The Vancouver Canucks drew criticism when they made Roberto Luongo an unusual choice for captain in September, 2008, and now the goaltender is questioning his anointed role after another playoff disappointment.
Luongo says he will review his captaincy later this summer as calls heighten for the NHL team to strip the "C" off its goalie.
"I love being captain," Luongo said Thursday as the Canucks cleaned out their lockers. "I've enjoyed it, and I haven't had any problems with it. That being said, right now is not the time, after an emotional loss like that, to be thinking about decisions like that."
Luongo's captaincy touched a nerve with Vancouver fans this week after a second successive loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup playoffs. It will no doubt be raised Friday when general manager Mike Gillis and head coach Alain Vigneault take the stage - in the Captains Room at GM Place no less - to explain what went wrong, and how they propose to fix a team that has failed to advance beyond the second round in three of the past four postseasons.
"There are other things around it [the captaincy] obviously, that are extra things I'm going to have to make sure I can handle," Luongo said, citing media requests to be the team spokesman and be available before and after every game. "I'm going to think about a lot of things."
The Canucks became the first NHL organization in 60 years to appoint a goaltender as team captain. League rules forbid goalies from wearing a letter, and being the designated communicator with on-ice officials, so Luongo is a captain in name only.
It was the brainchild of Vigneault, and backed by Gillis. The team wanted a player who was accomplished, inspirational, respected and an example of the organization's core values.
But as Luongo's play sagged this season, especially after the February Olympic break and into the playoffs, his critics grew louder. This week, Don Cherry joined a Vancouver radio station and crowed that Luongo's captaincy was a stupid idea because the solitary nature of the position does not give goalies the credibility to lead a group.
Clearly, there are elements of Luongo that fit the captaincy neatly.
He is one of the biggest rink rats on the team, religiously working on his craft.
He commands respect from his teammates. When Alex Burrows was going too far in his famous rant against referee Stéphane Auger earlier this season, the goaltender shushed him with a stern word.
By most accounts, Luongo's off-ice vices can be reduced to fantasy sports and poker. While some of his teammates celebrated Canada's gold-medal victory in private hospitality suites, sheltered from the public glare, Luongo took his family to dinner, posing for pictures with admirers.
Last year, a source said that Luongo was so touched by the captaincy, that it prompted his Floridian wife, Gina, to become more active with the Canucks, organizing events for wives and girlfriends. Gillis is trying to foster an environment where families feel welcome at GM Place, and the Luongo's participation is viewed as an important endorsement.
But there is another side of Luongo that rankles Vancouver fans.
He will say that he is his harshest critic, but somewhere along the way, he only began acknowledging his most blatant gaffes, the indefensible goals and performances. That hesitancy to take full responsibility each and every time hurts Luongo's credibility on two fronts: when he's telling the plain truth about poor play in front of him and when he feigns humility.
There were two examples Tuesday, after a 5-1 loss to Chicago that ended Vancouver's season.
He pointed out turnovers, but not soft goals.
He joked that "improvement was made" because he didn't allow seven goals, a reference to a 7-5 playoff knockout last spring. The sarcasm came off as disingenuous because confidence is Luongo's defining characteristic.
Canucks management has much invested in Luongo, including a 12-year, $64-million U.S. contract extension that triggers next autumn. If a change is made, it is less likely to be a top-down directive, and more likely because Luongo surrenders the "C."