The Coexistence

The Canucks prospects team will rest today in preparation for two more games later this week against the rookies from the Jets and Sharks organizations on Wednesday and Thursday respectively. So lets take a break from drooling about Nathan Longpre and Sebastian Erixon, and turn our attention to everyones favorite inevitable Canucks controversy.

As the 2012 entry from EA Sports’ legendary "NHL" video-game series drops today – Twitterers are complaining about how the Canucks goaltending is over-rated in the game. EA ranks the team’s goaltending as the best among all NHL teams (97 out of 100), and most blasphemously, Roberto Luongo is rated a single attribute point higher than Tim Thomas. 

Granted, if I was responsible for calibrating player ratings Tim Thomas would be rated 95 and functionally impossible to beat, the player ratings EA has put together do reflect a larger truth. Namely that the Vancouver Canucks possess arguably the best one-two punch in goal in the entire league (Boston’s duo of Thomas-Rask are the only other legitimate contenders). 

Though this qualifies as one of those "good problems" – the Canucks are likely 100% absolutely guaranteed to have a goaltending controversy at some point this season, and fans, bloggers and media will all chime in, pick a side and hyperventilate about who should start a particular "big game": Luongo or Schneider.

The fact is, they’re both quality NHL goaltenders. Last season – Cory Schneider’s first as a full-time NHL back-up – the Boston College graduate appeared in 25 games, starting 22 of them. His sv% hovered around .930, he went 16-4-2 and had a GAA well below 2.5. It wasn’t just Schneider’s stats that impressed observers, and professional goalie scouts, it was also his intelligence, attitude and polish. Schneider’s superlative efforts in relief of Roberto Luongo, propelled the Marblehead, Massachusetts native from "highly touted prospect" status to "leagues best backup tender" consideration. Schneider’s play, and Luongo’s Jekyl/Hyde act in the first round and in the Stanley Cup Finals,  has only fueled the flames of the inevitable "goaltending controversy" that will be upon us at some point this season.

Now, in my estimation Schneider is one of the leagues best young goaltenders. There’s no doubt in my mind that he will get the chance to be a starter at some point, and transform himself into a super-elite goalie. The issue in Vancouver is that Luongo is signed through the dawn of the next ice-age, and is a super-elite goaltender and a perennial Vezina nominee already. Sure some (most) consider Luongo a choker, but though he’s had some really bad games at inopportune times, it’s still mostly poppycock as far as I’m concerned.

Earlier this summer, Jeff Angus from Dobberhockey – whose Canucks sources are consistently reliable – told me on the CanucksArmy podcast that some in the Canucks organization don’t trust Luongo, and that we can expect Schneider to start even more games (as many as thirty) this season. In a recent interview with Guillame Lefrancoise of CBC Radio Canada Cory Schneider was asked about the Canucks log-jam in net, about Luongo’s choker reputation, and about how Schneider hopes to build on last years success (original in French, translation work by Cam Davie):

Schneider wants to maintain the pace he set for himself last year.

"I want to use last year as inspiration," said Schenider, who met this week in a voluntary training involving some of the Canucks players. "I do not want to take a step back, I want to improve. I have a lot of support and a good guy in front of me to learn from. I expect to progress."

But, after starting 22 games last year, it will be difficult for Schneider to play more often, given the truckload of money due Luongo. However, some newspapers are predicting that Schneider will be the most widely used backup goaltender in the NHL this season.

The redhead is in the dark about the role that awaits him this season.

"I played about twenty games last season, so the team knows what to expect from me and trust me," says Schneider. "But Lou was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy last year. When you count on a guy like that, you want to play him as much as possible. But who knows? We had a short summer, maybe they want him to rest to be fresh and available late in the season. Whatever role they want me to fill, I will fill it."…

…This love-hate relationship between the fans and media and Luongo hardly bothers Schneider.

"It doesn’t upset me. It is unfair to Lou, considering everything he has accomplished in his career. Goalies of his caliber don’t grow on trees. So he should get the benefit of the doubt from time to time, and people should realize what kind of goalie he is. But it doesn’t bother him or me. The media and fans are doing to do what they want. "

It may not be a bother, but the situation has prompted Canucks management to bring veteran Manny Legace out of mothballs. The level of play of 38-year veteran could influence the Canucks’ decision on Schneider.

It’s apparent then, that one of Luongo’s staunchest defenders, is in fact, the Canucks backup goaltender. Schneider’s personality and talent is contagious – he’s a good player, and a likable personality. Though it can be difficult to gauge the market for NHL goaltenders – Schneider will certainly be a very valuable asset next offseason (when he’ll still be a restricted free-agent). For this year, however, expect Schneider to start more often, and to remain on the team all season (as an insurance policy) – but don’t expect him to usurp Luongo’s hold on the starters mantle (barring injury) for any great length of time. Great teams in the contemporary NHL usually have two quality goaltenders, so rather than looking for controversy, let’s just appreciate that this is a particular area of strength for the Canucks going forward.

And for the "Schneider deserves a chance to earn the starters role, let whoever is performing better play" crowd, look at the numbers and the results. As good as Schneider is, as much promise as he possesses, Luongo is still the better goaltender.