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Work ethic, smarts driving Roberto Luongo's impressive longevity

After coming back to Florida at the trade deadline in 2014, Roberto Luongo is looking to do some bigger things with the Panthers. Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images

TORONTO -- On a team whose leading scorer is 44 years old, it can be easy to once again gloss over the performance of Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo.

Luongo turned 37 on Monday and is wrapping up a second consecutive regular season with 60-plus starts and an identical .921 save percentage.

Although Patrick Roy retired at the age of 37, Luongo looks like a man ready to play a few more years. And that's saying something in today's NHL, where more than ever it's a young man's league, teammate Jaromir Jagr's performance this season notwithstanding.

"I've been blessed that I've been pretty healthy my whole career," Luongo said Monday after the Panthers' morning skate at Air Canada Centre. "I've never had any major injuries. I'm thankful in that regard. I just like working on my game all the time. I always try to get better. I always feel that I can get better and improve. As long as that desire is there, I'll be able to be part of this league.

"When I feel that my game is not where I want it to be, then maybe it'll be time to think about it. But for now, I'm having fun, I'm healthy, I feel good, I just want to keep it going."

Backup Al Montoya started against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday night, with Luongo likely in net in his hometown Tuesday night in Montreal. Montoya's steady work as the backup this season has helped the Panthers manage Luongo's workload.

Still, that's 60 games under Luongo's belt so far, and he's among the league leaders in all the important categories.

"The reason he's still elite: He is a tireless worker, hates taking days off," said former NHL goalie and former backup to Luongo, Jamie McLennan, now a game analyst for TSN. "He studies the game, one of the biggest students of the game I know, constantly knows what's going on in the league. And has evolved with the new techniques used in stopping pucks. That along with his talent/skill set has kept him among the best in the game for years."

Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray is not surprised one bit. Luongo is now the goalie Murray felt he was acquiring back in June 2000, when as the Panthers' GM he pulled off the stunning acquisition of Luongo and Olli Jokinen from the New York Islanders in exchange for Mark Parrish and Oleg Kvasha.

"It was an interesting deal," Murray said over the phone Monday morning. "I made a phone call just before the draft. I called [then-Islanders GM] Mike Milbury to inquire about a third goalie, I needed a depth guy. During our conversation he asked me if I was interested in Luongo. I figured right there he would draft Rick DiPietro. As soon as he mentioned Luongo, I perked up. I knew Mike loved Kvasha -- he had called two or three times about him."

Milbury, to his credit, was willing to revisit the trade Monday morning.

"We were desperate for offense at the time," Milbury, now an NBC analyst, said over the phone. "We got a good player in Parrish; he scored 25 goals, but the wild card was Kvasha. He was 6-5 and could skate."

Kvasha never turned into the player the Islanders and others thought he would be. Injuries also limited what should have been a promising career for DiPietro.

"It's the danger of trading a young player when he's struggling or floundering," Milbury said of dealing a young Luongo. "It's like Boston trading Tyler Seguin. There's a risk, obviously, in that younger player becoming something great.

"Roberto has had a great run," added Milbury. "I've always liked him. He's a good guy."

Sixteen years after that trade, Luongo is still going strong.

"We figured he'd be a top goalie in the league for years, which he has been," Murray said. "It's a compliment to him to be playing at 37 at the level he's at."

Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock coached Luongo at the 2004 world championships in Prague, where Canada won gold, and during the past two Winter Olympics.

"He's a good man," Babcock said Monday of Luongo. "And obviously he's comfortable in Florida, too. I think that's important in your life. When you got things going really well away from the rink, when you get to the rink you can focus on being who you are. He's had a great run, he's done a lot of winning, he's on a good team again now and he seems happy. Good for him."

Luongo met his wife in South Florida, and that's where they started their family, so getting dealt by the Vancouver Canucks back to the Panthers just before the 2014 trade deadline was a godsend, given that it was obvious where things were headed in Vancouver after a long run as contenders. But Luongo didn't want just to come back to South Florida and just ride it out. He was hungry for another challenge.

"I wanted to have another crack at it," Luongo said. "I'm happy that things have worked out. And I feel like this team is just beginning to see the potential that we can have. That's exciting for me. Sometimes I wish I was five years younger and had a bit more time. I want to be part of it as long as I can."