Strombabble: Fire Sale

Thomas Drance
September 13 2012 11:52AM


Photo Credit: Carmine Marinelli.

The summer is at an end and through it all, Roberto Luongo has improbably remained with the Canucks. As the "one foot out the door" goaler met with the press on Wednesday, Canucks General Manager Mike Gillis gave the press a firey update on the Canucks' trade posture.

Read past the jump for more!

In particular, Mike Gillis was adamant about the team's refusal to sell low on Roberto Luongo, per Jason Botchford:

“We’re one of the wealthiest teams in the league, so we don’t have fire sales,” Gillis said. “Our ownership has been completely supportive in everything we’ve done. They are going to be completely supportive in this matter. If someone thinks we’re going to have a fire sale, they’re wrong.”

Gillis admitted the team has had some “solid” offers for the goalie, but not from Florida. The Panthers haven’t been in the ballpark, and have instead made proposals that were more about shedding salary than giving up assets.

Gillis' "fire sale" comments shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention, or has any sort of intuitive feel for the way markets work. Gillis may not get a "retail" price for Roberto Luongo (though he would've been able to exact a retail price for Cory Schneider) but if he was willing to just liquidate this particular asset, the trade would've happened already. Just over a week ago, we dropped this extended metaphor:

Luongo is a 4000 square foot home in Shaugnessy, that has been listed for 6 months at a 3.5 million dollar price point.

This is what always gets me about those talking heads who like to claim that there's "no market" for Roberto Luongo. It's probably fair to characterize the market as soft (otherwise Luongo would've been traded already, and Nick Bjugstad would've been Canucks Army's number one prospect in the top-20) but the "no market" lark is unhinged.

That Luongo hasn't been moved yet reflects the fact that Vancouver's asking price is too high if their goal is to sell on Luongo immediately. But in hockey trades, and on the real estate market, all you ever really need is one person to like the asset enough to meet your demands....

But here's the rub: the Canucks aren't a homeowner looking to liquidate an asset, buy cheap elsewhere, and retire. As they've repeatedly said, there is no urgency on their end. Even as the CBA expires, and even as next season begins - Luongo and Schneider are both professional enough that the Canucks can afford to wait to get the right price, from the right buyer.

Nothing really has changed, and if anything, Gillis' ability to rely on Luongo's and Schneider's professionalism was reinforced yesterday. That didn't stop Gillis from brandishing his biggest remaining "hammer," however. Perhaps I'm reading too much into this quote, but I think Gillis dropped an implied threat regarding the possibility that the team might bury Luongo's deal in the AHL next season if Luongo won't agree to a trade with a team other than the Panthers (emphasis mine):

"Trade clauses allow the player, I mean that’s why they get them, and they are part of the negotiating process,” Gillis said. “He’s entitled to try and be selective."

"But at the end of the day, you are either going to play hockey or you’re not going to play hockey. We’re going to do our best to make sure Roberto is taken care of, whether he’s here or somewhere else. We’re going to look at his best interests, but also ours.”

But I digress, because the most interesting part of Gillis' original quote isn't the "fire sale" bit, nor is it his "you are either going to play hockey or you're not going to play hockey" statement. Those are the sexier soundbites sure, but the most interesting part of the quote is the portion where he reminds potential trade partners that, "[the Canucks are] one of the wealthiest teams in the league." 

I find that quote interesting partly because Gillis reiterated that notion, albeit using somewhat different notes, on the Team1040 with Matt Sekeres and Blake Price yesterday as well (skip to the 49th minute of the podcast):

"We've had ongoing discussions with teams all summer long, I think there is a cloud over major transactions because of the uncertainty that's there. But no - it hasn't changed a whole lot in the last couple of weeks.
But I think there's clearly teams who have very different considerations when they're looking at acquiring players or giving up players. We don't have the same financial constraints that some teams do, so we look at it very differently and other teams can't look at it that way. So you have to actually understand that they're looking at what may come and may be hesitant because they want to see that before they do anything."

Is this "rich team, poor team" dichotomy a shot across Florida's bow? An indication that the equivalent of Rotislav Olesz isn't going to be enough to complete this particular deal?

I've never understood why the Panthers would be interested in Luongo, considering that they've got the best goalie prospect in the world in Jakub Markstrom; and Jose Theodore and Scott Clemensen stopped .926% of even-strength shots last season. But perhaps Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon, who I rarely give any credit, has stopped fighting with his fax machine long enough to identify "star players on toxic contracts" as undervalued assets on the NHL trade market.. Obviously that's what he did with Brian Campbell, and that worked out okay for the Panthers...

If there's any validity to my theory, then we can expect Tallon to be firm on his lowball offer. He's got two sufficiently reliable NHL goaltenders on his roster and a bluechip prospect, so he's dealing from a position of strength anyway. If this is also part of a larger philosophy for Tallon, then the goose that is Luongo's Miami dream may be cooked.

Luongo was compliant with the Canucks' orchestrated show on Wednesday afternoon, and he's continually said that he'd be willing to be traded to teams not named the Florida Panthers. Reading between the lines of some of Gillis' comments, I suspect that willingness could be tested, albeit not until the NHL and the NHLPA hammer out the terms of a new collective bargaining agreement.

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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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