Vancouver's Goalies Have Allowed Mike Gillis to Maximize Luongo's Trade Value

Thomas Drance
January 12 2013 08:53AM


Together again, Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo shared the ice practice in UBC on Friday.
Photo Credit: David Ebner.

I'm not going to go on and on about this subject - I've done that enough this week - but I want to make a quick point about the drawn out saga in the Canucks net.

Mike Gillis might trade Roberto Luongo this weekend and with the market heating up, I'm beginning to suspect that Gillis' patient approach to dealing Luongo will ultimately be vindicated (at times I was admittedly doubtful). There's one area in particular, however, where Mike Gillis and the Canucks front office deserves particular credit in this story, and that credit can be doled out regardless of what the return ultimately looks like. It belongs to the realm of "relationship management." Allow me to elaborate on the other side of the jump.

For some context on this, check out my take on Laurence Gilman's "covenant between us and our players" comments from this summer. This is an area where the Canucks have excelled previously, and it's arguably at the root of the club's mastery of contract work.

So let's begin by taking a look at where we are and where we came from. It has been nearly eight months since Roberto Luongo - a star goaltender with a no-trade clause - was replaced by Cory Schneider - a pending restricted free-agent with sky high market value - in game three of the team's postseason series agains the Los Angeles Kings. Then shortly after the team's elimination from the playoffs, Luongo told the media that he'd accept a trade out of Vancouver. Just looking at this structurally, I'm convinced that handling this situation could have been an ugly situation for a lesser organization.

But if we fast forward to where we're at now, it's clear that the Canucks have really made out like bandits in a situation with an awful lot of uncertainty. Gillis extended Cory Schneider on a medium-term contract that will keep him in Vancouver with a reasonable cap-hit through his age 29 season. Meanwhile Roberto Luongo is telling the media that he's "open to a lot of possibilities" on the trade-front, one of which remains returning to Vancouver and competing with Cory Schneider's for starts.

Let's just take a moment and remember that this could have played out so very differently for the Canucks. Cory Schneider didn't have a lot of leverage, he was a restricted free-agent, but he signed an extension with the Canucks just after the NHL entry draft and in advance of the opening of free-agency (when Schneider may have been the target of a predatory offer sheet).

If Schneider had put the screws to Mike Gillis and the Canucks front-office, he could've put the Canucks in a much tougher spot - both in terms of personnel decisions and the salary cap. At the very least Cory Schneider, depending on how he played his contract negotiations (for example "I'm not going to re-sign while Luongo is around because I want to be sure that I'm a full-time starter next season") he had the ability to force have the Canucks to consider moving Luongo for a lesser return during the summer. Any of that would've been well within his rights, by the way, but instead the Canucks got Schneider under contract.

Based on some of Cory Schneider's past comments regarding the limited leverage of restricted free-agents and on the subject of collusion among NHL teams, I think we can infer that he wasn't exactly thrilled with the landscape he was looking at this summer as a restricted free agent. Perhaps playing off of that, Gillis allowed the RFA market for younger goaltenders to be set (by Pavelec and Rask) in June and then narrowly beat those deals before any other club had a chance to chat with Schneider. In getting Schneider under contract when he did, Gillis in effect bought the time that he's taken full advantage of since. 

Luongo meanwhile, dogged by rumours over the summer that he would only accept a trade to the Panthers, is clearly playing ball. He's saying the right things about returning to the Canucks and he's saying the right things about being willing to consider a trade that would send him to Toronto, or Philadelphia or somewhere else that's way, way colder in the winter-time than Miami. Again, it could've been different, Luongo could've said publicly that it was Florida or bust. Sure the Canucks could've used their waiver hammer, but that would've left them with nothing, and the fact remains that Luongo's cooperation has enabled Mike Gillis too.

I don't have a crystal ball, so I have no idea what sort of treasure the Canucks will gain in a Roberto Luongo trade. Regardless of what the returns looks like however, the Canucks front-office is already deserving of a lot of credit in my view for maximizing their leverage on multiple fronts in this situation. Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo meanwhile deserve a lot of credit (from Canucks fans especially) for their professionalism throughout their drawn out, over-covered battle for ice-time. Let's hope that any forthcoming deal works out for all involved.

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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 John Andress
January 12 2013, 10:17AM
Trash it!
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I agree with your contention that all parties involved in this affair have handled themselves thoughtfully and and as well as can be accepted considering the media's huge role in the scenario. I have, in particular, been impressed by Roberto Luongo's calm and sensible response to repetitive questioning which, as time wore on, was insensitive, inflammatory and plain old fashioned rude. My only quibble with the whole situation was why on earth two sound and sensible managers such Mike Gillis and Laurence Gilman would propose such a misconceived contract in the first place. I accept that Luongo is a player who the Canucks would be interested in securing long-term and that within the restrictive limitations of the salary cap lateral thinking was required and every loophole available warranted exploration but it just seemed to me that from the outset the organization was making a rod for it's own back by entering into this long-lasting contract with the player. Having said that, I still don't think the NHL justified in retroactively punishing the team for signing a contract which the league had the option of opposing before it was signed. Perhaps this saga will linger on in the courts long after Roberto is long gone and, hopefully, thriving in a new environment and Cory Schneider has raised the Stanley Cup with the blue and green. Perhaps then all parties will be seen to have gotten what they deserved from the whole sordid mess.

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