It would appear with Cory Schneider's 43-save winning effort in Game 4 on Wednesday night in Los Angeles, that the die is cast for the Vancouver Canucks going forward in net.
Anything can happen in the NHL, but how can the Canucks go forward next seasons with Roberto Luongo — at over $6.7 million US in salary next season. Would either side be happy with him as backup or clear 1B goaltender?
To recap, for those not consumed by Canucks hockey:
- 2008: Luongo named team captain, 1st NHL goalie in over 60 years to wear that tag
- 2009: Signed to a 12-year, $64 million US deal through 2021-11
- 2010: Canucks change course with the unconventional captaincy, Henrik Sedin takes over "C"
- 2011: Luongo helps Canucks get to 7th game of Cup Final. Takes large share of criticism despite fact Canucks muster just eight goals in seven games
The future is now?
|Contract status||Signed through 2021-22||RFA|
|Money owed||Up to $47 million US||?|
The upcoming CBA talks could conceivably lead to the ability to renegotiate contracts, but the Canucks will likely have to decide on this matter long before then.
Few obstacles here. If the Canucks and Schneider haven't come close to a dollar amount and term by late June, the Canucks can initiate the arbitration process, which prohibits other clubs from swooping in with an offer sheet.
Going in this direction would likely require Vancouver to think about a second goalie with NHL experience. The pickings are fairly slim in that regard on the free agent market, with Tomas Vokoun and Josh Harding perhaps the biggest names available.
Issue No. 1: Luongo has a no-trade clause.
Issue No. 2: Leverage/demand
Obviously Luongo, like most competitive athletes, probably wouldn't stay where he's not wanted.
But go through the list of NHL teams and tick off the clubs that are completely content in goal. Then tick off the ones that are a bit less content in goal but are clearly pot committed, as they say in poker. Tick off the ones that are too budget-conscious to pay nearly $7 million per season for a goalie.
How many left? If you said eight you're probably being very optimistic, and that's assuming they'd even be interested in Luongo's services.
Sure, he's been a terrific NHL goalie with a lot of accomplishments, but those teams may have other plans.
Even if they need goaltending, the price would make even the most imprudent NHL GM (i.e., most of them) give pause. His cap hit is $5.33 million, not insignificant, and he's to be paid $6.7 million per year through 2017-18 if he's still playing.
It doesn't leave the Canucks exactly calling the shots in any transaction.
5 possible destinations
Toronto: Luongo's ride in Vancouver hasn't been smooth despite his accomplishments, due to the intense fan and media interest in the team and hockey in general. There's also been the supposition that he's tired of that kind of glare.
So Toronto's the tonic then?
Brian Burke has long loathed front-loaded contracts that he believes circumvent the cap. Would the fact Mike Gillis signed that pact allow him wiggle room to explain away an about face?
Burke will ultimately do what he thinks is best for the team. The media angle is vexing, because it's hard to picture Luongo dealing with the madness yet again, but it's not a complete non-starter.
It might be hard to picture Luongo in a Maple Leafs uniform, but we're going to see Peyton Manning wear the Bronco colours.
Tampa Bay: Luongo won gold for Team Canada in 2010, a group assembled by Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, so there's that.
As well, no offence to capable veteran Mathieu Garon (under contract in 2012-13 after a decent season) and former Memorial Cup winner Dustin Tokarski, but there are no incumbents on the Lightning depth chart in goal that scream "Stanley Cup contender" anytime soon.
But the Lightning aren't the most balanced team to begin with in terms of salary structure, and adding Luongo to a team of Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, and Vincent Lecavalier would make it four guys chewing up over $26 million US in cap space through 2014-15.
Florida: Even if Scott Clemmensen leads the Panthers to a series win over New Jersey, the journeyman knows the score as he heads to unrestricted free agency in the summer. No sane team could make the case for Clemmensen over Luongo as a No. 1, even if he is cheaper.
The Panthers also have 22-year-old stringbean Jacob Markstrom in the wings. While he's been good not great in the minors, AHL stats aren't always the ultimate predictor of NHL success. It raises the specter of another Schneider scenario down the line, but not too terribly soon.
Both Florida teams are considered strong contenders because it is where Luongo's wife is from, with the Panthers closer to her home.
Washington: If we accepted the premise that Luongo wants to go to a less intense market, and that's not a given, the Capitals could be a contender.
But Luongo isn't Vokoun, who badly misread the market forces in free agency last summer. Luongo has a legitimate case to make as a No. 1 man given his five shutouts, 31 wins and .919 save percentage this season, let alone his body of work.
So a Luongo-Braden Holtby combo would seem to be travelling down the same road. Holtby has the potential to be the real deal and has one less shutout in 50 less NHL games than Schneider, with the same amount of playoff wins.
New Jersey: Not the first team usually mentioned, but intriguing. Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg are both at least six years older than Luongo and headed for unrestricted free agency.
New Jersey could have money to spend if they can't re-sign Zach Parise, although their shaky financial/ownership situation is a variable hard to gauge.
The Devils owe Brodeur a ton, probably even the fact they still have a franchise in New Jersey. But Lou Lamoriello doesn't seem the type to dole out a contract for a No. 1 goalie for nostalgia's sake.
The crazy contrarian angle
Don't assume, because you make an ...
Just two weeks ago, even Schneider said Luongo should be starting Game 1 of the playoffs. Luongo wasn't stellar in the first two games, but he was pretty good and the least of the reasons Vancouver fell into a 2-0 hole on home ice.
It's true Schneider certainly seems more immune to piques than Luongo, but all this talk seems quite presumptuous.
There's no guarantee the Canucks are back in the series. What if Schneider gets lit up and the Canucks go down in Game 5?
Then what do you do for next season?
At the very least that scenario still provides a window to ... trade Schneider.
Think about it. If the Canucks exit in a game or two it's a pretty hard sell to state that you just need a bit of tinkering to get back to the Stanley Cup final. Ridding yourself of Roberto Luongo is not a bit of tinkering or your most pressing need in that case.
The jury is still out as far as the long term, but in the short term adding Zack Kassian (banged up, marginal) and David Booth (one assist in 4 GP) while subtracting Cody Hodgson and Mikael Samuelsson (four assists in 3 GP) has done nothing to enhance the team's playoff aspirations this season.
Then there's the defence, a capable group but not the best in the conference by a sight. Alex Edler is an all-star, but you could make a case five or six West teams have a more formidable No. 1 man on the back end.
Fans who think trading Luongo will net some significant return in terms of bodies are probably dreaming in technicolor. The other teams have the leverage, not the Canucks, and the asset Vancouver will be getting is the salary cap space cleared.
Or they have to take back someone else's onerous contract.
Besides, the names usually bandied about by fans on other NHL teams as nice pickups usually have their own no-movement deals (hello Lecavalier).
Trading Schneider could net a sizeable return, because nothing sells like seductive promise. Great goalies are scarce.
At this point, Schneider has one career playoff win. He played 60 games for Manitoba once. Next highest total in a season? With Boston College nearly six years ago (42 games).
Just one year ago he was injured in his lone playoff start after giving up three goals on 20 shots.
Admittedly, that Game 6 assignment against Chicago was a helluva spot to be put in.
But the point is, for something that seems to already be coalescing as conventional wisdom, keeping Schneider and successfully moving Luongo will still be one of bolder moves seen in the NHL in some time.
At the very least, can we agree to at least wait until the series is over before jumping to conclusions!