If Roberto Luongo's new contract was for 24 years and $128 million, he would still be worth every penny. The Vancouver Canucks did wonderfully for themselves and their fan base by getting him at half. Priceless is the professional athlete who just shuts up and plays his position as well as anyone on the planet.
The 30-year-old Luongo had three wishes: to get paid, to not bankrupt the Canucks from fielding a contender and to go very long-term. So what if the contract doesn't end until the Jamie Moyer stage of his career?
Wednesday, everyone had a lot to say about what Luongo will be at 43 and what he is now at age 30. But a little history reveals why the All-Star goalie may have been so resolute in his demands.
Despite being the most-hyped goaltender of the last 15 years, he has delivered on his immense potential. Of course, there is the rather large matter of carrying a team to a Stanley Cup, but even his critics are forgiving. They acknowledge Luongo has been an NHL goalie for nine seasons, a member of a functional NHL franchise for only the last three.
While universally hailed as the game's top prospect a decade ago, Luongo was demoted to the minors by the New York Islanders so the owners at the time could avoid paying him bonus dollars. The goalie, all of 20 years old, proved he was the better man. He just shut up and played hockey.
Luongo was traded by Mike Milbury on Draft Day 2000 with Olli Jokinen to Florida for Oleg Kvasha and Mark Parrish. (The Islanders also passed on the opportunity to draft a few future 40-goal scorers, but we're trying to keep this column a reasonable length). While the rest of the league either laughed or gasped, Luongo -- steely determination a cliché invented for athletes like him -- just shut up, went to South Florida and played hockey.
So when Florida joined the Islanders as the second asinine team to trade Roberto Luongo, the goalie decided to take a personal interest in his future with the Canucks. No, this isn't franchise player as management nudge -- simply a goaltender wanting to stop pucks and the insanity.
Good for him. Good for the Canucks. Good for their fans. Entering the prime of a Hall of Fame career, Luongo negotiated 12 years for $64 million -- an annual salary cap hit of $5.33 million. Rick DiPietro, his apparent heir at the Islanders, got $67.5 million for 15 years ($4.5 mill) without proving much. Neither deal prevents the Canucks or Islanders from building Cup-contending rosters. Only Luongo, always in the conversation as the No. 1 goalie for Team Canada, is currently healthy enough to do something about it. Canucks management, so emotionally invested in the man from Quebec they named him captain, now begins losing sleep over the nightmare of a long-term injury to The Franchise.
Make no mistake, the league office abhors these long-term deals. Gary Bettman was not shy about his distaste for the DiPietro deal, but opted for silence when established superstar Alex Ovechkin was inked for 13 years. Recent contracts by Philadelphia (Chris Pronger) and Chicago (Marian Hossa) were downright knee-slappers in their circumvention of the salary cap.
You don't need Brian Burke to underline the $1 million Luongo will receive in each of the last two years to see the salary cap scam (imagine that, a sports team looking for an edge). Try as they might, league lawyers will not find the Luongo deal in violation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Their next chance to change the rules arrives in 2011.
Celebrate, Canucks Country. You have the best player on your team -- the goalie most real GMs would take in their fantasy draft -- for at least the next decade.
Roberto Luongo was born to be a goaltender. Look at him: long arms, long legs, Gumby-like flexibility, Andy Pettitte-like focus. Now, just as he wanted, he's a Canuck for the rest of his playing days.