As the Florida Panthers prepare to be “aggressive” when the NHL free agency market opens next Monday, they’ll now definitely be in need of a goaltender after Roberto Luongo announced his retirement on Wednesday.
In an open letter to fans, the 40-year-old Luongo said he listened to his body and felt that now was the right time to walk away.
I love the game so much, but the commitment I required to prepare, to keep my body ready, has become overwhelming. Since I had my hip surgery a couple of years ago, I’ve been showing up two hours before every practice and three hours before every game to work out my hip. Even at night, whether it was the night before a game or even a night off, there I was rolling out, doing strengthening exercises. My entire life revolved around recovery, strengthening and making sure I was ready to go the next day.
As May rolled around, I was looking at the calendar and I found myself dreading getting back into my routine. My offseason workouts always start in the third week of May and I wasn’t looking forward to getting back in the gym. There’s a lot of work and effort required and I found my body telling me that it didn’t want to go through it.
Then thinking about getting onto the ice in late July, for the first time in my career, I wasn’t excited about it. That was the sign for me. It’s not that I don’t love playing hockey anymore, but I had to listen to my body. I’m at the point where my body was telling me it just needed a rest. It didn’t really want to get going.
The fourth overall pick in the 1997 NHL Draft by the New York Islanders, Luongo finishes his career with 1,044 games played (second-most by a goaltender), 489 wins (third all-time) and 77 shutouts (ninth all-time) between the Islanders, Panthers and Vancouver Canucks. He’s also one of only three goalies to have played 1,000 games in the NHL. He was a five-time All-Star, won a Jennings Trophy, was three-time finalist for the Vezina Trophy (2004, 2007, 2011), a finalist for the Hart Trophy (2007), and was a finalist for the Bill Masterton Trophy (2018).
Internationally, Luongo won two Olympic gold medals with Canada, as well as two golds at the IIHF World Championship, and a 2004 World Cup of Hockey title.
There is a business side to Luongo’s retirement that not only affects the Panthers. The Canucks, who signed Luongo to his 12-year, $64M contract — the one he famously said “sucks” after staying put in Vancouver following the 2013 trade deadline — back in 2009 and then dealt him to Florida in March 2014, will carry a cap recapture penalty of $3.033M, per Cap Friendly, for the next three seasons, thanks to the agreement in the last Collective Bargaining Agreement on back-diving contracts. The Panthers’ penalty will be $1.094M until the end of the 2021-22 NHL season.
The Panthers could have placed Luongo on long-term injury reserve, but retirement saves them a little over $3.6M in real cash that was owed to the netminder.
As for life after playing, Luongo says he’s having a home built in Parkland where his family will remain. A proud resident, he delivered he delivered a passionate speech to the BB&T Center crowd before their first home game following last year’s shooting Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He hopes to be part of the Panthers’ organization in some capacity in the future.
“For now though, I’m just another retiree in South Florida,” Luongo wrote. “I’ll be going to get my senior citizen’s card here pretty soon.”
The wheeling and dealing has already begun ahead of the start of the 2019 NHL Draft this weekend. Between trades, buyouts, and extensions, general managers are getting to work on preparing for next season.
There is one problem, however, as Friday approaches and the draft begins. Due to the Stanley Cup Final going seven games, the calculations that determine the salary cap ceiling and floor have yet to be finalized. GMs were given a projection of an $83M ceiling back during their meetings in December, but official numbers may not be finalized until Saturday — and the upper limit may come in lower than expected.
Multiple teams I’ve spoken to are very concerned about this cap forecast. Many fear that when the NHL and NHLPA settle on an upper limit this week, it will be LESS than $82M for next season, or an increase of only slightly more than $2M. https://t.co/KZiHydOZSD
The cap ceiling for the 2018-19 season was $79.5M, an increase from $75M from 2017-18.
Now, if you’re a general manager who likes to spend to the cap ceiling to maximize your efforts to win the Stanley Cup, well you’re in quite the holding pattern at the moment. The delay could also have a major impact on trade talks this weekend, possibly making for a quiet Friday night on the draft floor as general manager wait and see where the range ends up.
With a nice 17-8-0 record, it’s not as if the Toronto Maple Leafs are failing to deliver on the hype so far this season.
Even so, we haven’t really gotten a taste of what kind of juggernaut this team can truly be, but that could all change if the Maple Leafs finally resolve one lingering problem and see a superstar shake off lingering injuries.
Yes, it’s looking like an exciting week for the Maple Leafs. Here’s why just about any hockey fan should share that excitement, or at least a healthy dose of fascination.
Matthews makes a comeback
To start, it sounds like Toronto will get that aforementioned superstar back from injury on Wednesday, as Auston Matthews is slated to get back in the lineup as the Buds face the San Jose Sharks. Matthews last suited up on Oct. 27, yet his numbers still look pretty splendid, as he generated 10 goals and six assists for 16 points in just 11 games, and that last contest was abbreviated by his latest, unfortunate injury.
The Maple Leafs were 8-3-0 after winning that Oct. 27 game against Winnipeg. With John Tavares and Frederik Andersen putting together excellent work in Matthews’ absence, Toronto produced a solid 9-5-0 mark without the American center, thus leaving them at 17-8-0.
Nylander, 22, has played two full seasons in the NHL, plus a 22-game run in 2015-16. He’s generated 20+ goals twice, and 61 points in each instance, giving him an impressive 135 points in 185 games. But how good is he, really?
If you spend any time on Hockey Twitter, you’ve probably seen people arguing about Nylander, whether the discussion turns to accusations of greed, being “carried” by Matthews, or – on the opposite end – bold proclamations regarding his greatness.
Long bar graphs/story short, it can sometimes feel a little vague to deem Nylander a “top-six forward,” so maybe it would be best to describe as someone who could fit into plenty of top lines around the league, and prosper along the way?
Combining Matthews, Marner, and Nylander with Tavares won’t be cheap, something the Maple Leafs are making quite clear. It will likely be worth the headaches, though, because that’s a scary group.
There also might be a silver lining to this long, drawn-out process, beyond Toronto potentially making the money work.
Gains for the supporting cast
With Matthews and especially Nylander out, other players have been asked to step up.
The most tantalizing development probably comes in the strong year for Kasperi Kapanen. Would he have received so many opportunities with high-end linemates if Nylander was around since Game 1? Judging by past seasons, the answer sure feels like “No.”
Kapanen’s really run with the opportunity, displaying speed and skill while collecting 17 points in 25 games. His 18.9 shooting percentage indicates that he might slow down a bit, yet Kapanen’s likely earned serious trust with Mike Babcock and others.
The Nylanders and Matthews of the league drive your success, yet sometimes it’s the growth of a player who could thrive or decline (possibly Kapanen, definitely someone like Brayden Point or Jake Guentzel) who can really make the difference in finding something special.
No doubt about it, the Leafs aren’t out of the woods. They still need to settle Nylander’s situation, and more strained contract talks await with Matthews and Marner.
Like just about any team in the salary cap era, they also must play well enough to make up for certain flaws. Putting a talented group on the ice doesn’t guarantee a deep run, and expectations are likely to be extremely high in Toronto if the Maple Leafs do get Matthews healthy and Nylander signed.
Success would be awfully sweet if that does happen, as the Maple Leafs could conceivably be the most dazzling team we’ve seen in some time. After all, good things come to those who wait, right?
According to projections the NHL shared at the Board of Governors meeting on Friday, the salary cap is expected to increase by at least $3 million for the 2018-19 season.
“The league has never been healthier,” said Commissioner Gary Bettman. “The game has never been healthier. Our franchises have never been healthier.”
Currently at $75 million, if the Players’ Association chooses to use an inflator the ceiling could rise as high as $82 million. The jump to $78 million would mark the biggest rise since a $4.7 million increase for the 2014-15 season.
That would be music to the ears of a handful of NHL teams who are near the current ceiling, allowing them some extra room to maneuver for their off-season spending. It would also help teams like the Chicago Blackhawks ($66M), Los Angeles Kings ($66M), and Nashville Predators ($65M), who are already committed to at least $65 million in salary for next season, per CapFriendly. Then you have the Vegas Golden Knights, who are sitting pretty at $34 million tied up for 2018-19. You wonder how general manager George McPhee will go about using his spending space to build off their inaugural season.
The ability for the ceiling to rise by a minimum of $3 million is due to another increase in league revenues, which Bettman said is projected to hit around $4.85 billion this season, while hockey-related revenues are expected to reach $4.54 billion, an increase of 8.2 percent.
We’ve come a long way from a $39 million ceiling all the way back in 2005-06.