NHL + Media: Roberto Luongo, The NHL's A-Rod

Is there any question, anymore? All it takes is a couple of sub-stellar performances FIVE PERCENT into a new season for the boo-birds and the overzealous critics to come out and engulf the consistently embattled superstar netminder of the Vancouver Canucks. The similarities border on the ridiculous.

Both are superstars within their respective sports. Both are currently in the middle of long, high-profile contracts that seem to seep into every conversation an individual has about them. Both have been lampooned mercilessly by the media and fans alike for what the critics deem to be personal shortcomings. BOTH have had to deal with some sort of nonsense related to gambling. Both have portraits of themselves depicted as mythical creatures above their bed… Okay, that is probably still just A-Rod, but if I was Bobby Lou, I’d get on that as soon as possible.

And finally, most important and unfortunate of all, both have to answer to the increasingly ridiculous notion, and suffocating sports cliché, of not being clutch.

At least A-Rod finally won his ring to silence some of the idiots. In the case of Luongo, that’s an on-going narrative that received a renewed kick in the pants after this past postseason.

Listen, as a die-hard New York Rangers fan, I join in the chorus when I witness one of Luongo’s moments of “self-destruction.” It’s actually a visceral sight in a very Greek tragedy sense. From his demeanor to the viciousness of the crowd (both home and road alike), there’s little in hockey that can stand toe-to-toe with the narrative intrigue of Roberto Luongo losing a game or allowing a critical “soft” goal.

However, it is ridiculous that all of the Canucks’ failures rest squarely on the shoulders of this man. Yes, I understand that comes with the territory when you consider the notoriety of both the position he plays and the city in which he makes a living. Vancouver is up there with Montreal and Philly for not being the most understanding and forgiving of fanbases (and also being insufferable, but that’s another flame-war bait for another day). However, to repeatedly lambast one individual for what are clearly the shortcomings of the entire team, if you can even call it that, does have a clear sense of insanity.

The idea of only helping your team win 15 games in the playoffs, instead of 16, being enough to be labeled a critical choke artist is insane. I understand that a lot of other factors go into this nonsense, ranging from Luongo’s previous playoff performances, the blood-thirst of both the local and national media, the more crazed blood-thirst of the fanbase, and the fact that Bobby Lou didn’t do himself any favors by playing a significant role in almost letting the Blackhawks complete a momentous comeback. But, come on people, we’re not even TEN games into the new season! Cut the guy some slack before you jump on his back with your claws out.

So what if he got outplayed by Henrik Lundqvist this past week? So what if he got outplayed by Tim Thomas in last year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs? Those are arguably two of the best goalies in the world right now, not to mention that one of them has won two of the last three Vezinas (also not to mention a Conn Smythe and a Stanley Cup, but you don’t need me to remind you of that, right Canucks fans?).

I will never fault a fan for being too obsessed about his or her team. I am just like that. You have every right as a long-suffering Canucks fan to be extremely critical of how your team performs, especially considering the talent in the lineup and the expectations that go with that. But be fair and reasonable in how you level your criticisms. Luongo isn’t a choke artist, he has bad performances, sometimes at the worst times. He’s one of a very few goalies in this league, and in the world, who can legitimately be considered elite. So don’t cloud your own thinking that he needs to go, just because a back-up who has played a grand total of what, 40 games, in his entire career is putting up great numbers when he plays… against, as is the custom of BACKUP goalies, the weaker teams in the league.

What I’m trying to say is, don’t be stupid, stupid.

Like, for example, the editorial staff of The Province, one of Vancouver’s two major newspapers, who thought that it would be a smart idea to include an opinion and possible trade proposal in the middle of an editorial piece.

You’ve probably heard about this nonsense by now. But, the paper legitimately suggested that the Canucks should try to flip Luongo for Vincent Lecavalier, and made it clear that they thought this was a legitimate trade that would make sense and work out for both parties.

Vincent Lecavalier for Roberto Luongo.

When Canucks GM Mike Gillis called in a local sports radio show to air his displeasure at the absolute idiocy of putting that trade proposal in the middle of an editorial piece (he didn’t mention how stupid the trade itself actually was, but I figure most people don’t need to be told that, after all… Lecavalier for Luongo…), the paper’s Editor-in-Chief called the station to air out an apparent beef he has with Mr. Gillis because Gillis didn’t shake the EiC’s hand when they met one time.

But don’t worry, if you think the decision to run the proposal was about the apparent animosity between the two, it wasn’t. Apparently The Province and the Canucks have a GREAT working relationship. In fact, the decision to run the trade proposal was was more of a reference to all those people who are booing one of the players the GM has invested a lot of money in. And not to be outdone by himself in what amounts to a hilarious wrestling storyline, the EiC went on to compare Gillis to Brian Burke.

Seriously, get a room you two. Or some gloves and a ring. I already have a zebra-shirt, we can settle this pay-per-view style. Who wouldn’t pay some money to watch two white Canadians, an executive and an editor, box some issues out?

But before I get fully lost in the New York Post-like shenanigans of the Vancouver media, it all goes back to the increasingly unfair and unreasonable position many fans and media personalities alike have about Roberto Luongo. Yes, he’s played on some great times, so his numbers are going to look better than others. But, if you bother to take the time and go through his entire career, he’s played on some really terrible teams as well, and you know what, his numbers have been good then, too.

Luongo’s a great goalie. Plain and simple. It’s unfortunate that since he hasn’t pulled in the required 16 wins in one playoff tournament yet, he’s being labeled as a serial choker. If we just consider the last two Stanley Cup Playoffs, his team was ousted by the eventual Stanley Cup Champions. So yes, while it definitely is hilarious to make jokes about “Chelsea Dagger” and what the Bruins did to him this past June, it does not effectively characterize him as someone who can’t come through in a tight spot.

Hindsight, especially in sports, is rarely ever 20/20. We see what we want to see and we remember what we want to remember. Our perspective always gets lost and influenced by our preconceived biases. If we believe Luongo to be a choker, we will only remember the awful performances and the miscues and gaffes. On the other hand, if we believe him to be the greatest goaltender of all time (who just gets hated on by everyone), we’re only going to remember those games where he stood on his head. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in between, but admittedly, slightly closer to the latter.


Follow the incoherent, but often beautiful, ramblings of Sahil Patel on Twitter: @sahilness

Tags: Alex Rodriguez Boston Bruins Chicago Blackhawks Henrik Lundqvist Mike Gillis Roberto Luongo Tim Thomas Vancouver Canucks

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