In fact, I’d like him to win the Vezina Trophy on Wednesday night.
You may argue Tim Thomas‘ stats are much better and that the Bruins’ netminder even set an NHL record for save percentage. That’s true, and the 37-year-old from Flint, Mich., is far and away the more-deserving candidate to take home the award.
But come on! Don’t you want to see a little entertainment?
Thomas has already earned the only honor that matters in hockey, that being the Stanley Cup. He even got the Conn Smythe Trophy to boot. He’s probably happier right now than he’s ever been in his career. If he gets his second Vezina in three years? Cool. If not? No sweat off his back. He doesn’t need another award to have fully inflated tires — the Cup and the Conn Smythe pump them up just fine.
That’s where Luongo comes in. The Canucks’ goalie went ahead and did what no professional athlete should do — not unless he wants to find himself at the center of a media firestorm. He criticized an opponent. Worse yet, he criticized an opponent who is better than him. Even worse still, he criticized an opponent who had not said one peep about the opposition and rarely, if ever, does so.
Now, there have been some folks that have argued that Luongo’s comments were blown out of proportion, that he was simply stating facts. But when he said, “It’s not hard if you’re playing in the paint, so it’s an easy save for me,” he was upset. He was upset that Thomas was earning all sorts of praise from all over the world, while he seemed only able to receive blame when the Canucks lose games.
As the more fundamental goalie, he felt like he wasn’t getting his proper due, so when he went out and said, “If you’re wandering out and aggressive like he does, that’s gonna happen,” he was trying to change people’s opinions.
He succeeded in that endeavor, just not in the way he would have liked. There was immediate backlash. “Luongo calls out Thomas” was the headline. Luongo tried to quiet the masses.
“I’ve been pumping his tires ever since the series started,” he said. “I haven’t heard any one nice thing he’s had to say about me, so that’s the way it is.”
Poor guy. Just wants a little love from Tim Thomas. Critiquing his style and saying “it’s an easy save for me,” though, probably wasn’t the way to get any.
Instead, Luongo opened himself up to a relentless avalanche of ridicule. He and his Canucks headed to Boston for Game 6. Lord Stanley’s Cup was in the building. Luongo and his mates were just 60 minutes away from having their names etched on the Cup forever. All they needed was a few timely goals and a satisfactory performance from their goaltender. They got neither.
Luongo might as well have stayed back in Vancouver, as he was a complete no-show for the biggest game of his NHL life. Luongo stopped the first shot he faced — a 72-foot shot from noted sniper Tomas Kaberle — so he was obviously on his game from the get-go. Then, things turned sour. Brad Marchand, goal, high glove side. Milan Lucic, goal, five-hole. Andrew Ference, goal, wide-open net. In a matter of 3:04, the Canucks changed their mind-sets from “we can win it all tonight” to “Game 7 is Wednesday,” and it was all thanks to No. 1 (who was, you’ll notice, playing in the paint).
He was given the skate of shame by his coach, Alain Vigneault, and he stopped to give backup Cory Schneider some advice as the two passed each other (I’d love to know what was shared there. Perhaps Luongo said, “Hey, don’t worry about it buddy, we still got that William M. Jennings Trophy coming soon! That’ll be awesome!”).
In Game 7, it wasn’t any better. He never saw Patrice Bergeron‘s first-period goal. He looked lost. He allowed Marchand to score on a wraparound that looked awfully similar to the type of save he said was easy for him. He then basically wasn’t paying attention as Bergeron came in on a shorthanded breakaway, was hooked to the ice and somehow got the puck into the back of the net using nothing but momentum and Jedi mind tricks. That was all she wrote.
Luongo’s always been questioned for his ability to thrive in big moments, and those questions will continue to linger (except for when he has the likes of Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Rick Nash, Jarome Iginla, Ryan Getzlaf, Eric Staal, Joe Thornton, etc., on his front line). Oh sure, people will note that the Canucks didn’t score many goals to help their goaltender, but when he keeps digging you into holes, it’s hard for the rest of the players to believe they have a shot at climbing out.
Which all brings us to now, Wednesday, June 22, 2011. The stars of the league are in Las Vegas to receive the NHL’s postseason awards, given only to the best of the best. Thomas should win the Vezina, but imagine this scenario, and tell me it isn’t more fun to watch:
“And the winner is … [camera cuts to Pekka Rinne, Tim Thomas and Roberto Luongo standing together] … Roberto Luongo!” [Luongo looks stunned. He turns to Thomas, shakes his hand and looks to be saying something nice. He doesn't recognize Rinne and assumes he's there to hand him the trophy or something. Things get awkward. Luongo walks to the stage.] … ‘”Wow,” Luongo says. “I … umm … well …”
At this point, Luongo starts thinking back to the Stanley Cup Final. He starts remembering the goals he let in (20 of them, but who’s counting?). He sees flashes of Thomas’ Bruins skating around the Vancouver ice with their Stanley Cup. He starts thinking back to the “play in the paint” comments and the “pumping his tires” follow-up. You can see it all in his eyes, as he struggles to find words to get past his lips as he accepts the award for being the best goaltender in the NHL.
“Thank you for this award. It means a lot to me … thank you.” [Exit stage left. Cameras cut to Tim Thomas, who's smiling and doesn't care. Hey, maybe he's even laughing. Why not?]
Perhaps you’d have to admit that you have a bit of a twisted sense of humor to find entertainment in this scenario, but you can’t deny this would be must-see TV.