Stud goaltender Cory Schneider is having another standout campaign backing up Roberto Luongo in Vancouver. This season, Schneider has appeared in 26 games, he’s sporting the third best save percentage of any NHL goalie with more than 20 starts, and in terms of his quality-start percentage: he’s been more reliable between the pipes than Luongo. Schneider is young, he’s smart, he’s articulate, and his goaltending mechanics are impeccable. At this point, it’s not a stretch to list Cory Schneider among the league’s best young goaltenders, and with his contract expiring this summer the notion of adding Schneider to the roster has opposing teams and fan-bases salivating.
Take Tyler Dellow and Jonathan Willis, two of the smartest Oilers fans out there, who have actively fantasized about the Oilers signing Cory Schneider to an Offer Sheet. If you’re a team that needs to address your starting goaltending, you’re not going to do better than Cory Schneider this offseason. Yes, there’s a chance that Cory Schneider could take up the starters mantle in the postseason for the Canucks; but with Roberto Luongo’s immovable contract on the books through the return of Christ, it remains very likely that Schneider will begin next season wearing colours other than Canucks blue.
But how will that process unfold? Will any teams sign Cory Schneider to an offer-sheet? Will he be taken to arbitration? Will he be dealt at the draft? Read past the jump for your complete guide on Cory Schneider’s impending restricted free agency.
Before we begin, I need to mention that in writing this blog-post I am deeply indebted to the guidance of BeantownCanuck. I’m reluctant to list him as a co-author (in case he hates the blog post) but that’s how important his contributions were. Needless to say: I couldn’t have navigated the CBA legalese without him.
The Draft and the Market
Most observers expect that Cory Schneider will be dealt at this year’s NHL entry draft which takes place on June 22nd and 23rd in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Generally speaking, teams are flush with cap-space at the draft and are looking to build their roster long-term. For teams looking to address a need in net, Cory Schneider will be the most coveted asset.
Mike Gillis isn’t a stranger to making draft day deals. In 2010 he completed probably his worst trade as General Manager of the Canucks, when he acquired Keith Ballard and Victor Oreskovich from Florida while sending a conditional first round pick (Quinton Howdon), Michael Grabner and Steve Bernier to the Panthers. That deal is among the few blemishes on Gillis’ record as Canucks GM (I’d also include the Luongo contract, and the Mathieu Schneider experiment), so he’ll look to do better this time around.
Realistically, there are five major teams that meet the criteria of being a) desperately in need of addressing their goaltending situation long-term and b) a team that the Canucks would likely trade with. Those five teams are the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Tampa Bay Lightning, the New York Islanders, the Columbus Bluejackets and the New Jersey Devils. The Bluejackets are in the West but will need more than a goaltender to seriously trouble the Canucks, and they’ll likely be in a different conference soon enough as a result of realignment. I’d put three other teams (Winnipeg, Washington and Phoenix) as possible long-shots who could conceivably make a bid.
The Canucks will likely be looking for some combination of a high first round pick, and a young roster player (preferably a right-side Defenseman). Gillis will hold an auction of sorts, and almost assuredly, he’ll deal Cory Schneider (or in a less likely but still feasible scenario: Roberto Luongo) on the 22nd of June to the highest bidder.
If the Canucks don’t move Cory Schneider at the draft, they’ll need to send him a qualifying offer by 5:00 PM EST on June 25th, per section 10.2 (a)(ii)(B) of the CBA. Assuming Gillis doesn’t "pull a Tallon," the Canucks will absolutely do this. Because Cory Schneider’s base salary (900,000 this season) is between 600,000 and 1 million dollars, his qualifying offer must include a 5% bump to his current salary, which means the value of the qualifying offer will be at least $945,000. Schneider will, of course, not accept the team’s qualifying offer meaning he’ll become a Restricted Free Agent at 12:00 AM EST, on July 1st.
This is the most interesting part of Schneider’s RFA status. The Canucks will have a 24 hour window between 5:00 PM EST on July 5th and 5:00 PM EST on July 6th in which they can elect to take Cory Schneider to binding salary arbitration (see: Secs 12.1(b) and 12.4(b) of the 2005 CBA). If the Canucks exercise their right to take Schneider to arbitration, he is then forbidden from negotiating with any other teams according to section 10.2 (a)(i)(B) of the CBA, and he cannot be signed to an offer-sheet.
Here’s the rub though, in the intervening five days between July 1st and July 5th – Cory Schneider will be a standard group two restricted free-agent and opposing General Managers will be free to negotiate with him and ink him to an offer-sheet, which, the Canucks would then have a week to match.
Worst Case Scenario: The Offer Sheet
Now, Cory Schneider being signed to an offer-sheet is the worst possible outcome for the Canucks for several reasons. First of all, matching any offer-sheet extended to Cory Schneider would be unappealing from a spending efficiency perspective. The Canucks already have Luongo’s 5.33 million dollar cap-hit on the books and, frankly, spending 8-9 million dollars, (or well over 10% of next season’s expected cap) on the club’s goaltending tandem is totally unjustifiable.
Also, persuant to sections 10.3 (a) and 10.3 (b) of the CBA, once the Offer Sheet is signed, the Canucks would be unable to move Cory Schneider for one year from the day they matched the deal. In other words, they couldn’t match a Cory Schneider Offer Sheet and then turn around and trade him for a dream package from Tampa Bay: they’d have to swallow the bitter pill for at least the entirety of the 2012-13 season. In too many ways, the Canucks would be handcuffed if Schneider was signed to an offer-sheet, and would be very unlikely to exercise their right to first refusal.
To make matters worse, any draft pick compensation coming back the Canucks way from a Cory Schneider Offer Sheet would be only moderately attractive. Here’s how draft pick compensation for restricted free-agents worked last summer (these parameters are set by average salary, so we won’t know what this summer’s draft pick compensation numbers will look like yet):
Cory Schneider is a valuable trade chip, but with only fifty career starts under his belt and one career playoff start – how much is he worth as a restricted free-agent? Bearing in mind that an opposing general manager would need to make the offer "toxic" to discourage the Canucks from matching the deal, and we can expect that Schneider would garner an offer-sheet worth more than 3.13 million dollars. This means the Canucks would probably receive a first and a third round pick in 2013 if Schneider were to be poached by an offer-sheet. That’s hardly the game-changing return the Canucks brain-trust has in mind for a blue-chip asset like Cory Schneider.
If a team signs Cory Schneider to an Offer Sheet, the Canucks would find their options severely limited. If Vancouver chooses not to match the deal, the return is pretty meagre. If the team does match the Offer Sheet, then they’ll find themselves restricted in terms of their available cap-space, and in terms of what assets they’re permitted to trade next season. While the team’s resident capologist, Laurence Gilman, can probably navigate around these seemingly insurmountable restraints, a Cory Schneider offer-sheet remains a functional disaster scenario for the team.
Much of the material you’ll find below is paraphrased from Dirk Hoag’s handy-take on the arbitration process. Dirk Hoag’s "On the Forecheck" blog covers the Nashville Predators, and is perhaps the gold-standard for team blogs. Follow Dirk on Twitter.
If, by some act of the god, Cory Schneider made it to July 5th without being signed to an Offer Sheet then the Canucks would surely exercise their right to take him to binding arbitration. Because it would be team elected arbitration, Schneider would have the right to decide between a one or two year award, and the young goaltender would surely choose a one year award since he’s eager to be a full-time starter in the NHL (section 12.9 c). The Canucks would not have the right to "walk away" from the award (like the Blackhawks did with Antii Niemi) since they would have been the ones who requested the hearing (12.10 e).
In arbitration, both sides present evidence in support of their preferred salary figure. Admissible evidence includes statistics, history of durability, length of service to the team, the players "contributions" to the "success or failure" of the club in question, public appeal and the salary and success of comparable players (who also signed their deals as group 2 free-agents). Niemi’s arbitration award, James Reimer and Corey Crawford are the most obvious comps.
Cory Schneider has a lot going for him: he’s posted great numbers, he’s had success at every level and he has oodles of charisma and public appeal. His durability would probably come under some fire during an arbitration hearing (remember when he left game six against Chicago because of cramps?), but I doubt that drawback would carry too much water. If Schneider ends up going to arbitration, his award will likely hinge on whether or not he gets a few starts (and performs well) in the postseason. If he does, then Schneider’s side will easily win the "contributions" to the "success or failure" of the club argument. I’d expect Schneider to receive an award in excess of 2.5 million, and probably in the range of 2.8-3.25 million dollars in arbitration, but if took over the starters mantle and led the team on a deep playoff run, I could see him being awarded as much as $4 million.
Having gone through these scenarios, it becomes plain that the only appealing option for the Canucks is to trade a goaltender at the draft. In all likelihood, it will be Cory Schneider who gets dealt – he’s younger, he doesn’t have a contract to weigh down his value and he’ll the net the team a considerably more valuable return than Roberto Luongo.
Is there a chance that Cory Schneider ends up taking Luongo’s job in the postseason, and distinguishes himself to the extent that Gillis scrambles at the draft and spruces up a Roberto Luongo package with extra assets to incentivize the likes of Steve Yzerman to swallow Luu’s contract? Sure, it’s possible, but needless to say: it’s a long-shot.
Either way, this much is crystal, sparkling clear: Mike Gillis is going to hold an auction and trade one of his goaltenders at the draft. We know this for sure because in the history of the current CBA, only one restricted free-agent has been signed to an offer-sheet in the five day window before that free agent’s team could exercise their arbitration rights. That free-agent was David Backes, and the offer-sheet he signed (and that St. Louis matched) was offered to him by Canucks General Manager Mike Gillis. If there’s an existing loop-hole in the CBA, you can bet that Mike Gillis has already exploited it, and the "little known five day window before arbitration" loop-hole is no exception.
Mike Gillis knows what the stakes are headed into this June’s draft. He knows that he can make a good hockey trade and acquire valuable assets in exchange for Cory Schneider, and he also understands the risk that he assumes if he fails to move a goaltender in Pittsburgh. For the next three months, the Canucks boast the best goaltending tandem in the NHL, but we know that on June 22nd one of those goaltenders – probably the one named Cory Schneider – is going to be moved.