VANCOUVER -- Roberto Luongo is coming back to play goal for the Vancouver Canucks.
At least that’s what general manager Mike Gillis said he believes after meeting with his would-be No. 1 goaltender at his Florida home for three-and-a-half hours early last week.
"I have full confidence in Roberto and I have full confidence he’ll be here and that’s how we’re operating," Gillis said Tuesday night following a season-ticket holder event.
Canucks GM Mike Gillis says he has full confidence Luongo will return successfully to his role as the team's No. 1 goaltender. (Photo: Getty Images)
That it was still a question given Luongo has nine years left on a 12-year, $64 million contract with the Canucks says a lot about what has transpired between the team and the goalie over the past 15 months.
Luongo expected to be traded after Cory Schneider took over the starting job two games into the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but Gillis shocked most by instead dealing away Schneider at the NHL Draft last month. More than three weeks later, Luongo still isn’t talking publicly, leaving it to Gillis to characterize their long conversation and his goaltender’s state of mind.
"It wasn't strained or adversarial at all," Gillis said. "Roberto is still working his way through how everything occurred and what happened and I think he’s going to be fine. I think he’s the consummate professional, I think he'll be the starting goalie for Canada’s Olympic team and he’ll be our starting goalie. I feel very optimistic about it."
On a night when the Canucks celebrated the return of Pavel Bure with plans to retire his No. 10, and announced Mike Sullivan and Glen Gulutzan as assistants for new coach John Tortorella, the hottest topic was the future of Luongo.
Most, including Luongo, expected it to be elsewhere. The Canucks were unable to move him and instead traded Schneider to the New Jersey Devils for the ninth pick in last month’s draft, which they used to select two-way center Bo Horvat. Luongo now has to rectify coming back to a city and team he’d moved on from.
Tortorella said he is counting on him doing it quickly. Asked about the possibility Luongo might not report to training camp, the coach said, "That's never even crossed my mind. He is our guy … we won't get a sniff if he's not our goalie."
Luongo has established himself as the Canucks' best-ever goalie since arriving in a trade from the Florida Panthers in 2006, earning Vezina and Hart Trophy nominations, and leading Vancouver to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2011. But when Schneider took over two games into a first-round playoff loss the following season, and again in the 2013 playoffs after missing the first two games this year with a groin injury, Luongo thought he was done in Vancouver, saying "it was time to move on."
Now Gillis is counting on a transformation over the past 15 months to help Luongo come back.
"It's remarkable the irony in all this because in the past year he began to relax a little bit and the human side of him came out and he wasn’t as guarded," said Gillis, joking they spent half the time going over Luongo’s Twitter account. "That's the guy we know and that’s the guy everyone here got to know, and it’s been a remarkable transformation."
It’s one that may have been made easier by thinking he was on his way out the door, but now that the door is closed and Luongo is still in Vancouver, Gillis is hopeful it continues.
"I think he’s enthused about the next steps and what the future holds," Gillis said.