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Crashing the Roberto Luongo sympathy party

Greg Wyshynski
Puck Daddy

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“My contract sucks.”

Yeah, no kidding Roberto Luongo. It sucks for the Vancouver Canucks, who can’t move it for fiscal and proprietary reasons. It sucked for the NHL, which banned the practice of cap circumvention thanks to this sort of creative accounting. And it sucks for Cory Schneider, the only man to ever be crowned king and then have to share the throne with his predecessor.

Suppose it sucks for Luongo too, although we’ve never actually heard him classify his decision to sign a 12-year, $64-million contract as a mistake. He came close on Wednesday during his televised NHL trade deadline press conference, after a trade to the Toronto Maple Leafs wasn't completed.

“I’d scrap it if I could right now,” said Luongo of his contract, which is something one might expect from a fierce competitor hearing the ticking of Father Time's clock (it's his 34th birthday today) and having amassed over $53 million in salary since 2005.

That said, he’d give up $40 million over the next nine years for the chance to be a starter again; which is admirable, until one remembers that it’s to be a starter in the city of his choosing.

Luongo was praised for his candor yesterday, as he’s been praised in the past for his positive demeanor and his mastery of social media. He was lauded for his honesty, his emotions and for the willingness to give up financial reward for the love of the game.

Many see Luongo as a victim, when he’s actually just a victim of his own success. He wants a future, but one of his choosing.

Luongo’s always been a combination of selfless and selfish.

In Sept. 2009, when he signed his 12-year megadeal, Luongo said he accepted a front-loaded contract to give the Canucks cap flexibility in order to challenge for the Stanley Cup.

But he also asked for, and received, a no-trade clause.

"For me it was more about my love for the game," said Luongo, then the captain of the Canucks. "I just want to play as long as I can. I don't see what's wrong with that."

There is nothing wrong with that, just as there’s nothing wrong with wielding the power of a no-trade clause given to a player by his team. Criticizing a player for doing so is usually pointless; why should a Mats Sundin or a Dany Heatley accept a trade to a place they don’t want to go just so their teams can receive maximum compensation for it?

But where I think criticism of the NTC is valid is in the case of someone like Luongo: a player lamenting his lot in life despite being the main reason why he’s in this pickle.

In April 2012, Luongo told the Canucks he wanted out, and was expected to give Gillis a list of teams for which he’d be willing to waive his no-trade clause. The rumors were that the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning were on that list; the Florida Panthers were no doubt as well.

Luongo was asked on Wednesday what would have happened if Gillis had approached him with a trade to the Panthers last summer.

“That’s a good question, and it’s a tough one to answer,” he said. “I was never approached with a trade somewhere else and said, ‘no.’ If that would have happened, I would have said ‘yes’ obviously. Right now, you know, there were obviously some teams that were interested but nothing ever really materialized to where I had to make a decision if I was going to waive or not.”

Hey, there's always next summer.

As for Luongo giving up his contract, Iain MacIntyre writes:

If Luongo is serious about escaping his contract, he can withhold services, which would allow the Canucks to terminate the deal. But the team would first have to place him on waivers, meaning Luongo would have no input on where he plays and could be claimed for a fee of $125.

And that's giving up both his money and his freedom of choice, which is something he obviously won't do.

I like Luongo. I imagine he’s gained more fans in the last year than he did during any stretch of his playing career. He’s open and honest, and a damn funny individual (even if some of his social media material is reportedly ghostwritten). He’s handled himself with class, and has been beyond supportive to Schneider in public. The frustration he showed yesterday was palpable, and it was easy to feel sympathy for him.

(ED NOTE: No idea how this became the main takeaway from the piece, but @strombone1 reached out to say that "the ghost writing thing is absolutely 100% false." I heard it from multiple places. Bad intel, apparently. Apologies to casting doubt on its authenticity.)

That is, until one remembers that he’s only got himself to blame for it: For forcing Gillis into trading him to either a team that doesn’t need his services (the Panthers) or one whose general manager appears to be slowly torturing Gillis to death through some personal vendetta (Dave Nonis, Toronto Maple Leafs, who could have closed a deal on Luongo yesterday).

“A lot of this is his fault,” writes MacIntyre of Luongo, “but there’s no sport in battering someone who’s down, and Luongo was never lower than on Wednesday.”

I just can’t accept the invitation to this pity party.

Yes, conditions in the goaltending market and within the CBA have contributed to his dilemma. But most of this is Luongo’s fault. It’s his name on that ridiculous contract, and it's his no-trade clause in his hand. It’s him lamenting his present, while seeking to control his future.

Happy birthday, Roberto Luongo. Have your cake and eat it too.

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