A weekly sports column from the 100 Mile Free Press

Roberto Luongo’s jersey will be retired by the Florida Panthers on March 7, as the goalie’s former team takes on his hometown, Montreal. It will be the first player’s number to be retired by the franchise.

Vancouver Canucks fans will probably be paying attention, whether in admiration or annoyance. After all, it’s hard to ignore that Luongo was in his prime during the eight seasons he was with Vancouver.

The 40-year-old Montrealer retired in June, with 1.044 games played (ranking second in goalies all-time), 489 wins (third), 392 losses, 33 ties and 91 overtime losses. He also ranks ninth all-time in shutouts with 77.

He holds every goaltending record for Florida, including 108 wins. Surprisingly, he also leads the Vancouver Canucks with games won at 224.

So will the Vancouver Canucks be retiring his number? It’s hard to say. But they will probably honour him somehow, though I imagine most people would love to see his number fly from the rafters. Luongo has continuously been one of the most likeable players in the league, from his Twitting and hid general hilarity, he’s liked across all fandoms in the NHL.

Luongo was drafted by the New York Islanders at fourth overall in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft, becoming the highest-picked goaltender until Rick DiPietro in 2000 (also by the Islanders). He played 24 games for the franchise in 1990-2000 season, but his time as an Islander came to an end when DiPietro was drafted. Luongo was drafted to the Panthers, along with centre Olli Jokinen for winger Mark Parrish and centre Oleg Kvasha.

His first stint with the Panthers (2000-2006) and immediately made an impact, playing in 47 games (43 as a starter) during his first season.

In the 2002-03 season, Luongo took on a heavier workload, playing in 65 games for a weak Florida Panthers team. In the next two seasons, he would play upwards to 75 games a year, steadily increasing his wins from 20 to 35 (a franchise record for season wins in Flordia).

Despite coming close to signing an extension with Florida, Luongo was shipped to Vancouver with Lukáš Krajícek and a sixth-round pick for Todd Bertuzzi, Bryan Allen and Alex Auld. His new team signed him to a four-year deal worth $27 million.

Luongo brought something to the Canucks that they were lacking before his arrival – wins. Luongo registered more than 30 wins (more than 35 in four seasons) in his first six seasons as a Canuck. However, in 2011-12, things started to change. After bringing the Canucks to the NHL Stanley Cup finals in 2011, the brass started to lose faith in him. Injuries also started to hamper his play. Corey Schneider started to get more duties, emerging as a starter from Luongo’s shadow. Speculation on Luongo’s future was in doubt for the last two seasons constantly, but when Schneider was traded to New Jersey unexpectedly, the final straw came when new head coach John Tortorella kept Luongo on the bench in favour for Eddie Läck.

On May 4, 2014, Luongo was traded back to Florida, where he would round out his career.

100 Mile House Free Press

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