It is difficult to sympathise with the goaltender’s situation on the back of an NHL lockout that treated fans like faceless consumers
Roberto Luongo cut a haunted figure when discussing his contract in the Canucks press room yesterday.
“My contract sucks,” he said. “I’d rip it up if I could.”
There was no doubting Luongo’s sincerity as he sipped on a bottle of water and talked about the emotionally-straining sequence of events that have led to his staying put in Vancouver. Being called from the practice rink with 10 minutes remaining in the trade deadline and not knowing what to expect would be a nerve-wracking experience for any player, irrelevant of their contract situation.
But given what NHL fans have been put through in the past few months, Luongo’s predicament is badly timed when it comes to evoking much sympathy.
The 12-year, $64 million contract that he signed in 2010 was, in the words of Vancouver GM Mike Gillis, “very favourable for the team and very favourable for Roberto at the time.” Quite. It would hardly be a stretch for an NHL fan sitting at home last November waiting for Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr to stop bickering to see how a $64 million contract is favourable to the athlete.
Realism, some might say. Who among us, given the opportunity, would decline to put pen to paper at the bottom of such a contract? Not many. But the “my contract sucks” line might still leave a bad taste in the mouth of a Vancouver father paying over $200 to take his son to the game.
If Luongo is looking for something to blame for his predicament, the cynical circumventing of the CBA’s rules on salary cap by GM’s might be a place to start. They have, of course, only been called for it once, when the New Jersey Devils’ attempt to sign Ilya Kovalchuk to a 17-year, $102 deal in 2010 was thrown out by the NHL. Even then, it was reduced to 15 years and $100 million – hardly a huge difference.
“It’s a fluid industry and things do change,” said Gillis. But he is a smart man and would have known this situation was possible. As a result, Luongo has found himself stranded with an untradeable contract, joining players like Scott Gomez, Mike Komisarek, Tim Connolly and Rick DiPietro on the list of players whose eyes lit up when signing pieces of paper in an NHL boardroom. Of those, only Gomez is currently employed in the NHL.
In any case, it is a professional predicament those players find themselves in, not a financial one. The lockout that ended four months ago dragged on for so long because both parties knew that however long it took, however badly they treated the fans, they would still come streaming back cash in hand to the teams they follow so passionately.
Luongo has found himself in an unenviable situation, deemed expendable by a club who cannot move him to another. But the rank and file might think twice about where they were before the lockout ended before losing too much sleep.