On the goaltender radar: Roberto Luongo

Cam Charron
June 04 2012 09:49AM

So the talk in this town for the last week or so has been about Roberto Luongo, or more specifically, Roberto Luongo joining the Toronto Maple Leafs.

While Luongo is a very good goaltender who was one of the best in the league last season, it's a move that doesn't make a lot of sense for Toronto, despite how badly the team need a goaltender in the short-term. The problem is that they also need cap space in the long term, and investing a lot of money in a goaltender on the wrong side of 30 is probably not the best thing Brian Burke could do at this point, even if funds were moved the other way.

Here's Vancouver general manager Mike Gillis:

“No, it’s not full-on that we’re trying to find him a new home,” Gillis said. “What he indicated was that if we felt a change was necessary, he would do whatever was best for the team once we made that decision — and that’s all he said.
“We haven’t come to the conclusion yet what’s in the best interests of the team and Roberto is going to be part of the process. I talked to him again last week to see how he was feeling and we’re going to start moving ahead now that we’ve cleared up some other issues. We’ll start looking at where we want to go with this situation and others.” 

The major takeaway here is that there is nothing "off" the table when it comes to Luongo and the Canucks would probably be happy to deal him away. Luongo is still owed $47,284,000.00 over the next ten seasons until 2022. At sister site NHLNumbers, I've already taken a look at goaltender performance vs. cost, and found no link, at least in the 2011-12 season, between the amount of money spent on a goalie and the actual goaltender performance.

Luongo is the best goaltender who is on the apparent market. His quality start rate and even strength save percentages dwarf what the Leafs as a whole were able to come up with. If 56 starts last season, 34 of Luongo's were considered quality and his EV SV% was .930. The Leafs had 32 in 82 starts all season.

Goaltending is an extremely important aspect of this business, but you look to some of the teams that found bargain goaltenders such as Mike Smith and Brian Elliott and found success with them in the right system or with the right amount of confidence. There is a goalie out there (hopefully it won't be Jonas Gustavsson) who will be within one win above replacement as Luongo but come for millions of dollars and years of a contract cheaper.

Canucks Army's petbugs is a gracious enough guy to have collaborated some averages for us. Goaltender performance dips when a goalie hits his mid-30s: 

Luongo's current contract carries him until he's 42. Only 11 goalies have played a significant amount of games after the age of 38 and while Dwayne Roloson and Martin Brodeur have recently had strong playoff runs, both goalies played below average hockey in the regular season in 2012. Two notable former Leaf goalies, Curtis Joseph and Ed Belfour, spent their last couple of seasons at a below average save percentage.

The cap number is reasonable enough for a few seasons that takes Luongo up until he's 36 or 37 or so and I'd wager he still has about five or six good seasons left in him, but part of the reason for his success this past year was he was able to form a strong tandem with Cory Schneider. Right now, the Leafs lack a suitable backup who can take the game-to-game strain off of Luongo.

This is all without discussing price. Chances are the Canucks will want a return, and right now the Leafs can't afford to give up any of their good roster players.

Luongo's a capable goaltender in the short-term, but he doesn't make sense for the Leafs given their needs. There are goalies out there who may not be able to bring what Luongo does in the short-term, but they fit into Brian Burke's salary structure much more easily. 

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Cam Charron is a BC hockey fan that writes about hockey on many different websites including this one.
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#1 Danny Gray
June 04 2012, 10:31AM
Trash it!
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BOOOOOOO. I know it might not be the best, but I am just so desperate for the playoffs I don't even care anymore.

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#2 Brett
June 04 2012, 11:44AM
Trash it!
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trashes
+1
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props

I could have done the math wrong and I have nothing to show it, but had Luongo posted an EVSV% equal to his post-lockout low, while starting 60 games for the Leafs, they would have finished 9th, and had Luongo posted a copy of his post-lockout high (IIRC, 0.936), the Leafs would have finished 6th or 7th (ca!'t remember, definitely a playoff team though).

That's ignoring any possible increases in PK SV% (is that a team-wide thing in the Leafs case? They've been awful for a long time).

Luongo's long-term contract doesn't make sense for the Leafs, you're correct, but Burke has to be getting desperate and he has to know goaltending killed him last season. I mean, after what, 3500+ shots he still said "the rest of the season is for evaluating Gustavsson" - if he didn't know by then, he never will - but if a trade for Luongo gets him in the playoffs, that's the ONLY thing Burke will focus on.

I don't claim to be in Luongo's head but does ANYONE expect him to actually play to 42? Retiring 2-4 years early seems like it is in the cards and has been the entire time. He's a competitive guy, why would he play for peanuts in a back-up role?

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