When Roberto Luongo was traded to the Florida Panthers, a lot of people thought that was it for him. He’d go play out the rest of his contract — or at least the years of his contract that paid him more than a measly million bucks — and he’d retire without winning a Stanley Cup.
The Panthers, after all, were perennial losers. When Luongo joined them in early 2014, they’d made the playoffs just once in their previous 12 seasons. That included the five seasons he spent with them from 2000-06.
But Luongo saw something that a lot of people didn’t. This wasn’t just a “fresh start” for a goalie that had lost the starting job with the Canucks, though that was definitely part of it.
“When this kind of fell in my lap, that I had a chance to come back here to Florida, I think it was a perfect situation for me,” he told the Dan Le Batard Show today (audio). “Not only because it was home, but because the team was young and and upcoming and I saw a bright future with Florida.”
The Panthers had already drafted the likes of Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Erik Gudbranson. Soon after Luongo got there, they picked Aaron Ekblad first overall.
Fast forward to the present, and after all those years of assembling all that young talent, the Panthers have finally broken out. Last night, they won their 10th game in a row. They’re currently first in the Atlantic Division, five points up on second-place Detroit.
The old guys have done their part as well. Luongo, 36, is 18-11-3 with a .930 save percentage, a Vezina Trophy candidate once again. Jaromir Jagr, 43, leads the Panthers in scoring with 14 goals and 15 assists.
But does Luongo ever miss those heady Vancouver days, when the Canucks were still Cup contenders and he was arguably the most celebrated person in the city?
Or, does he prefer the relative quiet of South Florida?
“There are some things that are good about a crazy hockey market, there are some things that are good about a place where you can just fly under the radar,” he said. “It depends what day of the week it is, to be honest with you. Sometimes it’s nice to go out in public and just do your thing.
“At the end of the day, really what it comes down to is winning. It doesn’t matter what type of market you’re in. For me, I always put pressure on myself to win. That’s where it comes from.”
The Panthers can make it 11 straight Thursday in Ottawa. They visit Edmonton Sunday, then Luongo’s back in Vancouver Monday.