remember when he was team captain?) to be mentally prepared for every game.

I try to stay away from too many cliches, but experience goes a long way in a situation like this, and there’s no denying Luongo has that “X-Factor” in goaltending. The more you see, the more you learn. The more you learn, the more you know. The more you know, the less you’re likely to be influenced or swayed by bad goals and bad games.

I’m not alone in thinking this, either. After speaking with a few former and current NHL goalie coaches, what I’ve said above (and in the Fan590 segment) echos their sentiments.

“Look at what he’s accomplished in Florida and Vancouver, and look at the experience he has,” they said to me. “You’re not going to find very many goalies like him anywhere in the world right now.”

I’m obviously paraphrasing, but I think the point has been made.

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