SUNRISE, Fla. – Roberto Luongo wanted to keep playing and keep chasing the elusive Stanley Cup, largely because he believes the Florida Panthers are finally in position to be a playoff contender.
His body wanted otherwise.
And Luongo ultimately listened.
The most popular player in Panthers history announced his retirement Wednesday – doing so via Twitter in two different voices, one to support each side of his personality. The first was in his usual self-deprecating comic fashion, saying he “decided to take my talents to a South Beach retirement home.” The other was a heartfelt open letter to fans, where he revealed that he cried when he told his children he was done.
“This is one of the toughest decisions I’ve faced in my life and it took me a long time to make it,” Luongo wrote. “After thinking about it a lot over the past two months and listening to my body, I made up my mind. It just feels like the right time for me to step away from the game. I love the game so much, but the commitment I required to prepare, to keep my body ready, has become overwhelming.”
Luongo never hoisted the Stanley Cup, though his legacy is secure regardless. His 489 career victories are third in NHL history behind only Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy, and Brodeur is the only goalie to have appeared in more games or made more saves than Luongo.
It could be argued that no one was better for longer than Luongo was. Among the seven goaltenders to appear in at least 900 games, Luongo’s .919 save percentage is the best.
“From the moment I was fortunate enough to share a locker room with him, Roberto has exemplified leadership for me,” Panthers forward Vincent Trocheck said in a statement distributed by the Panthers. “There isn’t a classier, more professional guy in this league. He’s a great hockey player and somehow an even better person.”
Luongo leaves as a five-time All-Star and the Montreal native helped Canada win Olympic gold in 2010 and 2014. Also in his collection: two world championship gold medals, along with another one from the 2004 World Cup of Hockey.
The Panthers were prepared for the likelihood that Luongo may step away. General manager Dale Tallon said last week Luongo’s career had been “illustrious” and the franchise was giving its most beloved player all the time he needed to make his decision.
“The impact that he has had on the developing core of our team, its culture and our community are undeniable,” Tallon said. “He has always approached everything with a determination and level of class that was second to none. He leaves not only a legacy in South Florida, but a legacy in the game itself.”
Luongo was the fourth overall pick in the 1997 draft by the New York Islanders, with whom he made his NHL debut on Nov. 28, 1999. Luongo then spent five years with Florida, the next eight with Vancouver and returned to the Panthers on March 14, 2014. His last game was April 6, two days after his 40th birthday.
“I’m in awe of the legacy that he left on this franchise and on the sport,” Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said.
One of the lasting memories of Luongo’s time in Florida won’t be anything that happened in a game. Luongo lives in Parkland, Florida, the town that is still grieving the 17 people who were shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018. The Panthers’ next home game was eight days later, and Luongo spoke for three minutes in a pregame on-ice ceremony that paid tribute to the victims.
He’s moving now, to a new home – but still in Parkland. He is never leaving there.
“I’m building a home in Parkland and it’s going to be my family’s permanent home for the rest of our time on this earth,” Luongo said.
Hip problems took a toll on Luongo over the past couple years, requiring him to be at the rink hours before every practice and every game just to get the joint loose enough and strong enough to be on the ice.
He went into this offseason with an open mind about coming back. But when it was time in May to resume offseason workouts, the fire wasn’t there. And when he realized that he was dreading getting back onto the ice next month, the decision seemed academic.
“For the first time in my career, I wasn’t excited about it,” Luongo said. “That was the sign for me. It’s not that I don’t love playing hockey anymore, but I had to listen to my body. I’m at the point where my body was telling me it just needed a rest. It didn’t really want to get going.”
Luongo was under contract for three more seasons. He is giving up about $10 million in future salary.
He is also giving up a chance to play for a Panthers team that has designs on becoming a major contender.
Florida hired Joel Quenneville as coach earlier this offseason, and is believed to be a front-runner to sign top free agent goalie Sergei Bobrovsky along with Artemi Panerin – both of whom were in Florida earlier this week to meet with the Panthers in advance of the signing period that starts Monday. Bobrovsky was a top priority for Florida even before Luongo let the team know that he was retiring.
“We play the game to win the Stanley Cup, to give ourselves a chance,” Luongo said. “It’s hard because I think that this team is right there, close to taking the next step. I wanted nothing more than to be a part of that. With Coach Q coming in, it’s an exciting time for the Florida Panthers.”
He will undoubtedly have a role with the Panthers going forward.
“For now though, I’m just another retiree in South Florida,” Luongo said. “I’ll be going to get my senior citizen’s card here pretty soon.”
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