September 13, 2010
Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis was scheduled to have a chat with goalie Roberto Luongo(notes) today about his status as team captain, which prompted ESPN's Scott Burnside to opine "and you wonder why no Cup parades in Vancouver."
Yet this seemingly cosmetic change could become a moment that brings the Canucks closer to one.
Luongo gave up his captaincy today in that meeting, according to the Canucks, who sent out the following release:
Vancouver Canucks President & General Manager Mike Gillis announced today that goaltender Roberto Luongo has decided he will relinquish his role as team captain.
Luongo's leadership remains important to the club's continued success and he will continue to support teammates with his work ethic, discipline and desire to win.
"Roberto has been an excellent captain for our team the past two seasons," said Mike Gillis. "We respect and support his decision to relinquish the captaincy and are confident that he will continue to help lead our team through his tremendous character and work ethic both on and off of the ice."
"I am honoured to have served as captain of the Vancouver Canucks for the past two seasons," said Roberto Luongo. "Being captain in a Canadian city for a team with such passionate fans is a privilege and an experience I will always take pride in. I will continue to be a leader on this team and support my teammates the same way I always have while focusing on our ultimate goal."
Was this the right decision for Luongo and the team?
Luongo was named captain just under two years ago, with the expectation that the team's on-ice catalyst would serve sufficiently as its inspirational leader. Since then, the Canucks have suffered two humbling defeats in the playoffs and Luongo's captaincy has been debated from Coach's Corner to the blogosphere.
Not helping to quell the controversy: Luongo's own admission that it's been among his distractions when things go poorly for him.
From Jason Botchford of The Province, Gillis spoke about those pressure ahead of today's meeting:
"I think the expectations that go with that position or that title in a Canadian city can be a distraction," Gillis said. "I will discuss it with him (Monday) and I will find out whether he feels the same way and get his thoughts on the process.
"I know he desperately wants to win a Stanley Cup and he is going to do everything in his power to do that. If he feels it is a distraction or hinders his play in any way, I'm sure he will make a decision that is the best decision for the team first and for him second."
Would it have done the Canucks better to keep the 'C' on Luongo and have him endure through it?
The captaincy has its functional purposes, but in the end it's a grandly symbolic measure. So what's the symbolism if the team's most important player accepting the captaincy only to beg off the job because his load's too heavy; that when the going gets tough, the tough stop leading? Even if those aren't the specifics, those are the optics.
Of course, the other angle on this is that there's virtue in Luongo surrendering the 'C' and acknowledging a recommitment to carrying this team to the Cup, sans distractions -- that he needs to lose a letter to win a ring.
He is reasoned, mature and has been in Vancouver for 10 years. He knows the market, and is respected by both his teammates and the media. Plus, he's not a goalie.
Zing. Bottom line in all of this: Can you believe Roberto Luongo won a gold medal as a starting goaltender for Canada, on Canadian ice, but the captaincy of the Vancouver Canucks is too much to handle?