Since coming to Vancouver in 2006, Roberto Luongo has been called the greatest goalie in Canucks history…as well as a colossal choker. He’s been called glib and arrogant…as well as hilarious and humble. One moment, fans can’t wait until he’s finally traded out of town; the next, they’re panicking he won’t show up to training camp.
Suffice to say, Luongo’s relationship with Vancouver hockey fans has been a complicated one — probably the most complicated the city has ever enjoyed/endured with an athlete. And after Cory Schneider was traded to New Jersey at the draft, that relationship will continue, for better or worse.
Luongo still hasn’t spoken publicly since the trade that left him “shocked.” What he has done is change agents, hiring Pat Brisson and JP Barry of CAA Sports and firing Gilles Lupien — who subsequently accused the Canucks of treating his client “like a piece of paper, a fourth-line player.”
Whether Luongo also feels that way isn’t clear. Again, he hasn’t spoken publicly. But happy or sad, there’s no questioning his importance to the team. Just like old times, Luongo is the undisputed number one again, with Vancouver’s backup expected to be either Eddie Lack or Joacim Eriksson, neither of whom have played a single NHL game.
Which, in a cynical sense, is part of the reason Canucks fans seem to be rallying around the 34-year-old: they know they need him again.
But that’s only part of it. For many, Luongo has become a sympathetic figure — a bit of an oddity considering not many sympathetic figures have a $64 million contract. But money isn’t everything, right? Most fans are evolved enough to accept a player can be rich and frustrated at the same time. Sure, there’s something to be said for keeping a proper perspective. But there’s also something to be said for wanting more from life than money.
There’s no doubt the self-effacing tweets have helped Luongo’s reputation, too. Remember, there was a time not long ago when Luongo was the moody, spoiled, typically entitled pro athlete and Tim Thomas was the guy you’d want to go grab a beer with. These days, Luongo is offering up spots to fans to participate in his fantasy football league and joking about getting his tires stolen.
How this all plays out, nobody can say for sure. The Luongo soap opera in Vancouver has been anything but predictable. At this point, everything from a fairy-tale ending to a compliance buyout is on the table.
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