The Florida Panthers missed the playoffs by a dozen points last season even though they scored the fifth most goals in the Eastern Conference with 267. The main problem was their goals against as they allowed the third-most at 280. It was obvious the team needed better goaltending from veterans Roberto Luongo and James Reimer but the 40-year-old Luongo was once again battling injuries. However, the Montreal native officially hung up his skates recently after 19 seasons in the NHL and Reimer was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes.
With no established goaltenders on the roster, Florida general manager Dale Tallon made a major free-agent move by signing Sergei Bobrovsky from the Columbus Blue Jackets for seven years at $70 million. Tallon had created some additional salary cap space by trading Reimer and his annual $3.4 million contract and Luongo’s retirement freed up some money even though it will cost Florida $1,094,128 against the salary cap in each of the next three seasons. In addition, because of the goalie’s complicated 12-year, $64 million contract signed with the Vancouver Canucks in 2009, Vancouver will have to pay just over $3 million for the next three seasons.
Luongo leaves some pretty big skates for Bobrovsky to fill since he’ll undoubtedly end up in the Hockey Hall of Fame some day. He ranks third in NHL history with 489 wins and second behind Martin Brodeur in games played and saves made by a goaltender. He also ranks 10th all time in save percentage at 91.9. Luongo appeared in 1,044 regular-season contests with a 2.52 goals-against average and 77 shutouts. He posted a 489-392-124 record and went 34-35 in 70 playoff outings with a save percentage of 91.8 and a GAA of 2.49. Luongo was named to the NHL’s Second All Star Team twice and led the Vancouver Canucks to the Stanley Cup final in 2010/11 where they fell to the Boston Bruins in seven games.
Internationally, Luongo won gold medals with Canada at the Olympic Games in both 2010 and 2014 as well as at the 2003 and 2004 IIHF World Championships. He also played on the winning team at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey. As far as individual silverware goes, he shared the William Jennings Trophy in 2010/11 with Cory Schneider of the Canucks as the duo combined to allow the fewest goals against in the league. Luongo was originally drafted into the NHL with the fourth overall pick in 1997 by the New York Islanders. He made his big league debut two years later and was then traded to the Panthers after his rookie year. He spent five years in the crease in Florida and was traded to the Canucks in 2006. Luongo was then traded back to the Panthers in 2014.
While the Luongo era has just ended in Florida the Bobrovsky era is just beginning. The 30-year-old will likely join Luongo in the Hall of Fame one day as he has already won the Vezina Trophy twice as the NHL’s best goaltender. The native of Russia captured the honours for his work in 2012/13 and again in 2016/17 while playing with Columbus. Bobrovsky’s pro career kicked off in his homeland with Metallurg Novokuznetsk of the KHL and was then signed by the Philadelphia Flyers as a free agent in 2010. The Flyers made a huge mistake by trading him to Columbus in June of 2012 for draft picks. Once in Columbus, he took over as the team’s number one goalie.
Bobrovsky was named to the league’s First All-Star Team in 2012/13 and 2016/17 and as mentioned won a pair of Vezina Trophies with the club the same seasons. He set several franchise records with the Blue Jackets and his current NHL regular-season record reads 255-153-37 in 455 games played with 33 shutouts, a GAA of 2.46 and a 91.9 save percentage. He’s 11-18 in 34 playoff outings with a 3.14 GAA and 90.2 save percentage. He’s also won a gold, silver and two bronze medals with Russia at the World Championships. With Bobrovsky between the posts for Florida in 2019/20 there’s an excellent chance the team will make the playoffs for just the sixth time since joining the league in 1993/94.