Luongo surrenders captaincy to get teammate out from under the bus
The biggest reason Roberto Luongo surrendered the Canucks captaincy after just two seasons was the perception – both from the outside and beginning to creep into parts of the locker room – that anytime he criticized the team’s defensive play as the captain, he was throwing teammates “under the bus” as a goalie.
Of the long list of people Luongo talked about consulting while agonizing over the decision throughout the summer, including friends, family and teammates, the two that spoke to ingoalmag.com both insisted that was his biggest concern.
Luongo himself went back and forth talking about the organization’s spin that it was because of too much media demands on his time, towing the company line about it being a “distraction” in one breath, and insisting it never affected his play in the next. And he was adamant that relinquishing the “C” he wore for proudly on the chin of his mask since 2008 “really had nothing to do with pressure.”
But on the two occasions he was asked about the perception that he was too critical of teammates, Luongo was at his most impassioned and definitive.
“I’m accountable for my actions and I’m always the first to admit when I could be better,” said the 30-year-old, “But at the same time when you are the captain and you are asked on a daily basis what the team can do better, what do you say? You don’t want to look like you are throwing your teammates under the bus and it was kind of a difficult position for me to be in. Sometimes it came off the wrong way and unfortunately being a goaltender you don’t want to be in that position where you feel like you are putting the blame on someone else.”
It continued when the issue was raised again later in the press conference: “You can’t always blame yourself either. As a goaltender you want to make sure you recognize your faults, but at the same time you don’t want to put yourself down all the time and it’s tough to do that to your teammates as well. It was a very precarious position to be in and luckily I won’t have to do that any more.”
Despite Luongo’s insistence that his decision should not preclude future goalies from being named captain – he was the first to be so named since 1948 as NHL rules enacted that year prohibit any target from wearing the “C” on their sweater or acting in the role on the ice by talking to officials – it is that exact predicament that should make Luongo the last goalie captain. As General Manager Mike Gillis said earlier in the day, the two roles are “incompatible.”
“Captains are expected to go out there in front of you guys and answer questions truthfully,” Gillis told reporters at a rookie tournament in Penticton. “If Roberto, in his position, said anything critical about the team, he was throwing people under the bus and I think that was absolutely unfair. We expect that from captains on other teams to say ‘we weren’t good enough tonight, we didn’t do this well enough.’ When he did it, it seemed like it was an indictment.”
That was enough for Luongo to end an experiment first pitched by his head coach, Alain Vigneault. Luongo is much better suited as – and now needs to provide – the voice prodding better defensive play after allowing it to slip the first two seasons under Gillis and his promise of a more open, more entertaining style of play.
The hope for Luongo is this move will help that process, and the Canucks will be able to better marry their potent offense with the kind of defensive attention to detail that allowed Chicago to manhandle them in the playoffs. Because if there was one other thing that rang through the inconsistent messages Monday with any clarity, it was that Luongo didn’t really want to give up the “C.”
“I’m not going to say I regretted being the captain. I didn’t at all,” he said. “I was fighting with the idea the whole way because I loved being captain. I enjoyed the experience. It was fun. I took a lot of pride in it, and that was one of the main reasons it was tough for me to come to this decision. (Goal is) a weird position. You’re not a forward, you are kind of on your own and you got to be focused all the time and thinking about your job and for me I think taking a step back and putting my entire focus on that – and winning a championship with this team – is more important at the end of the day than being captain.”
Luongo also addressed the change in goaltending coaches on Monday, with the dismissal of long time consultant and friend Ian Clark this summer and the arrival of former Montreal Canadiens coach Roland Melanson, admitting he was upset at the move and the fact he was never consulted on it.
“Ian is my good friend, we’ve developed a great friendship,” he said. “So it’s normal that I would be a little disappointed at first, but at the end of the day this is a business and it’s like when a good friend gets traded, that’s the nature of the beast and unfortunately some things we can’t control.”
Luongo downplayed hiring Clark to work with him this summer, and said he’s begun developing a relationship with Melanson during a week together on the ice in Florida, one that coincided with — and kept him from — his usual summer sessions with former junior and current Maple Leafs coach Francois Allaire.
“I wanted to get on ice in early August and I don’t like to scrimmage or play shinny, I like to do goalie-specific drills and I asked Ian if he would like to come down for a week and train me,” Luongo said. “I don’t see anything wrong with that. He is a goalie coach, he is my friend and we got things rolling. I worked with Roli a few weeks after that, and my brother (Lui) is also a goalie coach and came down and worked with me for a week, so there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Look for more here at inGoalmag.com on the dynamic of working with a new goalie coach from Luongo and other NHL goalies in the coming weeks.
Kevin Woodley is a rec-league target and former contributing editor of the Goalie News magazine. He has written about the Vancouver Canucks and NHL for The Associated Press, USA Today, Sports Illustrated and The Hockey News for the last decade.