Roberto Luongo isn't sure how Canucks fans will react in his Vancouver return
Whether it was captain, or choker, or backup, or social media innovator, or Hart Trophy nominee, Luongo's labels constantly shifted. The fans' opinion of the star goaltender seemed to shift as tempestuously and as unpredictably as the weather.
Yet one label remained throughout. In his time with the Canucks, Luongo was always the face of the franchise.
On Thursday, Luongo's Panthers will visit the unfriendly confines of Rogers Arena for the first time since the likely future Hockey Hall of Famer was traded back to Florida in a blockbuster deal on the eve of the 2014 NHL trade deadline.
Understandably, he isn't precisely sure how Canucks fans will greet him.
"I'm not quite sure what kind of reception I'm going to get but I'll definitely enjoy the game," Luongo told George Richards of the Miami Herald. "They're all big games at this juncture of the season. We're fighting for every point."
One thing Luongo does expect is to meet with a healthy contingent of the Vancouver hockey media.
"We'll probably do a press conference,'' Luongo said grinning "Do it up big.''
Presumably it'll be a less emotional press conference than Luongo gave following the 2013 NHL trade deadline, when he appeared to be on the verge of tears and said of his 12-year, $64 million deal: "My contract sucks."
How Luongo will be received in his return to Vancouver is an open question.
On the one hand, Luongo backstopped the team through a golden era for the franchise and started for a Canadian national men's team that won Olympic gold on Vancouver ice. He's the franchise leader in wins and shutouts, and not by a small margin.
On the other, Luongo requested a trade and limited then general manager Mike Gillis' options on the trade market by insisting on returning to Sunrise, Florida at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. It's worth noting that Luongo's former teammate Ryan Kesler has become public enemy No. 1 in Vancouver for much the same thing.
Though nothing is certain, it seems likely that Canucks fans will welcome the star goaltender and celebrate his accomplishments on Thursday evening. After all, the last time he played in an NHL game in Vancouver (or at least dressed for one), Canucks fans chanted his name while he wore a ballcap during the Heritage Classic.
That's about as good an indication as your likely to get that Vancouver's hockey fans don't blame Luongo for the sordid and protracted way his fantastic Canucks tenure came to a close.