Florida goalie Roberto Luongo has decided to retire after 19 seasons.
The 40-year-old Luongo made the announcement Wednesday on his Twitter account. His 489 career victories are third in NHL history behind only Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy, and Brodeur is the only goalie to have appeared in more games or made more saves than Luongo.
He was the fourth overall pick in the 1997 draft by the New York Islanders, with whom he made his NHL debut on Nov. 28, 1999. The Montreal native then spent five years with Florida, the next eight with Vancouver and returned to the Panthers on March 14, 2014.
"This is one of the toughest decisions I've faced in my life and it took me a long time to make it," Luongo wrote in an open letter to fans. "After thinking about it a lot over the past two months and listening to my body, I made up my mind. It just feels like the right time for me to step away from the game. I love the game so much, but the commitment I required to prepare, to keep my body ready, has become overwhelming."
Luongo had been slowed by hip problems in recent years, and the off-ice work just to make it through practices and games took a toll.
"From the moment I was fortunate enough to share a locker room with him, Roberto has exemplified leadership for me," Panthers forward Vincent Trocheck said in a statement distributed by the Panthers. "There isn't a classier, more professional guy in this league. He's a great hockey player and somehow an even better person."
The Panthers were prepared for the likelihood that Luongo may step away. Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said last week that Luongo's career had been "illustrious" and that the franchise was giving its most beloved player all the time he needed to make his decision.
"The impact that he has had on the developing core of our team, its culture and our community are undeniable," Tallon said. "He has always approached everything with a determination and level of class that was second to none. He leaves not only a legacy in South Florida, but a legacy in the game itself."
Florida hired Joel Quenneville as coach earlier this offseason, and is believed to be a frontrunner to sign top free agent goalie Sergei Bobrovsky along with Artemi Panerin — both of whom were in South Florida earlier this week to meet with the Panthers in advance of the signing period that starts Monday. Bobrovsky was a top priority for Florida even before Luongo let the team know that he was retiring.
"We play the game to win the Stanley Cup, to give ourselves a chance," Luongo said. "It's hard because I think that this team is right there, close to taking the next step. I wanted nothing more than to be a part of that. With Coach Q coming in, it's an exciting time for the Florida Panthers."