Should he remain healthy and if his heart's still in it, Roberto Luongo(notes) will be 43 years old, in his 23rd season in the National Hockey League and making $1 million when the 12-year contract he finalized with the Vancouver Canucks today runs its course.
Never mind that Ed Belfour played until 41 with the Florida Panthers, or that Curtis Joseph did the same with the Toronto Maple Leafs; Luongo's contract runs until he's 43; clearly, it's a sinister cabal between a goalie and his team to stick it to the man instead of a reasonable commitment to a franchise player.
Sure, it's a way to temper a cap hit, and Luongo will be relaxing on a beach somewhere when he's 43. But as someone who doesn't find these contracts inherently evil, congratulations are in order to Luongo and the Canucks for getting this loophole contract through before the NHL pummels a fractured and reeling NHLPA into submission on the issue in the next CBA negotiation.
(UPDATE: Pierre LeBrun of ESPN writes: "We must tell you the NHL is not impressed by this contract and we're led to believe the league will take a long, hard look at the deal before giving it its full blessing." Again, what leg does the NHL have to stand on when other good goalies have played into their early 40s and earned less than what Luongo's set to make? In Cujo's case, he pulled down $700,000 in his last season.)
Matthew Sekeres of the Globe & Mail has the breakdown of the frontloaded deal:
The new deal, which will kick in come the 2010-11 season, boosts Luongo's compensation in its first year, while costing less against the NHL's $56.8-million salary cap. It resembles the decade-long contracts signed by Detroit Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg(notes) and Johan Franzen(notes).
Luongo, 30, will count as a $5.33-million annual salary cap hit. The front-loaded deal is worth $10-million in its first season before dipping to $6.7-million in every season through 2017-18. In the final two years, 2020-21 and 2021-22, Luongo will earn only $1-million per season, meaning he is likely to retire before then.
Probably. But in the preceding 10 years, the Canucks and their fans are going to have an all-world goalie between the pipes and the cap flexibility to ice a competitive team around him. Why is that bad for hockey again?
He's entering the prime, award-winning portion of his career (Brodeur's first Vezina came at 31; Hasek's at 29). He can make a reasonable claim, at this moment, for being the best goaltender on the planet, which isn't an accolade a New Jersey Devils fan like yours truly takes lightly in bestowing. And, at some point, those playoff tears from Luongo are going to turn into dividends for the Canucks.
Risks? Sure. Any long-term deal carries one, and goalies can be fragile beasts. But Luongo had been durable before last season, there's been little indication that he won't be able to achieve a Brodeur-ian level of longevity.
Locking up Luongo for a dozen years isn't giving Cristobal Huet(notes) four years or Rick DiPietro(notes) a "lifetime"; it's cementing a proven cornerstone of the franchise's foundation, along with Daniel and Henrik Sedin(notes). Stability can sometimes slip into staleness for a team; but, more often than not, it's a mandatory element for greatness.
In any case, the Trade Luongo movement died a swift and ignominious death today.