Luongo steps down as captain
The experiment is over in Vancouver, with the Canucks announcing Monday that goaltender Roberto Luongo will no longer be the captain of the hockey team.
"He confirmed last night and said he'd rather just focus on stopping the puck," Canucks general manager Mike Gillis told reporters Monday. "He's going to continue with all the leadership stuff he did before but not have the same sort of expectations with the media on game days that has happened the last couple of years.
"He's focused on trying to win a Stanley Cup and feels this is in the best interests of the team."
Luongo replaced Markus Naslund as captain in 2008, a move that raised eyebrows around the league as there had only been a handful of goaltender captains in NHL history, and none in more than 60 years. NHL rules prevented Luongo from wearing the "C" on his jersey because he's a goalie, but the club is permitted to designate the netminder as its captain.
"I was fighting with the idea the whole way because I loved being captain," Luongo said Monday. "I enjoyed the experience. It was fun. I took a lot of pride in it, and that was one of the main reasons it was tough for me to come to this decision.
"Being captain in a Canadian city for a team with such passionate fans is a privilege and an experience I will always take pride in. I will continue to be a leader on this team and support my teammates the same way I always have while focusing on our ultimate goal."
There was no immediate word on when and if the Canucks would announce a new captain. Henrik and Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler would figure to be the top candidates.
"If they ask, it's an honour, for sure," said Henrik Sedin. "I think everyone feels that."
Luongo, 31, got off to a tremendous start in 2008-09 after being named captain but then suffered a groin injury that hurt his chances for winning the Vezina. He finished with a career-high nine shutouts despite playing about 20 games fewer than his average, but he struggled in the team's second-round playoff exit to the Chicago Blackhawks.
"Even though we obviously weren't able to bring a Cup home, we won the division both years, we were able to advance to the second round, the final eight teams in the NHL, so I would call it a success," Luongo said. "I'm not going to say I regretted being the captain. I didn't at all."
The Canucks were not bothered by that performance, giving Luongo a 12-year extension worth $64 million US a few months later. The contract kicks in for the upcoming season.
Luongo recorded four shutouts, a .913 save percentage and a 2.57 goals-against average in 2009-10, decent numbers but in each case the lowest of his four seasons since coming over from Florida in a trade.
Vancouver again fell to the Blackhawks in the second round in May. Luongo allowed 21 goals in the series, with a .897 save percentage.
A bigger issue was the perception that any time he criticized the team's defensive play as the captain, he was blaming teammates as the goalie.
"It was a very precarious position to be in," the 30-year-old Luongo said. "As a goaltender you have a lot of jobs to do on the ice as far as a focusing for 60 minutes, and you don't want to have other stuff creeping inside your head and maybe causing a little bit of distraction."
With files from The Canadian Press