Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo retiring after 19 NHL seasons

Longtime Panthers goalie Luongo retires after 19 NHL seasons

Roberto Luongo, who spent time with the Islanders, Canucks and Panthers, retired after 19 seasons in the NHL.
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Roberto Luongo, who spent time with the Islanders, Canucks and Panthers, retired after 19 seasons in the NHL.

Roberto Luongo is calling it a career.

After 19 seasons in the NHL, 11 of which came over two stints with the Florida Panthers, the 40-year-old goaltender announced in an open letter on Wednesday afternoon that he is retiring from professional hockey.

“I love the game so much, but the commitment I required to prepare, to keep my body ready, has become overwhelming,” Luongo wrote. “Since I had my hip surgery a couple of years ago, I’ve been showing up two hours before every practice and three hours before every game to work out my hip. Even at night, whether it was the night before a game or even a night off, there I was rolling out, doing strengthening exercises. My entire life revolved around recovery, strengthening and making sure I was ready to go the next day.

“I was willing to make that sacrifice because I love the game, I love being part of it, being in the action and competing with my teammates. I was willing to go through it all for my love of hockey.”

The five-time NHL All-Star leaves the NHL as one of the most decorated goaltenders in the league’s history.

Second in games played (1,044)

Third in career wins (489).

Ninth in career shutouts (77).

One of eight goaltenders with at least eight 30-win seasons.

He played two stints with the Panthers, from 2000 to 2006 and then again from 2014 until he decided to end his career. He owns Panthers franchise records for games played by a goaltender (572), wins (230), shutouts (38), saves (16,068). He also has single-season records for games played by a goaltender (75, 2005-06), wins (35, 2005-06, 2015-16), saves (2,303) and shutouts (tied-7, 2003-04). His 572 games played in a Panthers uniform marks the fourth-most in franchise history by any player.

The No. 4 overall pick of the 1997 NHL Draft started his career with the New York Islanders and played seven-and-a-half seasons with the Vancouver Canucks before being traded back to the Panthers on March 4, 2014.

After starting 121 combined games during his first two full seasons back in South Florida, Luongo started 112 total games during his final three seasons and played no more than 43 games in a given season over that span.

“I think the days of playing 50-60 games a year are a little bit behind me,” Luongo said during exit interviews on April 8. “Those are tough. I’d still love to do it, but the recovery aspect of it is a bit tougher to play three to four games a week is a lot to ask sometimes.”

Luongo was noncommittal on if he would return for a 20th season at that point. The Panthers were OK with that. Two-and-a-half months later, he made his decision.

“Roberto is a beloved player in our franchise’s history and someone I respect a great deal,” Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said in a statement. “I know this was a decision that weighed heavily on him and we respected his time in making this announcement. ... He leaves not only a legacy in South Florida, but a legacy in the game itself. I have no doubt that ‘Lu’ will one day be a Hockey Hall of Famer and deservingly so. I want to thank Roberto for his professionalism, commitment to the Florida Panthers organization, commitment to South Florida and his contributions to the game of hockey.”

And his impact — especially in South Florida — was felt in the community beyond his contributions on the ice.

It was most apparent at the Panthers’ first home game after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas on Valentine’s Day in 2018.

Prior to that game against the Washington Capitals, Luongo took the ice and gave a heartfelt speech to the crowd at the BB&T Center, which is less than a 20-minute drive from the high school.

“It’s time for us as a community to take action. Enough is enough,” Luongo, a Parkland resident, said in part before that game on Feb. 22, 2018. “To the families of the victims, our hearts are broken for you guys. To the teachers at the schools, you guys are heroes.”

Luongo wrote that he plans to build a permanent home in Parkland now that he is retired.

“We’ve been through a lot,” Luongo said, “but we came together. We’ve tried to heal together and we’ve tried to make our community and our world a better place.”

And now, the Panthers will begin a new era with a new protector in the net. The plan is to sign Sergei Bobrovski, the top available goalie in free agency.

Bobrovsky, who reportedly visited the Panthers this week ahead of Monday’s start to free agency, has a career 255-153-37 record over nine seasons, the last seven with the Columbus Blue Jackets. He has a .919 save percentage over his 457 career games.

The club also has James Reimer and Sam Montembeault on the roster. The Panthers also drafted Boston College-bound Spencer Knight with the 13th overall pick in the NHL Draft last week. It’s the first time the Panthers used a first-round pick on a goalie in franchise history and the highest a goalie has been drafted overall since the Dallas Stars took Jack Campbell with the No. 11 pick in 2010.

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Jordan McPherson covers the Miami Marlins and high school sports for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and covered the Gators athletic program for five years before joining the Herald staff in December 2017.