January 12 2013 08:53AM
Together again, Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo shared the ice practice in UBC on Friday.
Photo Credit: David Ebner.
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.