The Vancouver Canucks will consider whether Roberto Luongo should remain the NHL team's captain heading into next season, and say they are finally serious about lightening the goaltender's workload.
General manager Mike Gillis and head coach Alain Vigneault acknowledged that they intend on meeting with Luongo this summer to discuss his captaincy and whether it is still appropriate after the team made no progress in 2009-10, losing in the same playoff round, to the same opponent, in the same number of games.
"We're going to spend some time with Roberto and talk to him about [the captaincy]" Gillis said Friday, wrapping up a season that ended with a second-round, six-game playoff loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. "That will be something that occurs after everyone's emotions have subsided.
"We'll see how he feels about it, and we'll tell him how we feel about it. But Roberto has all the characteristic of a great captain and leader. He's the hardest working guy on the team. He's the most competitive guy. He takes things to heart."
But Gillis also admitted there could be "other factors that are involved that we hadn't counted on when he was made captain [in September of 2008]"
And the fact management wouldn't explicitly endorse Luongo's captaincy for 2010-11 suggests that a skater, such as Henrik Sedin or Ryan Kesler, may take over.
Gillis would not elaborate on the "other factors," but Luongo began opting out of pregame media sessions in the best-of-seven Chicago series after his team fell behind 3-1. Captains in other Canadian markets, such as Daniel Alfredsson (Ottawa Senators) and Jarome Iginla (Calgary Flames), rarely duck the media and are accountable even when their teams are losing.
Luongo is captain in the eyes of the Canucks player, but he doesn't wear a 'C' on his sweater because NHL rules forbid goaltenders from being a captain. Sedin, Kesler and defenceman Sami Salo, in place of the injured Willie Mitchell, were Vancouver's alternate captains this past season.
Luongo's play slipped after the Vancouver Olympic break in February, and so has his reputation as one of the best goaltenders on the planet. He won a gold medal with Canada, but allowed five goals in Vancouver's season-ending defeat last Tuesday, and seven in the team's final playoff game in 2009.
Gillis and Vigneault acknowledged fatigue may have been an issue.
Gillis said the Canucks would "absolutely" lighten Luongo's load in 2010-11, because only four goalies in the last three decades have won Stanley Cups after playing more than 65 games.
"The numbers don't lie," the GM said. "If playing less games is the answer, so that Roberto is the freshest he could possibly be for playoff time, of course we're going to look at that because it's the logical thing to do."
Every year in training camp, it seems, the Canucks talk about managing Luongo's minutes so that he doesn't log close to 70 games. Last autumn, Vigneault again made that pledge, citing the Olympics and the team's 14-game road trip, the longest in league history.
But Luongo wound up playing 68 games, plus five more at the Olympics, despite Vancouver having a solid backup in Andrew Raycroft.
Next season, the Canucks intend on having blue-chip prospect Cory Schneider serve as Luongo's understudy, and hope he will build his trade value and be looked upon as a future starter by playing roughly 20 games.