Something Is Not Right With Me



I’m sure this article will probably harm my reputation around here.

Watching the Vancouver Canucks get eliminated in 5 games at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings was a joy for most Flames fans. Personally, though, watching the game just made me feel increasingly sorry for Roberto Luongo and Alain Vigneault.

The Sieve

Luongo has never gotten the credit he’s deserved in Vancouver. Some of this is a function of his demeanour- he’s a stoic guy, and that tends to be seen by man as the same as not caring. Some of it’s a function of the captaincy experiment the Canucks tried a couple years ago- a position overvalued by fans and media alike, Luongo was determined not to be worthy of the captain’s “C” because of his attitude. Some of it’s the media’s fault- he plays in a market with more then 3 million people, and he has countless mainstream media guys looking for narratives to construct. Point being, all of these things create a circular problem for Luongo- he can’t “lead” because he doesn’t have the right attitude, he doesn’t have the attitude that’s able to create a positive perception in the media, and therefore media thinks he can’t lead. What all of this conveniently ignores is that Luongo is one of the best people in the world when it comes to one thing- stopping pucks.

Certainly, we can look at Luongo’s contract and determine that it’s awful; no one thinks he’ll play until the age of 43. However, there’s a huge problem with evaluating players based on their contracts, and that stems from the actions before the player’s ever played a game under said contract. Teams and players are mutually at fault for a “bad” contract, and should be mutually praised for a “good” contract. That’s not the way it works, though- compare Luongo’s contract to that of Alex Tanguay’s last year. Whenever the $1.7 million price tag was brought up, the narrative was “look at the bargain Darryl Sutter found!”, not “Tanguay’s a moron for signing such a cheap contract!” It’s the same principle in reverse- “Luongo’s overpaid! He’s a bum!” rather than “Gillis is a moron for signing that deal!”

But as I said a hundred words or so, all of this negative perception surrounding Luongo is patently unfair when it comes to the numbers. Let us take a quick look at two goaltenders over the past 5 years:

Goalie A

2012 – .928

2011 – .916

2010 – .928

2009 – .907

2008 – .919

Goalie B

2012 – .929

2011 – .934

2010 – .925

2009 – .936

2008 – .929

One of those sets of EVSV% is Luongo’s, the other belongs to a goalie who “wins big games” and is “clutch” and “gives his team a chance to win every night”. No one in the media, or even the general fan population, would ever use those descriptors when talking about Luongo. It’s aggravating for me to watch; Luongo’s one of the best puck stoppers in the league, and certainly the best Canada has right now. People would be wise to figure this out.

The Overmatched Coach

When you talk about the reasons the Flames failed this year, one of the many was that Brent Sutter refused to work with what he had personnel-wise. He didn’t recognize the strengths and weaknesses of his players, and it cost his team dearly.

Alain Vigneault is basically the complete opposite of Brent Sutter.

There’s been a lot more attention paid to player deployment and line matching over the past 5 or so years then ever before thanks to Behind the Net’s tracking of Zone Starts, Zone Finishes and Quality of Competition. Looking at these metrics, we can see something that separates guys like Vigneault from guys like Sutter. The two numbers that stand out- to me, at least- are the Zone Starts of Daniel Sedin and Manny Malhotra. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the Sedins, while offensively gifted, are not exactly your primary defensive options (and vice versa for Malhotra). Vigneault recognized this and deploys his players accordingly: Daniel starts in the offensive zone 79.6% of the time, while Manny starts in the defensive zone 86.8% of the time. Sutter started Jarome Iginla (the biggest defensive liability the Flames have) in the offensive zone 49.7% of the time.

Given the fact that Vigneault‘s won the President’s Trophy two years in a row now, you’d think people would be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his coaching ability, but you’d be wrong. Many a Canuck fan wants his head on a platter for the failures of the past two seasons. What these people conveniently forget is that in the two series that the Canucks have lost, both of the goaltending buzzsaws they ran into had EVSV% of >.940. It’s not that he got outcoached or his system was flawed, no, it’s just that in the playoffs you sometimes run into a hot goalie.

See 2004 for a further example.

  • wawful

    Even though I’m a bit afraid it would lead to more diving and embellishing, I wouldn’t be against Alain Vigneault coming to Calgary if the ‘Nucks show him the door. He’d probably be a better hand-me-down than Keenan was!

    As for Luongo. The way he’s treated by Vancouver fans is just one more reason why I’m glad the cup isn’t going to land there anytime soon.

  • loudogYYC

    I can’t disagree with any of the points you’re making here. Specially the unfortunate fact that Ro8erto 7uongo is Canada’s best goalie at the moment. I have faith that Carey Price will take over moving into Sochi 2014 though.

    I’d be happy with AV coming to the Flames, simply because he’s the exact opposite of Brent Sutter. He works smarter not harder.
    If this doesn’t work out though, does anyone know where to find more info about other coaches to see who else employs the AV system?

    • loudogYYC

      Yeah, I expect Price to take up the mantle in 2014. I agree with JA that Luongo is the best proven Canadian goaltender right now. They are still guys like Brian Elliot, Mike Smith, Cam Ward,etc.

  • loudogYYC

    Justin, I agree with everything you said. I live in Vancouver (I’m a Flames fan), and listening to Sports Talk Radio and Vancouver Sun letters is just outrageous. The other night some guy was on there saying “How much longer do we have to put up with this mediocrity!”. Maybe it’s the ocean air or something, but some fans (and media) have a really tough time putting it in perspective.

  • Gange

    Luongo is a very good goaltender. However he does suffer from giving up goals at bad times. I would have to say that he’s “not as much” a pressure goalie as some others. Tim Thomas might be an example (as odd as his style is).

    The real point is the team in front of him…

    They are a very good team but I think the level they play at in the regular season is what they bring into the playoffs.

    You can’t hang this series on Luongo, Schneider, or Vigneault. If you’re honest you can say that LA just flat out beat them and I don’t think it was getting any easier for there. I honestly didn’t see them beating Nashville or St.Louis.

    The reality is that whoever they trade, they should get a pretty good deal out of the situation. Personally I’d trade Schneider, the return on him would be outstanding.

  • Gange

    It’s not right to blame this canucks loss on one person. They just got outplayed. LA was the better team for 5 games therefor they won and deserved to win. Canucks could use a player like Dustin Brown. Man he was good. Kopitar was dominate aswell.

    The last game they got outplayed by LA in critical areas. Daniel sedin had several good scoring chances and missed. He had a breakaway and shoots LOW on Quick? he’s one of the best goalies at covering the bottom of the net. The canuck forwards hardly ever shot top cheddar. that is either poor video analysis or poor delivery by the canuck forwards.

    I’m just glad they lost.

  • Luongo IS a good goalie, but I really don’t believe his attitude is anything but poor. I mean, there was one game where he was about to shutout the Flames last season and Jackman scored with like 45 seconds left.

    Luongo slammed his stick on the ground, immediately skated off after the 4-1 or 5-1 win, and then was crying in the interview about it. Like, come on dude, you won the game, who gives a sh*t about your shutout?

    During last year’s playoffs, his whole complaining about Tim Thomas not pumping his tires was lame. The opposing team is not there to say how brilliant of a goalie you are or boost your ego – they are there to deflate your ego and score goals on you.

    Someone mentioned picking up AV as a coach… that’d be a pretty good idea. My vote is also for Todd McLellan if he gets fired by the Sharks (which I think he will). He’s got the Red Wings coaching background, and has done pretty well with the Sharks. My thought is that the Sharks team just isn’t as good as people once proclaimed them to be.

  • Interesting side note:

    canucks traded hodgsen to put in Kassian for grit and strength in the playoffs… they don’t play Kassian in the final game (i don’t know if he played in the other games) + they have HUGE goal scoring woes… I believe hodgsen would have given them an extra line a scoring depth. Oh well, too bad.

  • Good article Justin. While I won’t go so far as to say I feel ‘sorry’ for them, I do think they are being judged unfairly. Luongo has been a trouble spot in the past but this year vs the Kings was not at all his fault. I agree with your thoughts on Vignault as well. He’s a good coach. The thing with Vancouver is that anything less than a Cup right now is a failure so they’re looking for someone to blame. Scoring was the problem in the Kings series.

  • BobB

    Nobody gives Luongo any grief over his performance during the regular season.

    his .930evsv% over 8 years is arguably the best in the league.

    Since you cherry picked Miikka Kiprusoff’s numbers to paint a bias picture, I’ll set the record straight.

    No one claims that Kipper is a better goalie than Luongo. Kipper’s .925evsv% isn’t the same level as Luongo. It’s about 1st vs 8th. However, Kipper also doesn’t play on the same elite team. Kipper’s 262 goals saved comparing his .925evsv% vs his career backups .903 blows away Luongo’s .929 vs his .920 career backups since the lockout = 93 goals saved.

    This doesn’t mean if the goalie’s switched teams Kipper would be better, and it doesn’t mean that VAN/FLA didn’t have better backups than Calgary, but it does mean there hasn’t been the dropoff between starters on Vancouver as there has been on Calgary. Whether that is team, or goalie or both is open to debate. It may explain the “perception” difference. Kipper looks so much better to his #2 than Luongo?

    The problem with Luongo is his inconsistency in the playoffs. He can be spectacular or he can be brutal getting lit up for the odd 8 spot.

    Why? Who knows.

    But the stat line in the playoffs doesn’t help Luo:

    Luo in 2 playoff games – 0W, 2L, 3.59GAA, .891sv%, 2-4, 2-4 at home.
    Cory in 3 playoff games – 1W, 2L, 1.31GAA, .960sv%, 0-1, 3-1, 1-2ot.

    It’s a small sample size for sure… but that’s always been Luongo’s problem, inconsistency in small samples (which the playoffs always is)

    • Having a superb backup goalie (or really in Canucks case, 2 starters) may diminish the value of Luongo, but it doesn’t make him less capable. The guy has been one of the best in the league since his days in Florida. He’s had good to great SV%s for the last 10 years, has backstopped his team to 2 straight president’s trophies and a goal medal. He’s perceived as inconsistent because he’s had a few rough games in the playoffs. No one remembers he had a .941 SV% in ’06 because it doesn’t fit the narrative that he “isn’t clutch”. Name one player who “always shows up” or is a “clutch performer” and I’ll show you some instances they weren’t (Martin Brodeur had a SV%

      • BobB

        Sure, I understand Matty.

        However, Luongo may have a great backup now, but he’s had some terrible ones as well. McLennan, Saborin, Sanford, Labarbara, Raycroft etc.

        Anyway. He is also one of the few… VERY few elite goalies who has a worse sv% in the playoffs than in the regular season.

        Reg: .919sv%… Playoffs: .916 (with an .908 cumulative of the past four playoffs)

        Kipper for example is Reg: .914… Playoffs .921.

        Brodeur, Reg: .913, Playoffs .919.

        Some people are critical of Luo and many more love him. There are people in Calgary who think Kipper is “average” as well.

        Go anywhere and there are loads of people who don’t know jack about goaltending. Don’t feel so bad for Luo… it goes with the territory.

        “What have you done for me lately?”

        • RKD

          this wasn’t an article about kipper. that’s why I didn’t name him. not sure why you’re bringing that into it. this isn’t about the stats, it’s about the perception.

  • Great points Justin, you really nailed everything with a well thought out argument. I really liked the part where you talked about how we percieve and speak of contracts.

    Why did the canucks lose? They are not built to win a series. They are not physical enough and lack toughness. All game long you could see them running away from the hits. Its a classic case of hitting them and they go away.

    The fans and media just want to pile on RL and AV and I hope AV goes to montreal and I hope they trade RL to Tampa. At the end of the day they should be calling out the GM for building such a soft team.

  • “Many a Canuck fan wants his head on a platter for the failures of the past two seasons.”

    I endorse them getting their pound of flesh… I also heartily endorse Feaster picking up the phone and hiring him on the spot the moment that happens. Alain Vigneault by all rights should win the Adams trophy (y’know… if those awards were determined on merit rather then the whims of generally clueless MSM sports writers).

  • Vigneault is a pretty good coach. He needs to tell his players to stop diving though.

    Canucks need some help on the blueline. They had a lot of problems with Dustin Brown.

    I suppose they should trade Luongo. Who knows how long Schneider wants to hang around though, even if he’s the #1.

    Not much to do there. Just keep at it and hope for the very best.

  • Copperblueandwhite

    6 goals on 28 shots in Games 6&7 of the Cup final…I’ll take Carey Price with a couple of defensemen…but I live in Vancouver….whoever traded Hodgson for a bag of nails should lose his head!! ‘member AV didnt like Hodgson….these bums deserve what they got!! (Go Sens Go)

  • SmellOfVictory

    I don’t know. Watching Luongo in the Olympics he was just okay. I was never confident with him. Watching him in the playoffs it was similar.

    I am not sure how to quantify clutch. But he just doesn’t seem to have that.

    That said, he is a decent goalie even at his price. Especially when compared to Huet, Fleury (this season), and Bryzgalov. He isn’t the root of all evil in Vancouver.

    Though being signed into his 40’s is a bit scary.

  • BobB

    I think Luongo has a little bit of “Steve Blass disease”

    … he thinks too much, and becomes worse.

    @ Justin (wow, quick reply… I was writing about Steve Blass when your comment appeared)

    I addressed the perception of Luongo in two instances: 1. The distinction between Luongo and his backups. 2. His poorer playoff sv% than in the regular season.

    I also gave reasons why Kipper might be perceived in a better light

  • febreze

    If you put Canada’s best in front of Cam Ward you would get results. Along with the possible development/improvement of Mike Smith, Brian Elliott and Josh Harding over the next year and a half I can’t see room for Luongo at the Olympics. If Price has a good year he should be there but Ward should be the veteran to fall back on.

    • BobB

      Cam Ward is a career .918evsv% goalie (8716/9491), right there beside Marc-Andre Fleury .918 (8535/9301).

      They’re both good goalies, but they aren’t elite. They are both over-rated.

      If there is going to be a “Brodeur” position this coming Olympics it should go to Luongo hands down. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Luo should start. God, Canada has brutal goaltending.

      Re: the ‘nucks.

      If Gillis were smart (although separating idiocy from Canucks is tough) he would trade Luongo, qualify Schneider and sign Vokoun (who seems to want to sign for cheap with a contender.)

      You’d get Luongo #’s as the back-up to Cory in Vokoun (10546/11341=.930evsv%) and likely the two goalies for the price of one Luongo…plus whatever players Luo brings you in return. Cory is 25 vs Luo’s 33. The nucks would be set.

      Actually…. let’s hope they trade Cory and keep Lou.

  • Gange

    The Olympic gold is the worst argument for Luongo’s skill. He played well enough to win but he definitely wasn’t stealing games. However he didn’t need to. He had the best in the world in front of him.

    I’m tired of MSM pointing to the gold medal as proof of Luongo’s ability. It really says nothing about it.

  • BobB

    I like your take.

    This is one of the best articles written on here in a ve4ry long time!!

    I pretty much agree with every word. The only thing i didn’t quite agree with you on is the use of Iginla. The Flames don’t have a good defense zone line like the Canucks. So comparing zone starts with Vancouver is not really fair. Sedins are the perfect o-zone line, and the 3rd and 4th line are the perfect d-zone lines. The same cannot be said for the flamers. They are neutral all the way through their lines and maybe that’s why there was too much difference.

    Just my thoughts though.

    Thanks for a good read.