At 7:30 PM ET, six players will be immortalized in the National Hockey League Hall of Fame. Along with Daniel Alfredsson, Henrik, and Daniel Sedin, Riikka Sallinen, Herb Carnegie, former New York Islanders defenseman Roberto Luongo.
Drafted fourth overall by the New York Islanders back in 1997, Roberto Luongo made history by being the highest goaltender ever drafted in the history of the NHL. After starting the 1999-2000 season with the Lowell Lock Monsters, the New York Islanders AHL affiliate at the time, an injury to backup netminder Wade Flaherty saw Luongo called up to the NHL back on Nov. 22, 1999.
Six days later, Luongo made his NHL debut, turning aside 43 of 44 shots in a 2-1 win over the Boston Bruins. It wasn’t soon after that, that Roberto Luongo became the New York Islanders starter over Felix Potvin, who was traded that season to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for netminder Kevin Weekes.
In 24 starts, 20-year-old Roberto Luongo posted a 7-14-1 record, with a .904 SV% and a 3.25 GAA for then-head coach Butch Goring.
“Roberto was a very committed individual to being a great goalie. He worked hard at his craft and understood he always needed to improve his skills,” Goring told NYI Hockey Now. “It was no surprise that he had a terrific career. My congrats to him and his family.”
Until his final season in the NHL, 18 years later, that stat line would be the worst stat line of his career.
It wasn’t a perfect rookie campaign for Luongo, as he seemed to get on the wrong side of then-general manager Mike Milbury, as he was seen apartment shopping before a game in which he allowed seven goals to the Boston Bruins. Following the loss, Milbury called him out in the media for his lack of preparation, despite Luongo explaining the failure had nothing to do with him checking out one apartment.
Due to the lack of success of the New York Islanders that season, finishing 24-48-10, 26th in the NHL (28 teams), they had a high probability of winning the draft lottery, which they did.
Despite Luongo thinking that he was the goaltender of the future for New York, Milbury went and drafted Rick DiPietro with the first overall pick in the 2000 NHL Draft, which broke Luongo’s record of being the highest-drafted goaltender in league history. That same day, Milbury traded Roberto Luongo to the Florida Panthers in exchange for forwards Mark Parrish and Oleg Kvasha.
As it seems to happen with former New York Islanders draft picks that are dealt, Roberto Luongo went on to have a tremendous hockey career, a Hall of Fame career.
Luongo would become the face of the Panthers franchise. In five seasons in Sunrise, Florida, Luongo made two All-Star Game appearances and was a workhorse. In two of the five season, he played more than 70 games, and in the 2003-04 season, he came in third for the Vezina Trophy, as he recorded a .931 SV% and a 2.43 GAA, with seven shutouts.
Following the 2005-06 season, a 27-year-old Luongo was dealt to the Vancouver Canucks along with Lukas Krajicek for Todd Bertuzzi, Bryan Allen, and Alex Auld.
In seven and a half seasons with the Canucks, Luongo posted a .919 SV% with a 2.32 GAA and 38 shutouts. The Canucks made the playoffs in six of those seasons, coming ever-so-close to a Stanley Cup victory back in 2011 as they blew a 3-0 series lead to Zdeno Chara and the Boston Bruins.
Following the season, Luongo and his counterpart, current New York Islanders AHL starter Cory Schneider, took home the Jennings Trophy.
On Mar. 4, 2014, Luongo was traded back to the Florida Panthers, as he would remain there for the last five-and-a-half seasons of his Hall of Fame career.
The Panthers sent back a few players, including goaltender Jacob Markstrom, the current starter for the Calgary Flames.
In the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Luongo faced off against his former team, the New York Islanders, as Long Island won the series 4-2 thanks to a double overtime winner by John Tavares, who wrapped it around to beat Luongo blocker side.
Quote this tweet with where you were when @91Tavares scored the 2OT winner in Game 6 against Florida in 2016 pic.twitter.com/PJ63dNI3ok
— James Duffy (@TwoTurtleDuffs) June 29, 2018
In Game 3 of that series, Thomas Hickey scored on Luongo in overtime. Hickey. Now an analyst for MSG, Hickey had this to say about facing Roberto Luongo:
“I would say he was a rare goalie that got better with volume. He saw so many pucks early in his Florida days that he was almost better the more he was challenged. So it almost made teams feel like they should be selective in their shots… which never helps,” Hickey said. “I also feel he paved the way for a new age of ‘big goalies’ because he was tall, thick, and athletic. And now every goalie is.”
In 11 total seasons with Florida, Roberto Luongo owned a .919 SV%, with a 2.61 GAA in 572 games, the most games played by a Panthers netminder in franchise history. His 38 shutouts are also a franchise record, along with his 16,086 saves.
Luongo’s success was not limited to the NHL, as he succeeded on the international stage with Team Canada. He was named to Canada’s Olympic team on three occasions, winning gold back in 2010 (Vancouver) and 2014 (Sochi). He also played in two World Championships, representing Canada twice in the U-20 World Juniors.
In 2019, Luongo officially retired from the NHL.
He ended his NHL career with 1,044 games played, 489 wins, a 2.52 career GAA, a .919 career SV%, and 77 shutouts. His 489 wins rank third-most all-time.
For the New York Islanders, the trade of Roberto Luongo made sense given the potential of Rick DiPietro, but one that goes down as another tough pill that the fanbase had to swallow.