If anybody knows how new Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky feels … it’s former Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo.
Prior to the start of the 2006 season, the Vancouver Canucks signed Luongo to a four-year, $27 million deal — a large NHL contract in those days.
Last month, on July 1, the Panthers signed Bobrovsky to a seven-year, $70 million contract. Luongo had announced his retirement from the Panthers and the NHL on June 26, clearing the way for Bobrovsky.
“I was happy for him,” Luongo said on Monday when asked for his thoughts on Bobrovsky’s deal. “It reminds me of when I signed a big contract with Vancouver. It comes with big expectations.”
Luongo, 40, did an impressive job of living up to expectations throughout his career, which is why he ranks third in NHL history with 489 wins, trailing only Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy. Luongo played 19 NHL seasons, making six All-Star Games and winning two Olympic gold medals, with Canada in 2010 and 2014.
On Monday, the Panthers made it official, announcing that Luongo’s jersey — No. 1 — will be retired March 7 in a home game against the Montreal Canadiens. Luongo — who will become the first Panthers player to have his jersey retired — is from Montreal, making that date perfect for the ceremony.
“It’s super exciting because I know everyone back home will be watching,” said Luongo, who played 11 years with the Panthers. “Montreal is the team I grew up watching. Hopefully, there will be a lot of people [at the BB&T Center] to enjoy a special moment.”
Crowd size has long been an issue for the Panthers, who finished next to last in the NHL last season with an average of 13,261 in the building.
Luongo admitted Monday that it was “disappointing” that there weren’t more people at what turned out to be his last game as a player, a 4-3 overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils on April 6 at the BB&T Center.
“There were not many people at the game,” Luongo said. “It’s a little bit sad.”
Of course, Luongo didn’t know at that time that he would announce his retirement two months later. He was under contract with the Panthers, and he fully intended to return to the team, even if as a backup.
But as the offseason dragged on, Luongo — for the first time in his career — found that his hunger to prepare for the next season was waning.
“I decided to listen to my body,” Luongo said of his retirement choice. “My body didn’t want to go through the summer workouts anymore. August was always the worst month – double training, on the ice and in the gym. I won’t miss that part.
“But I will miss the guys once the season starts. [Still], it was time for me to step away from the game.”
Luongo said he didn’t realize until this past weekend that he is the first Panthers player to have his jersey retired.
“That makes it extra special,” he said. “It’s a great honor. I’m looking forward to the night [March 7].”
Luongo made it clear that while Montreal is where he was born, South Florida is where he is raising his family.
This is home now, and he also wants to stay in the game somehow. He has said he doesn’t envision himself as a coach, but, ultimately, he would love to be a general manager, making trades and doing deals.
“Hockey is my life,” he said. “I want to stay involved. I’ve had a few conversations [with the Panthers]. There’s nothing set in stone, but, down the line, you will see me around.”
THIS AND THAT
▪ The Panthers’ only other retired number is 93, in honor of their first team president, the late Bill Torrey. That number commemorates the franchise’s first game in 1993.
▪ Luongo’s further comments on Bobrovsky were that he is “very technical” and a “great addition” to the team. “He will give the team a chance to win,” Luongo said.