CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. — Roberto Luongo is excited about the future of the Florida Panthers, and hopeful all their potential can be realized while he’s still playing.
The 39-year-old goaltender is preparing for his 19th NHL season focused on winning, not milestones or career honors.
Luongo, with 471 NHL victories, is 13 behind Ed Belfour for third place on the all-time wins list. He’s also 1,602 saves behind Martin Brodeur for the most in NHL history (Luongo made 1,062 in 35 games last season) and he will be honored by the Panthers on Oct. 13 for becoming the third goaltender (Brodeur, Patrick Roy) to play 1,000 games, which he accomplished on April 5.
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“The only career number I look at is [Stanley] Cups, right?” Luongo told NHL.com at the Panthers practice facility this week. “That’s the only one I really want.”
Luongo, who has never won a Stanley Cup, sees that possibility in a talented Panthers team that finished last season strong, going 25-8-2 over the its final 35 games to finish with 96 points, one point behind the New Jersey Devils for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Eastern Conference. Florida, which tied the Winnipeg Jets for the most wins in the NHL over that stretch, since acquired forward Mike Hoffman, who had 56 points (22 goals, 34 assists) for the Ottawa Senators last season and has scored at least 22 goals in four straight seasons.
“The way we finished, adding Hoffman, there are a lot of things to be excited about,” Luongo said. “I just wish I was five to 10 years younger so I could be here for a while with them, that’s the part that is a little bit scary for me. I feel like we are right there and hopefully it will happen in the next couple of years but if it’s five or six years down the road, then I don’t think I’ll be around for that, and that’s scary.”
Luongo has four seasons left on the 12-year, $64 million contract he signed with the Vancouver Canucks on Sept. 2, 2009, almost five years before being traded to the Panthers for a second stint in Florida. But with a 40th birthday (April 4) before this season ends, and 89 games missed the past two seasons, his focus is on staying healthy.
Video: [email protected]: Luongo absorbs Marchand’s wrister
It’s why he’s at the Panthers practice rink an hour and a half before his August ice times with Florida goaltending coach Rob Tallas, focusing on the hip that was surgically repaired in 2016 and the groin he tore last season.
“Back in the day, I used to show up half an hour before I went on the ice and just throw the gear on, but these are the things I need to do be ready, to be loose and make sure everything is working properly,” Luongo said. “The main thing is I understand what I need to do as far as preparation to be where I need to be to be healthy. After my hip surgery, once I started feeling good, I kind of neglected it. You think you are back to normal, but you are not. You always have to keep on it to make sure you keep it strong and loose.”
Luongo learned that lesson the hard way, missing the final six weeks of 2016-17 with recurring hip problems. He missed six games early last season with a thumb injury, and six weeks after tearing his groin in early December. He feels good about where he’s at physically, but admits to wondering whether he might be done after each serious injury.
“Every time, yeah. It’s hard not to,” Luongo said. “At the beginning of the year when I tore the ligament in my thumb, that was a freak accident and you deal with it and come back, but when I tore the groin, I wasn’t sure I would be back, especially because it was the same leg as my surgery. Until you get over the hump of ‘OK, I am starting to feel good,’ but when you are working and not healing as fast as you like, obviously it goes through your head.”
When he is healthy, Luongo continues to play at a high level, saying he has never felt better about a game he and Tallas never stop working to improve, whether it’s adding a new technique or trying out new equipment. His .929 save percentage last season was third-best in the NHL and the second-best of his NHL career (.931 in 2003-04).
“Always learning,” he said. “I’ve always said that you can always get better and just try to pick up little things along the way to improve your game and I think that’s why it’s kept me near the top for all these years because I didn’t just rely on what I already knew.”