Last week, the Florida Panthers shipped Jacob Markstrom and Shawn Matthias to the Vancouver Canucks in order to bring back goalie Roberto Luongo, whom they originally sent to Vancouver in 2006 for nobody in particular. Dave Hyde of the Sun-Sentinel referred to the original trade of Luongo back in ’01 as “the dumbest trade a South Florida team has ever made.”
My immediate reaction to that assertation—as well as everyone else’s immediate reaction, I assume—was to cackle maniacally while staring blankly at Miguel Cabrera’s Baseball-Reference page before breaking down and sobbing uncontrollably into a stained t-shirt. But, after a few minutes, after reflecting on Roberto Luongo’s career, I began to wonder if maybe he had a point.
Roberto Luongo’s Crazy Journey
It sounds ridiculous to compare the two trades, but that’s mostly because South Florida does such an extraordinary job of treating the NHL like its our 65th favorite pastime. Luongo, though, for those who might not be aware, was a special talent.
For starters, it’s impressive that the Panthers even wound up with him to begin with. After making Luongo the highest drafted goalie in NHL history, the New York Islanders (being the New York Islanders, of course) waited one whole year into Luongo’s NHL career before making Rick DiPietro the new highest drafted goalie in NHL history. The drafting of DiPietro paved the way for the Isles to send Luongo and Olli Jokinen to Florida in exchange for Mark Parrish and Oleg Kvasha. Luongo and Jokinen would become decidedly awesome. Parrish and Kvasha would not. An impressive victory for the Panthers organization!
Feeling guilty for being the beneficiary of such a lopsided transaction, after five seasons and two All-Star appearances, the Florida Panthers dumpster fire of a front office (headed by bumbling idiots Jacques Martin and Mike Keenan) gifted Luongo to the Canucks for two nondescript hockey players and a small portion of the tail end of Todd Bertuzzi’s career that didn’t even warrant it’s own section on Wikipedia. (It’s briefly mentioned in a paragraph of his Wikipedia page titled Post Vancouver: 2006-present that also talks about Bertuzzi’s time with the Ducks and Flames. Yes, Todd Bertuzzi played for the Ducks and Flames. When did either of those things happen? Was I asleep?)
The original acquisition of Roberto Luongo is at least part of what made the deal to send him to Vancouver so god-awful. They basically gave up nothing to get him, then wound up giving him away for pennies on the dollar. And what did he do in his eight years in Vancouver? Well, basically, he spent an extended period of time being one of the best goaltenders in the league:
While with the Canucks, he set team records for shutouts (38), wins (252), and most wins in a single season (47). Luongo has the second-most winning record out of active goaltenders in the NHL, with only veteran goalie Martin Brodeur above him.
There was also a Stanley Cup appearance in there, as well as four more All-Star selections and a whole lot of awesome.
Why would the Panthers even trade such a valuable goaltender to begin with? There are several rumors—depending which side you choose to believe—but a strained relationship between Luongo and management, coupled with a few bizarre demands on the part of netminder, would seem to be the overriding factors leading to his departure.
Yep, ego. Ego is what ultimately left the Panthers scrambling for goaltending year after year, while the Canucks were busy making deep playoff runs.
But, is that better or worse than what happened with Miguel Cabrera?
The Miguel Cabrera Fiasco
It’s important to remember that when the Marlins sent Miguel Cabrera (and oddball pitcher Dontrelle Willis) to the Detroit Tigers, what they were getting in return were at least two Tigers top prospects in Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin and a handful of other players, making the trade, at least at the time, somewhat reasonable. Michael Jong of Fish Stripes explains thusly:
Miami “settled” for a prospect platter filled with top-10 prospect talent. The deal included Cameron Maybin, who was the sixth-ranked prospect in baseball in 2007 and was then ranked in the top 10 in each of the next two seasons, and Andrew Miller, who was the 10th-ranked prospect before 2007. For that plus a slew of players among the Tigers’ top 10 (Eulogio De La Cruz and Dallas Trahern were in the organizational top 10 before the 2007 season), Miami gave up Cabrera and Willis in a surprisingly fast-evolving move.
And they were right to consider a trade and right to consider the return a success at the time. Maybin was a top-10 prospect talent, Miller had been the same a year before, and the Marlins were giving up the last two seasons of team control of a star player and a pitcher who had two bad seasons in a row. Willis probably held less trade value than his pedigree suggested, as he was slowly losing control and strikeouts two years running. Cabrera was the ultimate highlight of the deal, but even as a six-win player, Miami would have been happy to have a top-10 position player and pitching prospect back.
Of course, what we’re more concerned with here is the end result, which, as we all know now, oof. Both Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller would spend a few years alternating between being merely bad and spectacularly awful; Mike Rabelo and Burke Badenhop would wind up being guys you’ve simply heard of; and the rest of the players the Marlins acquired in the trade, well, yeah, I got nothing.
Cabrera, meanwhile, was a handful of home runs away from winning back-to-back Triple Crowns last year, is well on his way to being a sure-fire Hall of Famer, and is quite possibly the greatest right-handed hitter in the history of Major League Baseball.
While Roberto Luongo spent a good chunk of his career dominating the crease in Vancouver, it’s just not even close.
If we were grading these two trades on intention, then Dave Hyde would have a legitimate argument. The Marlins’ goal in sending Cabrera to Detroit was to save money, obviously, but also to get younger and better for the future. The plan may have failed, and maybe it was flawed from the start, but at least there was a practical baseball reason buried somewhere in there. The Panthers, on the other hand, as far as anyone can tell, shipped Roberto Luongo out of town because of personal issues, which is always how you want to run an organization.
We’re not grading these trades solely on intention, though, so the end result matters. And while Luongo had an impressive five-year run as one of the best goaltenders in the NHL, Miguel Cabrera has been best-of-all-time amazing ever since he left the Marlins. New dominant goaltenders pop up every few years, guys you can build a team in front of and feel confident in the immediate future of the franchise. Since discarding Luongo, the Panthers may have failed at finding a replacement, but that’s more a reflection of the organization’s perpetual ineptitude than it is a dearth of available options.
The Panthers will eventually come across another great netminder.
The greatest right-handed hitter of our generation isn’t something the Marlins will ever find again.