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PATRICK JOHNSTON: Will Canucks follow Panthers and retire Roberto Luongo's No. 1? And should they?

Star goalie Roberto Luongo is all smiles at a Canucks practice in 2013.
Star goalie Roberto Luongo is all smiles at a Canucks practice in 2013. - Jenelle Schneider/Postmedia file

The Hall of Fame-bound goalie's No. 1 jersey will hang from the rafters in Florida by the end of next season. There's a case for the same in Vancouver, too

It only makes sense that Roberto Luongo’s No. 1 sweater will never be worn by another Florida Panther, as he’s the best player they’ve ever had.

The not-quite-in-Fort Lauderdale team announced this week that the goalie’s sweater will rise to the BB&T Center rafters next March.

Luongo, who retired at the end of June, played just over 10 seasons for the Panthers, eclipsing the eight he spent in Vancouver. Including his short time with the New York Islanders, who drafted him, Luongo played 20 seasons in all.

He is second in NHL history in games played by a goalie (1,044), third in wins (489) and ninth in shutouts (77). He is one of three goalies in NHL history to have played 1,000 games.

“T here was never a question in any of our minds that Roberto would be the first Panthers player to have his number retired by the franchise,” Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said in making the announcement. “One of the game’s most iconic goaltenders, he gave his heart and soul to the Panthers and the South Florida community and carried himself with dignity, modesty and humour. Roberto is most deserving of this honour and we are thrilled for him and his family.”

So will Luongo’s No. 1 be heading to the rafters of Vancouver’s Rogers Arena as well?

“Roberto had an outstanding NHL career and was part of some of the biggest moments in Canucks history,” a Canucks spokesperson said in an email Wednesday. “We’re sure his name will be included in future discussions; however, we don’t have any current plans for the upcoming season.”

The case in favour seems obvious: He’s the greatest goalie in Canucks franchise history. He seems bound for the Hockey Hall of Fame. He’s as responsible for the Canucks’ rise to the near-summit of the NHL (Game 7 of a Stanley Cup final) as the Sedins were; without outstanding, Vezina Trophy-like goaltending, you don’t get anywhere.

And when compared with the names already in the Rogers Arena rafters — Stan Smyl, Trevor Linden, Markus Naslund and Pavel Bure — Luongo is so clearly worthy. He played in Vancouver for eight years, which isn’t as long as Smyl, Linden or Naslund, but it is longer than Bure. Bure is the only hall of famer; if Luongo is enshrined, it would seem daft to have one but not the other.

But there’s another name high up on the ceiling of Rogers Arena that should give some pause in this discussion, a guy who shared Luongo’s number.

“What about Kirk McLean?” Canucks radio commentator Corey Hirsch asks.

“I’m all for it, but Kirk McLean also wore that number and deserves it just as much as Luongo does,” he explained. “You retire a guy’s number for what he does for the organization.”

Goalie Kirk McLean takes a breather during Vancouver Canucks training camp at Whistler in September 1996. -  Wayne Leidenfrost/Postmedia file
Goalie Kirk McLean takes a breather during Vancouver Canucks training camp at Whistler in September 1996. - Wayne Leidenfrost/Postmedia file

 

In Hirsch’s mind, there’s no doubting Luongo’s body of work, and his likely stature as the Canucks’ best all-time goalie.

But he’s a former teammate of McLean’s and it’s clear how highly he thinks of the guy fans called Captain Kirk. McLean minded the Canucks’ crease for a decade and led the way for the Canucks in the 1994 pursuit of the Stanley Cup, all the way to (here we go again) Game 7 of a Cup final.

McLean was the second former player to be placed in the Canucks’ ring of honour, with an image of him and his name being unveiled during the 2010-11 season.

So maybe it should just be ring of honour of Luongo? Or a promotion for McLean, getting his number retired alongside Luongo?

“Kirk wasn’t fazed by much,” former teammate Dave Babych said. “He’d make a couple saves and have a cigarette and his heart wouldn’t beat much.”

Babych was working for the Canucks’ player developoment staff when they made their run to the final in 2011, with Luongo starring until nearly the final step.

“He certainly has to be in the conversation,” he said of Luongo’s number being retired by the Canucks. Ring of honour would be a no-brainer.

Throw out the 2011 final round and you see a powerful case for Luongo, he said: “To win in the playoffs, the goalie is a huge part of that, you certainly can’t neglect that, you can’t go anywhere without a goalie.”

And there’s how he played through the totality of his career, the former defenceman noted.

At a minimum, he’s happy to see Luongo be honoured by the Panthers; the ceremony will take place not against the Canucks but on March 7, when the Panthers host his hometown team, the Montreal Canadiens.

“It’s great for him. It’s good for the team, too. They need that,” Babych said.

So the question becomes, if yes — either ring of honour or full-on number retirement — then when? It apparently won’t happen this coming season: the schedule is already filled with 50th anniversary events, including the week-long celebration for the Sedins’ jersey retirements in February, plus the Alex Burrows ring of honour ceremony in October.

So maybe in 1920-21? Or later?

pjohnston@postmedia.com

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