Hey that is Keith Primeau. Remember how people thought he would be the next elite player? Well despite some of his best efforts, Primeau sadly never did quite achieve the promise though he showed many flashes of what he may have been. The scary thing is Primeau never even led a team to the Stanley Cup Finals, although he made one short appearance against the New Jersey Devils in the 1995 Finals. Roberto Luongo can at least say he brought a team within one win of a Stanley Cup or really can he?
In honor of his fantasy contributions that were other worldly and near legendary at home but oh so rather ordinary on the road, we came up with the Keith Primeau Award which is given every so often to home playoff excellence and road playoff ruin. Technically there was an added variable this year but if said Vancouver netminder could have played a little better on the road in the Stanley Cup Finals, maybe the Canucks would be celebrating instead of wondering what could have been.
First we should take a look at Primeau’s career quickly, thanks to Hockey Database.
Yes we did put up the entire body of work for Primeau with the emphasis on the 1999-2000 and 2003-04 playoff runs. In the 99-00 run, Primeau had 10 points on the home and 3 points on the road. Then the 2003-04 run featured 13 points at home and only 3 on the road including 8 of the 9 goals scored at home as well. Primeau only had one goal and two assists away from the friendly confines in the 2003-04 playoff season.
Now it would seem to be unfair to pigeon hole Luongo at this stage of his career. He was 9-5 at home in this year’s playoffs but only 5-5 on the road. Nearly every road experience seemed to be an adventure and all three in the Finals were an unmitigated disaster. When you have a 3.49 GAA and .885 save percentage on the road compared to a 1.80 GAA and .933 save percentage at home. That comes out to nearly a .05 difference (.048 to be technical).
Some will try to poke holes into this argument. For example, it would be noted that Primeau just executed a little better at home than on the road as his shots and scoring chances were about the same. Some will say he fed off the crowd. Whatever it was, Luongo fed off the crowd and the minute the crowd doubted, one could almost see the Stanley Cup heading over to the Bruins side.
The last sentence was an unfair thing to say or was it?
By the way Luongo’s save percentage difference between home and road during the regular season was .02 (.937 home and .917 road). From the March 15th until the end of the season stretch, that did spread a bit to a .038. For those scoring at home, Luongo’s save percentage was .943 at home and only .905 on the road. Could we have seen all this coming or were we just blinded at first by the near Chicago comeback and then by all sorts of excuses of injuries and/or fatigue.
It is not enough to give Luongo our first annual Keith Primeau Award. However, it is clear that the numbers have to be poked into a bit more to get into the psychology of the netminder who was rattled several times during the playoffs and now questions have to be asked.
Question 1: Is it all in Luongo’s head?
This had to be asked. Goaltenders are a wacky bunch and just ask Patrick Roy or Martin Brodeur that very question anytime. Mentally there is a certain block that threatens Luongo and whether this is unwarranted or not, there is some relevance. Look at how he played early on against Chicago where they did not play physical and then after Dave Bolland returned. It was like night and day. Suddenly Luongo played tentative and on his heels more often which led to more goals. If he can be kept reasonably aggressive, then Luongo can play lights out like he did against Nashville (or not very threatened).
Even the San Jose Sharks did not threaten Luongo all that much. Vancouver was winning the battle of attrition in most of the first three rounds. Yes they did lose a few players but it seemed Vancouver rallied anyway. However what was quietly not realized is that if San Jose had been a little less banged up, they may have defeated the Canucks. Chicago went seven against Vancouver on half the team they used to be and even Nashville extended Vancouver to six games. Part of that was because of Luongo. He had this penchant in the playoffs for being elite in stretches and then flat out AHL level in others.
Too often that swing would happen in the same game. It really was like a good bit of this was in Luongo’s head. Especially in the Boston series, it became mental but this was apparent throughout the playoffs. Even the first goal that Luongo gave up in Game 7 against Boston was a shot that would have been stopped with a little more aggressive play. Patrice Bergeron did get a pretty good shot off but it was almost as if Luongo was not quite ready for it.
That happened too many times in the playoffs and look Luongo is not the whole reason why Vancouver lost but today we are focusing on him. After that first goal, Luongo was not as keen on his angles and Boston seemed to get a scoring chance on almost every shot. There were a few misses and a post by Boston that could have made the score worse in the first 20 minutes of Game 7. Luongo’s mental and body language were not the same while he looked across and surely saw Tim Thomas playing loose yet mentally sound.
Luongo lost the gamesmanship battle as well with Thomas. It was not smart at all to get into a game of trash talking. Without getting into who pumps who’s tires, maybe Luongo should have kept his yap shut perhaps. Thomas and the city of Boston were already in his head so why make it worse? Sometimes common sense is a better course of valor and that attitude is why personally Luongo never ever should have been named Captain of the Vancouver Canucks. Captains do not lead that way but then again look at Henrik Sedin. Maybe there is something wrong there.
Let us get back to the Luongo at hand here. While Luongo is a very good goaltender in the National Hockey League, I actually do not believe he is even an elite fantasy goalie in the league. Can he put two elite level seasons together? His regular season was elite level this year but can he do it again for the next? The same assertion can be made against Thomas but he now has a Stanley Cup ring, something Luongo does not have.
Question 2: Will Luongo have a Finals hangover?
That answer is yes he will. This may sound nuts but Luongo is likely to have some sort of ill effects from this sour taste left in his mouth. Yes he may work harder in the offseason but in the same token, the hardest thing to work on is your mental approach. That is his biggest weakness at this juncture. If you think it is not, then I have a bridge to sell you in the far reaches of Manhattan.
How to quantify that into actual numbers for next year is very premature. However, there is almost a guarantee that a 2.11 GAA and .928 save percentage is not in the cards and again he may split even more time with Cory Schneider. There is still even some sentiment that this kind of hangover could be the type that will cost Luongo his starting job down the road.
Is Luongo an elite goalie? Is there really any goalie that could be considered elite these days? That is going to be the golden question asked in fantasy hockey circles. This is something that will be asked all summer and beyond.
The first month by the way, just expect Luongo to be even more below average than his usual numbers. That is almost a given at this point. It may even drop him a few spots to a round in some fantasy drafts. If that mental outlook does not change, it will only get worse.
Question 3: Is there anything physically that Roberto Luongo can do?
That is the last question. Luongo is honestly 32 right now and goalies like Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur have won Cups already. Now both of these goalies did experience a “second prime” in their mid 30′s. This has been informally dubbed the “French-Canadian Goalie Prime”. Will Luongo experience this? Yes I think he does. Will it be to an extent that Roy and Brodeur achieved? That is a question that has an unknown answer. Physically these two goalies made a commitment to a next level that many did not expect. Their fundamentals became heightened and that is what Luongo has to do, no questions asked.
Taking a deeper look at Luongo’s numbers as seen here shows the need for that “prime” to hit soon. He has just played his third season of 70 or less starts and for Luongo to continue to evolve, he does not need to ever have a another year of 70 or more starts. It serves him no purpose and even Vancouver management has seen that. Even the great Martin Brodeur now knows he cannot play 70 games anymore and maybe not even 60. The years of having to get in shape “real quick” probably has hurt him. If Luongo had kept doing that, he would have been done in the NHL by age 35.
Patrick Roy never started more than 70 games at all in his career and he won four Stanley Cups playing a butterfly style while Martin Brodeur used a more hybrid style that allowed him to play a little more but even then the effectiveness in the playoffs waned for Brodeur and that is something Vancouver clearly saw. Not all of it was Brodeur’s fault mind you but surely a goalie has to be alert all the time and playing all that hockey does not help matters.
What Brodeur and Roy did that Luongo is not doing physically is this. Luongo still plays too deep and on his heels at times. At their best, Brodeur and Roy rarely did that at all. It is such a natural reflex however. Anyone that has played in the nets at any level has experienced the feeling. You go back back and then before you know it, far too back. The great ones do it far less than Luongo has which is part of what has kept Luongo from that elite level.
Some will disagree and say he is already there but some will say he has never stayed there consistently. The book is still unfinished on Roberto Luongo but he has a good bit of physical and especially mental work to do if he wants to come remotely close to achieving the stature of his “idols” better known as Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur.
Again physically Luongo has to look at what those two did and learn from this humbling experience. If he can, Luongo could still win a Cup or two. Not all hope is lost but if Roberto Luongo does not change mentally and at least a little physically, that contract could be an albatross and Luongo could start hurting fantasy hockey owners.
If you have any questions at all, just fire away. We take on questions from all comers and none are too big or too small. It is the summer, so bring the fantasy hockey heat. Just because it is the off-season does not mean we take time off. If anything, we are just getting warmed up.