Blackhawk fans, I have to warn you, you may want to grab something to vomit in before reading this article. Now that I have prepared you for a possible gut-wrenching idea, bear with me for the next few paragraphs. Believe me; I know it will be hard. I too have stood in the 300 level and booed this man mercilessly and my hatred for him boiled over so much during the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs that I became a fan of whatever team was playing the Canucks at the time.
All that being said, and at the risk of sounding hypocritical, Roberto Luongo might be exactly what is missing from the Blackhawks’ cage. Blasphemy, you say? Well, let’s forget the fact that the man has a questionable personality and that he is one of the most hated players on the Hawks’ most-hated rival. Putting all of that aside, he is actually a pretty significant upgrade in net from where the Blackhawks stand, and with the goaltending market now shifting to a “buyer’s market,” he can be had for a fraction of what he should be going for.
Let’s look at the facts about Luongo. He has compiled 339 wins, a 2.51 GAA, and a .919 save percentage over 13 full NHL seasons. He has a gold medal at the 2010 Olympics, won the World Cup of Hockey in 2004, and won two World Championships in 2003 and 2004. He also has been to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final in 2011. As far as experience goes he ranks right up there with the most experienced in the league right now. Sure, he has never won the Stanley Cup and most of his winning has come on the international stage… I won’t argue with that. But, the pressure that is often heaped on the Canadian Olympic Goaltender is great, and having played in a city that lives and dies (or burns) with their hockey team, he knows the pressure of big games.
His contract is a bloated contradiction of the CBA; he has 10 years remaining and an annual cap hit of $5.33 million. There is no denying that any team looking to acquire that contract will not get full value. For the next 3-4 years he will be well worth the $5 million price tag, but after that you are looking at over-paying for the remaining 6-7 years. That fact is certainly not lost on me but what if it meant 1 or 2 more Stanley Cups for the Chicago faithful? I would gladly overpay Bobby Lou to age gracefully (or not) in the Blackhawk net if it meant creating a dynasty over the next few seasons.
Another Head Case
His mental make-up has been questioned repeatedly, but the Blackhawk organization has not been exactly rife with strong, mentally-sound goaltenders. See Corey Crawford’s 2012 season and playoffs, Cristobal Huet (pick a year), and Alexander Salak (2012 season) over the past few seasons. However, they still have captured a Stanley Cup and multiple 100 point seasons. I would also argue the fact that most of Luongo’s breakdowns have come at the hands of the United Center faithful and with those fans on his side, his confidence should sky-rocket.
The Missing Link
This is the exactly the type of move that makes sense for team and player. Luongo is 33 and certainly on the downside of a pretty spectacular career. He has become the dreaded “never won the Cup” player of his generation. He is proud and doesn’t want that to be his legacy. For all of his faults he has been called a great teammate and I have been told he works harder than anyone at his craft.
The Blackhawks, on the other hand, are a team with great talent and a closing window of opportunity for their core. There are only so many great seasons that will come from the likes of Keith, Hossa, Seabrook, Toews, and Kane. His fit for the ‘Hawks is nearly perfect at this juncture. The Blackhawks, who had horrible penalty kill and goals-against numbers last season, just need a goaltender who can make a key stop some of the time and the routine stops all of the time. They need a netminder who just won’t screw things up for them.
As much as I love Corey Crawford and his perseverance in getting the starting job here, he let down at critical times last year and burned another year in a small window of chances the Blackhawks have to win cups with this core intact. Does Luongo let in those goals against the Coyotes last year? We could never know for sure, but he is the kind of goaltender the ‘Hawks need at this point with this team. They are a tremendously talented team in need of a consistent and stable force in net. Think about how many games over the last 3 years that were “stolen” or “goalie wins.” Without looking at the numbers, I would say very few games needed to be stolen by the goaltender, and they mostly just needed someone who wouldn’t lose games for them.
A “Jacques Plante” Kind of Move
Is this a move that the Bowmans would make? We do know that Stan Bowman seems to put more importance on defense than goaltending overall, but the track history for his dad leads me to believe that this could be right in the Blackhawks’ wheel house. If you look at Scotty Bowman as a GM, he has gone out and gotten the aging star goaltender more times than not. In St. Louis (his first GM job) he talked an aging Jacques Plante out of retirement to come back and he helped backstop the Blues to the Stanley Cup Final that year in addition to winning the Vezina. In Pittsburgh, he advised on the acquisition of Tom Barrasso, and although he wasn’t the GM at the time, he was consulting as a scout. The most similar situation to the scenario the Blackhawks are in right now is Bowman’s time during Detroit. Chris Osgood was the incumbent starter and had struggled the previous season in the playoffs. That summer, Bowman went out and acquired aging star Mike Vernon, who worked out by delivering a Cup and Conn Smythe effort. Depending on your belief of who is calling the shots in the front, the Bowman track history is strong to make a move like this to make the ‘Hawks legitimate Cup contenders in 2012-13.
All of that sounds great, but what about the fact that the town legitimately hates this man? Well, does anyone remember when Bob Probert was acquired? He couldn’t have been hated or reviled any less than Luongo, and look at how that turned out. How about Dennis Rodman? Did Chicago hate the “Bad Boy” Pistons any less than the Canucks’ netminder? John Starks (ok, he was never really liked in Chicago) but it has happened before and those players have become heroes in this city. If he wins (which he can with his team) he will be loved and Louuuuuuuu chants will cascade down from the United Center rafters.
Are there too many moving parts for this to happen? Yes. I would have to think that the Canucks would move Luongo anywhere but Chicago first but I do think there is a shred of truth to the fact that there might not be a market for Luongo anymore. With Bobrovsky going into Columbus and Lindback going to Tampa I don’t see many suitors outside of the Maple Leafs. If he could be had for Corey Crawford, a pick, and another fringe forward the Hawks would be foolish not to roll the dice despite the contract.