Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo
still feels he has something to prove. And until he reaches his goal, he has no intention of leaving Vancouver, signing a 12-year contract extension Wednesday.
Luongo has established himself as an NHL and international star, a leader in the dressing room and a player who appears to have this regular-season routine pretty well managed -- having won at least 30 games in each of the last four seasons.
The sticking point for Luongo, the Canucks' captain, has come in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In particular, his team's six-game series defeat against the Chicago Blackhawks
in the Western Conference Semifinals last spring, when he yielded an uncharacteristic seven goals during a 7-5 loss in the sixth and deciding game -- a loss that still haunts him today.
"You're a professional and there's always someone pushing you from behind," Luongo said. "Unfortunately, one game has ruined a lot of things for me, but you try to move on and turn the page. That (Game 6 against Chicago) is not who I am, but unfortunately, things happen. But we're all in this to win a Stanley Cup and I'm looking forward to the next few years to bring one to Vancouver."
Luongo feels his best chance at celebrating a Stanley Cup remains in Vancouver, and that's why he agreed Wednesday to a 12-year contract extension to stay with the Canucks. The deal runs through the 2021-22 season.
"From the first day I met Mike (Gillis, Canucks president/GM), he told me he wanted to build a championship team and that's the only thing he wants to do as a GM and that's the type of person I am as an athlete -- I want to win the Cup," Luongo said. "The team we had this past season had as good a chance as any other in the playoffs. There was really no reason why I wouldn't come back."
"Today is a very exciting day for the Canucks organization," Gillis said. "Roberto Luongo
is the leader of our hockey team; he is in the prime of his playing career and has a tremendous desire to make the Canucks a championship team. His leadership, competitiveness and character are what this team will represent for many years to come."
Luongo said he and his wife, Gina, began contemplating their options at the conclusion of the 2008-09 season.
"It's not something you immediately start analyzing, especially since I was upset over how the season ended last year," Luongo said. "So I took time to get things out of my mind and then started turning the page. In June we began thinking about it and wanted to make sure we were making the right decision before we committed one way or another."
The long-term extension benefitted both sides, according to Luongo, who missed two months with a groin injury last season; without him, the club won nine of 23 games.
"I love playing the game and want to play as long as possible and this is the type of contract that made the most sense for both sides," he said. "That's why we went longer."
For Luongo, the long-term deal also presents an opportunity to exorcise ghosts of playoffs past.
"We signed some solid players over the summer," he said. "To win a Stanley Cup, it takes more than a good team; everything's got to fall together at the right time and we have to be playing at our best at the right time. The pieces are there and now it's just a matter of going out there and making sure everything falls in place when the time is right."
Luongo, 30, went 33-13-7 with a 2.34 goals-against average, .920 save percentage and franchise single-season record nine shutouts in 2008-09. Additionally, he set a franchise record for the longest shutout sequence, playing 242:36 without allowing a goal (second-longest streak in the modern NHL).
He helped lead the Canucks to the Western Conference Semifinals for the second time in his career, going 6-4 through two playoff rounds. In 22 career playoff games, he's 11-11 with a 2.09 GAA.
"The team we had this past season had as good a chance as any other in the playoffs. There was really no reason why I wouldn't come back." -- Roberto Luongo
The Montreal native is 230-232-64 in 544 NHL games, with a 2.57 GAA. He is tied for third among active goaltenders in shutouts (47), and he became one of only 54 goaltenders in League history to play 500 or more games.
Luongo also has represented Canada numerous times on the international stage. He won gold at the World Championships in 2003 and 2004, and the World Cup of Hockey in 2004. He also played for his country at the 2006 Olympics and is in the running to start on the 2010 team.
He'll return to Vancouver next week in preparation for Canucks training camp, which begins Sept. 12 at the University of British Columbia's Thunderbird Arena. The captain is confident his team can play deeper into the spring in 2009-10.
"I'm content with our team right now," he said. "I think we took a big step forward this summer and if Mike (Gillis) thinks he needs to add something else, that's his decision. For me, I feel like we have a great team already."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.