When speaking to reporters Thursday at Florida Panthers media day, Roberto Luongo had to correct himself.
“We’re still young,” Luongo said of the Panthers’ roster before stopping to qualify that statement. “Not myself, but the rest of the team.”
The 39-year-old goalie is right. He’s not young, but he’s still the Panthers’ starting goalie entering his 19th NHL season after a productive and healthy offseason.
After spending the 2016 offseason rehabbing from hip surgery and the 2017 offseason still dealing with some of the effects from that procedure, a healthy Luongo was able to go through his regular summer routine this year leading up to Friday’s start of training camp.
“He has not had any injuries,” Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said of Luongo. “This is the first summer in the last couple where he’s been able to train. He looks fabulous and I look for him to be really sharp again.”
Tallon used the word “again” because Luongo is coming off a quality year. Despite hand and groin injuries that limited him to 35 games last season, he still finished with a .929 save percentage (the second best of his career) to go with a 2.47 goals against average.
The plan is to keep Luongo healthy and, more importantly, fresh, for the stretch run and possibly the playoffs this season. How will the Panthers do that?
By managing Luongo’s workload even if he’s available to play, with the team confident in 30-year-old backup goalie James Reimer. Last season, Reimer led Panthers goalies with 44 games played and posted a .913 save percentage.
Panthers coach Bob Boughner pointed to 50 as the number of games he hopes Luongo will play this season “in a perfect world.” But the team’s front office and coaching staff insist they will take a measured approach with his playing time.
“I wish I could tell you 70, but that’s a little bit unrealistic,” Luongo said when asked how many games he wants to play this season. “I want to play. But at the same time, I have to hold myself back a little bit because if you play too much, that’s when your body gets tired and things start to happen. I would love to say between 50 and 60 games, but I don’t know.”
In the end, Luongo said Tallon will make the final decision in most cases when it comes to if he’ll rest or not in certain games.
“That’s where Tally comes in. He’s good with that kind of stuff,” Luongo said. “He knows me very well, he knows my body and he’s the one most of the time that will make that decision. When he comes to me, I’m not going to fight him on it. I always tell Tally, ‘Don’t ask me if I want to play because I’m always going to say yes. So you have to make that decision for me.’”
One thing the Panthers know is Luongo doesn’t need to be on the ice to make an impact as this stage of his career. For a goalie who will be 40 years old when the playoffs start, his role extends beyond just making saves.
“He has a true passion for the game of hockey and it rubs off on everybody,” 25-year-old center Vincent Trocheck said. “As an older guy in the locker room, he just is a veteran leader.
“He’s the kind of guy that any time he feels something needs to change, he holds everybody accountable. When he speaks up in the locker room, everybody listens and you respect what he has to say just because he’s been there, he’s been to a Stanley Cup Final, he’s been around the league for 19 years.”