June 22 2012 11:20AM
The NHL Draft will go tonight in Pittsburgh, and for the Canucks and General Manager Mike Gillis, tonight will be interesting - if nothing else.
Of course it could be more than interesting - it could be earth-shattering. Vancouver's NHL club may not have any high picks (as usual) but they do have an albatross contract that they'd presumably like to move (Ballard), and more importantly a star goaltender on a "toxic deal" whose rumoured trade is causing absurd levels of speculation.
Draft night for the Canucks could also go off with a whimper, but with Cory Schneider in need of a new contract, and Roberto Luongo having publicly admitted he'd waive his no trade clause in late April, massive shock-waves would reverberate from that decision too. If the Canucks move Luongo it will be the biggest deal the team makes on draft day by a country mile (it would be one of the biggest moves in team history, really) and by that same token, if they keep Luongo that logic still holds.
Going into this evening's draft, only one thing is really certain: that whoever the team picks with the 26th selection in the 2012 NHL entry draft will be second page news in Vancouver's sports pages tomorrow morning. That is unless they move up...
Let's summarize the relevant chatter regarding Luongo and Vancouver's first round pick, and do our best to preview a day of uncertainty for the Vancouver Canucks. Click past the jump for more!
For the most part, the Canucks have been in a holding pattern since the team's postseason ended several months ago. It may seem like the chatter has heated up in recent days, and trade talks between the Canucks and other clubs about Luongo almost certainly have, but the official party-line hasn't really budged an inch. For all intents and purposes, the club continues to say that they'll return Luongo to the roster next season if a "hockey deal that improves the club" isn't in the cards, that this is a "good problem," and that there is significant interest in Luongo from other teams around the league.
But from what corners is that interest emanating? For what it's worth, Tony Gallagher - a guy with closer ties to Mike Gillis than any other Vancouver hockey writer - listed Chicago, Florida, Toronto and Columbus as some potential destinations in a column today. Columbus is the most unlikely option, partly because it's hard to imagine that Luongo would waive his no-trade clause to join the NHL's equivalent of the Washington Generals. Anyway, Columbus just traded a valuable package of picks to Philadelphia in exchange for young Russian goaler Sergei Bobrovsky, so they could be out of the market.
Chicago remains a long-shot, and Bowman has denied any interest in Luongo. Meanwhile Florida has been a long-rumoured destination for Vancouver's three-time Vezina nominee - but the Panthers really don't appear to make any sense beyond them cropping up constantly in any column about potential Luongo destinations...
Which leaves Toronto, and old Gillis nemesis Brian Burke. There is a bewildering amount of posturing going on between these two,which, makes sense based on their history (tampering, Bure's trade request) and their blustery personalities. Burke apparently is getting frustrated with the Canucks, because Gillis and co. refuse to lay their cards on the table - and haven't made any specific demands or requests regarding which Leafs players they'd like to see come the other way.
It's a particularly loaded game of brinksmanship for both parties. While Gillis and Gilman claim that they'd be willing to return both Luongo and Schneider next season - that truly isn't feasible. In fact, it's just about as impractical as Toronto's publicly professed notion that they'd be willing to use a platoon of goaltenders prominently featuring James Reimer and Ben Scrivens next season - a tandem which would surely cost Brian Burke his job. Can these two put their personalities aside and make a deal? We'll see who blinks first...
As for whether or not we can expect a deal tonight, or tomorrow? Gilman had this to say yesterday: "I wouldn’t want to make a prediction on it. There is interest right now. It is conceivable that we could make a deal this weekend. That being said, it’s also possible that we don’t do anything." Yep, lots of uncertainty and some potentially destructive interplay between two big personalities - it's going to be an interesting day!
A fun quirk is that, at his media availability yesterday, Laurence Gilman appeared to throw a wrench in the wheel with a comment about how the team has "spoken to a number of general managers about both our goaltenders." These comments led to some speculation, most of it in jest, that maybe the Canucks have been playing some serious, high-level poker over the past three months in an effort to send Cory Schneider's value through the roof. Perhaps they've been making it appear as if the team would rather move Luongo, and is willing to move heaven and earth to do so, in an effort to force an opposing General Manager to offer the moon for the younger goaltender on the Canucks roster. If they ploy works, Gillis would then sell Schneider for toonies on the dollar. The twist: Luongo is in on the whole thing!
If that sounds crazy, that's because it is. But realisitcally, this wouldn't be the first time we've seen this administration use coy, hedgehog tactics to pump up an asset's value. This sort of thing is fun to think about, but it's also the silliest possible way of interpreting Gilman's comments yesterday. Gilman was just re-emphasizing, I think, the team's official stance of: "we're keeping our options open and are willing to return both goaltenders, and may even move Schneider."
Of course, if the Canucks have been playing a high-level shell game, that would be hilarious.
The 26th Pick
In looking at Gillis' draft record, we've noticed several trends: he always takes a goaltender on day two, and he never takes anything but a forward in round one, for example. Gilman spoke to that somewhat yesterday, summarizing the team's approach to the 26th pick as such (via the Province and Jason Botchford):
"If we were to assess a need we have, it'd be at forwards, perhaps centre in particular. That being said, in the four years we've been here and run the draft, we've picked the best player based on skill at the top part of the draft, in the first and second rounds. Then, we've started to address positional needs as the drafts unfolded."
So look for Vancouver's streak of selecting exclusively forwards on day one of the draft to continue tonight, that is if the team keeps their current pick...