Will Roberto Luongo Have To Leave Florida To Make Playoffs?

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In general, the sole reason NHL’ers play the game is to win the Stanley Cup. Of course, becoming multi-millionaires along the way is a bonus and another story for another day. For veteran goaltender Roberto Luongo of the Florida Panthers, he’s experienced the thrill of a Stanley Cup Final run and is anxious for another one before hanging up his skates and gloves.

At the age of 39 it’s going to have to come sometime soon though. In addition, playing with the Panthers means he may have to be satisfied with just making the playoffs rather than taking a serious run at the cup. He came close last year, but the team missed the postseason by a solitary point.

Luongo made it all the way to the cup final back in 2010/11 when he was with the Vancouver Canucks. He came pretty close to hoisting the trophy, but the Boston Bruins took the seventh and deciding game 4-0. Unfortunately, the most memorable thing about the series was the disgraceful rioting that took place in downtown Vancouver after the final buzzer.

With the Panthers heading into the annual holiday break with just 36 points in 35 games things don’t look too good for them as far as the playoffs are concerned. But there’s still over half the season to play, so we’ll just have wait and see.

There’s no doubt Luongo’s hoping the team can turn things around in the new year as he recently told the media, “I just want to be in the playoffs, man. I just want to get a taste of that. That’s why I play.”

Still, if the Panthers don’t make the postseason all’s not lost for Luongo. He needs to post just seven more regular-season wins to reach 485 for his career and pass Ed Belfour for number three on the all-time victory list for a goalie. If he plays 13 more games this season he’ll hit the 1,030 mark to take over second place from Patrick Roy. In addition, five more shutouts will see him climb to fifth place all-time with 81.

The native of Montreal, Quebec should be able set personal milestones for wins and games played as long as he stays healthy, but in today’s NHL it’s going to be tough to post four more shutouts this season. But even if Luongo called it quits today he’s sure to grace the Hockey Hall of Fame as soon as he becomes eligible.

Luongo said he doesn’t worry about the all-time lists however. He believes they’ll simply take care of themselves eventually with each passing game he plays and he doesn’t plan on retiring anytime soon.

“At the end of my career you can look back on those numbers and appreciate them, but for now I just want to keep doing a good job,” he stated.

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The key to Luongo’s and Florida’s success though will be keeping the 6-foot-3-inch, 220 lb goalie healthy. He sat out the first month of the campaign due to a knee ligament problem which he suffered on opening night of the season. When he has played he’s struggled some nights, but still sported a winning record of 8-6-1. He entered the break with a 3.00 goals-against average and 90.5 save percentage, which aren’t bad considering he’s playing for one of the league’s weaker sisters.

There’s no telling how long he can keep pushing his body though. This is his 19th year in the league and he played just 75 games over the past two seasons because of nagging injuries.

Luongo realizes this and stated, “I’m not going to lie. It’s not easy. When you get up there in age, recovery is not as fast and you have to put a lot of work in.”

Florida head coach Bob Boughner added that it’s essential Luongo stays healthy because he considers him the most important player on the squad.

It remains to be seen just how badly Luongo wants to return to the playoffs. He inked a $64-million, 12 year deal in 2010/11 while with Vancouver. It’s worth $5.333 million on average per year against the salary cap, but his actual salary this season is only $3.382 and next year it drops to just $1.618 million. This makes Luongo an attractive bargain for teams that have plenty of salary cap space and are in search of a veteran goalie. And to top things off, he’ll be paid just $1 million in the 2020/21 and 2021/22 campaigns if he’s still playing.

This is Luongo’s second stint in Florida as the Canucks dealt him 2014. It’s well known just how much he loves the area and also met his wife there. He says he’s made enough money during his career and is happy with his current contract. He has a modified no-trade clause in it and will need to ask himself if he’s willing to accept a move if it means getting another shot at the playoffs.

That’s something he’ll need to consider if the Panthers don’t start improving in the near future. But at his age and with his family loving life in the Florida sunshine it seems like a remote possibility. He’s appeared in just half a dozen playoff outings since 2013 and unfortunately he may be stuck at that number for at least another year if he remains a Panther.