The end of an era? Cory Schneider to start game 4.

Thomas Drance
April 18 2012 02:34PM


A tale of two 'tenders.

Even before it was confirmed by Alain Vigneault on Wednesday afternoon, all signs were pointing to Cory Schneider getting the nod for the Canucks in tonight's "Do or Die" game four against the Kings. With the team on the brink, the Canucks have tipped their hand: Cory Schneider is starting tonight, and persumably he'll be the team's starter beyond this season.

Read past the jump.

The numbers confirm that Cory Schneider has outperformed Luongo all year, and that has continued in this series. Luongo's play was solid in both of games one and two, but Schneider is the only Canucks goaltender who has managed to pitch a quality start in the team's preliminary round series against Los Angeles.

If you've been paying attention and reading between the lines, it has been clear for a while that the Canucks have become increasingly enamored with Cory's skill set and personality during his time with the club. He's been put into "big games" all season to prepare him for this moment, and clearly the Canucks believe they have a future star on their hands.

Even before the postseason, Gillis didn't sound like a guy who had any interest in selling Schneider's services to the highest bidder, telling Rintoul and Botch on April 5th (transcription my own):

"I've been in professional hockey since I was nineteen and I don't think I've encountered in all those years a player who is as professional as [Cory Schneider] is. He's a wonderful guy personally, a great teammate and he's just a pro. He handles himself with dignity, he's faced a lot of pressures that other young players don't face - he's remarkable. That's why we like having him here. So when people talk about trading Cory, that's not something we're even thinking about at this point in time, and if that does come to pass it will be with reluctance. But he's a guy we want to have here, we like him here and we think he's going to be a fantastic goalie"

At the time I suspected Gillis was simply managing his assets, and posturing as if the club thought of Cory Schneider as an essential, and untouchable piece of the puzzle. Actions, however, speak louder than words and the club's decision to start Schneider with their season on the line speaks volumes about the way the winds are blowing in the Canucks crease going forward.

Does this decision mean that the "Luongo era" is over in Vancouver? Jason Botchford and Tony Gallagher - two of the most plugged in beat-writers in the Vancouver market - certainly seem to think so. Botch wrote a must-read take on the situation yesterday, but here's the juiciest morsel:

When asked what went into his decision, Vigneault said: "Everything."

If it's Luongo, it will be because of his experience.

If it's Schneider, it will be because he has put up numbers that have become impossible to ignore. In two years combined, his save percentage is .933. His goals-against average is 2.09. His winning percentage, spanning 51 decisions is .735.

You can rationalize either choice.

But, whoever starts, the team is moving forward with Schneider in its plans. The Canucks don't want to trade him. Would you?

A future with Schneider means Luongo isn't likely to ever regain his seat as the definitive No. 1 goalie in Vancouver. That's not something he's going to embrace, no matter how well these two players work together. He's a workhorse, and fiercely competitive. And he's 33 years old, not 40.

Based on the realities of the salary cap, and the way that Cory Schneider's restricted free-agency is structured, I've long believed it a reasonable certainty that the Canucks will move a goaltender at this year's draft. The team assumes too much risk if they don't, and spending 8+ million in cap-space on a goaltending tandem is beyond unwise, it's wasteful.

Because of his albatross life-time contract, Luongo won't fetch the type of return that the younger Cory Schneider would on the trade market. Luongo's deal stil has 48 million dollars to pay out to Luongo, and Luongo can veto any possible deal since he has a no-movement clause. Those factors severely limit Vancouver's options.

Nonetheless, Luongo's cap-hit is manageable, he's coming off two very strong seasons, has a stellar track record and he remains a top-10 NHL goaltender. You have to imagine that there are several teams, but Tampa Bay in particular, who are in desperate need of a top-10 NHL goaltender, and who'd be willing to take on Luongo's contract (at the right price).

Luongo didn't speak to the press this afternoon, and one imagines that he's not too happy with the organization's decision. He's a competitor, so that's no surprise. He also deserves better. Luongo has, frankly, put up with a lot of crap during his time in Vancouver - he's been a constant scapegoat and on occassion, he's been mercilessly and unfairly booed at Rogers Arena. For all of that negative attention, Luongo has maintained his sense of humour, he's been supportive of Cory Schneider (even as the young netminder eclipsed Luongo's Q Rating among the denizens of Canucks Nation) and he's been the best goaltender in team history - and it's not even close.

In Luongo's six seasons in Vancouver, he's led the team to the playoffs five times, led them past the first round four times, and brought the Canucks to the brink of immortality when they reached the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Final last season. He's consistently put up a save-percentage around or above .920+, he's been nominated for the Vezina twice and was even a finalist for the Hart Trophy in 2007. For a franchise that was long known as a "goalie graveyard" his record is totally unassailable by any other netminder in Canucks history.

Luongo was also the winning goaltender in the most pressure packed and important game that has ever been hosted on Vancouver soil: the Olympic gold medal game in Februrary 2010. While some in the media are persistent in only remembering Parise's game-tying goal in that contest (Parise was left alone on the slot and scored on his second rebound, but that's Luongo's fault somehow), the fact of the matter is that Luongo's presence stabilized the 2010 Canadian Men's Olympic hockey team. In that tournament, he went 5-0-0, put up a save percentage well above .930% and made a miraculous save off of Slovakia's Pavel Demitra (rest in peace) in the waning moments of team Canada's tournament semi-final game.

It looks like tonight will mark the first game of the "Cory Schneider era" in the Canucks net. The passing of the torch will probably go largely unlamented too which, is sad considering how good, and how consistent Roberto Luongo has been throughout his Canucks tenure.

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Thomas Drance lives in Toronto, eats spicy food and writes about hockey. He is an NHL News Editor at theScore, the ex-managing editor of CanucksArmy.com and an opinionated blowhard to boot. You can follow him on twitter @thomasdrance.
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#1 Scott McKenzie
April 18 2012, 02:59PM
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You're right that he's been our best goalie ever. But he's not our best goalie right now, even though he probably hasn't gotten any worse.

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#2 Joshua
April 18 2012, 03:16PM
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I've been a Luongo defender since the beginning of his time here. He's been so consistent throughout the years and professional in dealing with a (usually) completely irrational fan base. He isn't gone yet, but it seems he will be for sure. And that is a decision I'm ok with. I think he's one of the league's best goaltenders and will continue to be so. But, as people have pointed out, it's impossible to overlook what Cory has done. Everything has been extremely impressive. Not only was he very impressive in game 3 of this series, but people seem to forget how great he also was in game 6 against Chicago last season. The only reason he didn't pitch a shutout is because he can't stick handle, and that can be worked on. If Luongo does get traded, I hope for the best for him. If he goes to Tampa Bay, I think he'll instantly make them into a 2nd round playoff team at least. With a couple more pieces added, he could make them into a legitimate cup contender.

All of that being said, I think the Canucks made the right choice. Everybody loves Schneider, and for good reason. He's not only (likely) a bit better than Luongo, he's also cheaper. Not to mention the fact that Eddie Lack is ready to be one of the better backups in the NHL.

Great stuff, Thom.

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#3 Andy Eide
April 18 2012, 03:36PM
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Great piece. I agree that it seems that they want to move forward with Schneider. I think it might be the right move. Which isn't to say I'm anti-Luongo at all. I think he is great and has been great but Schneider is younger and perhaps better. I would be angry with Gillis if he didn't at least attempt to see what trading Luo might look like.

All in all I think this is a good problem for the Canucks to have. They have unprecedented goalie depth in the organization right now and it's hard to say there is a defenite wrong way to go.

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#4 Mack
April 18 2012, 04:42PM
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I think it's the wrong choice. Trading Luongo for a less than stellar return (which is what it'll take for a team to take on his contract) is not going to help this club. We also know that Luongo can handle 60-70 games a season + playoffs while there's no guarantee Schneider will be able to, especially with his hydration issues. I'd be willing to bet if Luongo goes to Detroit or Tampa that he'll win a cup there before the Canucks do.

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#5 dan
April 18 2012, 04:46PM
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excellent article... not to mention he did this all with a below average defensive team....(other than 2007) However, if its the right decision to start Cory tonight..it was the wrong decision not to start Cory in Game 1 or game 2? Who waits for two losses to start your goalie of the future? Or, who decides who the goalie of the future is on two losses by Lui when he was great in game 1 and okay in game 2?

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#6 Chris
April 18 2012, 05:59PM
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Scott McKenzie wrote:

You're right that he's been our best goalie ever. But he's not our best goalie right now, even though he probably hasn't gotten any worse.

Nicely said

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#7 JDM
April 18 2012, 06:21PM
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Comments:

1. This is extremely premature. Whether one or the other goes depends on what they'll get in return for each.

2. The most pressure-packed and important game on Vancouver soil was game 7 last year. Before that it was game 7 '94. Third arguably goes to game 7 against Chitown last year. But maybe the gold medal game gets third.

3. Assuming Schneider is better than Luongo is dumb. He has played zero seasons as a starter. Being able to play well starting 30 or so games is much easier than carrying that level through 60 plus.

4. Schneider has been at his current state of awesomeness for at most 2 seasons. Guys who start their careers looking like world-beaters don't always stay that way. Steve Mason says hi. In other words, Schneider has downside risk. With Luongo, you know you're getting a top 10 guy for the next 3 seasons, most likely, and likely longer.

5. Luongo is the best goalie in Vancouver team history. King Richard was great, so was Captain Kirk, but Luongo has been elite for years. Yet, because we're a goalie graveyard, the fanbase has gradually eviscerated him to a point now where I swear some people have voodoo dolls. Why would think this won't happen to Schneider as well?

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#8 idon'tthinkso
April 19 2012, 06:39AM
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while fans in vancouver saw luongo as a stabalizing presence on the 2010 olympics, the rest of canada watched it's team win the gold despite luongo, not because of him. fact: he was brutal. careful about not factoring in luongos contract which has him locked up to 43 yrs old while discussing moving him. you may have to trade away a nice asset with luongo just to get him off the books.

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#9 John Andress
April 19 2012, 08:11AM
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I have just re-read the Tony Gallagher pre-game material from yesterday's press and the question that leaps to my mind is: "How can Tony Gallagher not be finished as a credible commentator on Canucks hockey." We have read his anti-Gillis, anti-Vigneault rants all year but yesterday he really consigned the team to the scrap heap whilst, once again calling for AV's ouster as coach of the team. "Heaven forbid L.A. gets the first goal Wednesday. Then the light starts to close and it becomes much, much easier to give up." he pontificated on Wednesday in a piece that said even if the Canucks manage to work the miracle "Congratulations, you just took seven games to eliminate the bleeping Kings!" I acknowledge that Gallagher has been a creative journalist at times but it has reached a point where his negativity and agenda bashing has compromised his objectivity and integrity and he need write nothing ever again except "Fire Gillis. Fire Vigneault." for his mesage to get across. Read his stuff from yesterday and, to quote a catch phrase, Tell me I'm wrong."

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#10 GarthButchers
April 19 2012, 09:09AM
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I try to ignore Tony Gallagher. Just imagine if he wrote in any other hockey market... I too think Luongo will be traded down south but in the end it will come down to what the Gillis can get in return.

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#11 Truth
April 19 2012, 11:04AM
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I don't know think there would be a market for Luongo if he was put on the block. Not without the Canucks having to give up something significant in order to move him. They just designated Luongo to be the back-up. He is signed for 10 more years, bringing him to the ripe age of 43 by contract end.

Who has the power in a potential trade? I'd argue not the team trying to move a proven playoff non-performer signed long term at big money.

All other GM's in the league would be happy leaving Vancouver with a $5.33M avg cap hit back-up goalie crutch for 10 more years. And you know that Schneider would be asking for at least what the back-up is making per year. Vancouver is potentially looking at $11-12M + locked up in goaltending for a while.

The Canucks best bet would be a buy-out clause in the next CBA.

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#12 MuppetOnMetal
April 19 2012, 11:31AM
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As much as I would love seeing Lu go to Tampa - I just don't see how that works financially. With that said I think trading Luongo is the best case scenario for all - get him away from the pressure, let him be the goalie god of another struggling francise like he was for us when we got him. Ottawa seems like the smartest trade to me - Craig Anderson will never be the answer and the Sens proved they can be great even with a cruddy goalie - imagine what they can do with an AMAZING one. Luongo has always been a top 10 goalie but most of the fans just dont believe in him anymore

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#13 Truth
April 19 2012, 12:07PM
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Wouldn't it be interesting if Schneider signed a 10 year $60 mil offer sheet in the summer.

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#14 MuppetOnMetal
April 19 2012, 01:54PM
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Truth - so long as Luongo played as well as he has this year, then it wouldn't be too bad. Ending the goalie controversy one way or another will solve Lu's and the organizations' problems...but everyone's going to have to get used to hearing about what a 'stupid' move letting Schneider go would be for at least a year, if not the rest of history

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