The Complete Guide to Cory Schneider’s Upcoming Restricted Free Agency

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.

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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.

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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.

Qualifying Offer

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. 

The Window

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.

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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):

$1,034,249 annual cap hit or less: No compensation

$1,034,249 — $1,567,043: Third-round pick

$1,567,043 — $3,134,088: Second-round pick

$3,134,088 — $4,701,131: First and third-round pick

$4,701,131 — $6,268,175: First, second and third-round pick

$6,268,175 — $7,835,219: Two first-round picks, a second and third

$7,835,219 and higher: Four first-round picks

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.

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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.

Full Circle

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. 

  • @GoddTill @Mantastic Blues don’t have a better tandem, they just play a crazy defensive system. You can’t tell me in all honesty that you’d take Elliott over Schneider/Luongo…

    Boston may have a better tandem, but not for the next three months (with Rask’s injury).

    • Mantastic

      Elliott and Halak have both stole numerous games for the Blues this season and the numbers are hugely supporting this. as we’re talkin about tandems here and yes i would take the tandem of Halak/Elliott over Schneider/Luongo this season.

  • giventohyperbole

    Is there any chance that Gillis signs Schneider to a contract thereby negating the risk of an offer sheet?

    Also would it not return more in a trade if there was cost certainty involved for the other side?

    • Schneider would be foolish to accept a contract right now.

      He’ll be a valuable commodity for the Canucks, which means he should be able to pull in decent money from a team he is dealt to.

      In any case, the Canucks won’t give him more now than he could get in arbitration if it got to that point.

    • Mantastic

      no there is almost no chance of thise because cory wants a number one position and there is almost no way that is going to happen with luongo in vancouver, especially with a 5.3 million dollar cap hit, they can’t justify putting cory as the starter with a 5 million dollar goalie on the bench. So i see no way the canucks resign cory to a deal. I see where u are going tho, sign him to a deal couple years or whatever to make certain the team who gets him will have him for a while. I just dont see that happening though. It would be more beneficial for gillis to trade him for another asset at the draft. It also makes more sense for cory to wait see what unfolds, see what teams offer him(if he gets to RFA), rather than anything else really. regardless cory is not gonna be in vancouver after the summer it’s almost 100 percent certain. I highly doubt some crazy team is gonna pick up luongo’s contract. Only teams i could see would be ones in complete rebuilding mode looking for a player to build their team around and there are very few teams like that right now .

  • Darryl

    On a related note, the Canucks look like they’ll be signing Joe Cannata in the near future.

    “We’re very high on him and we are in the process right now of trying to sign him,” Canucks assistant general manager Lorne Henning told the paper on Monday. “We love him and have been watching him all year. Dave Gagner (director of player development) was actually just in there to watch him and he is very high on our list.”

    So, if Schneider moves on, Lack moves up, and Cannata slides into the starter role in the AHL.

  • Darryl

    If he does get to July 1st, I don’t think he’ll be getting an offer for much more than $3.1 mil/season (2nd round pick).

    He’s only got 60 NHL games under his belt and while they are a very good 60 games, teams haven’t been willing to use the offer sheet route in the past.

    The exceptions of course are Gillis and Lowe. Lowe has already “learned his lesson” from it and Gillis isn’t going to do it to himself.

    I honestly think that there is a good chance that the Canucks keep both goalies for at least next year.

    • you really think they are gonna keep both? Cory has expressed that he wants to be number one, he has played second fiddle to louie for a long time now, you think he’ll just bite the bullet and stay one more year? i dont think so. i think that is he isn’t dealt he is gonna put himself out there when he hits UFA….there are a few teams looking for a young goalie with potential to be their long term netminder. and to grab him while he does have so few games under his belt would be beneficial cost wise.. So although i respect your opinion i completely disagree. i think schieds is gone .although i do agree with your price assessment. i think the article writer was bit generous with his value assessment.

      • He may not really have a choice.

        If he’s not traded by July 1st, I’m not 100% sure there will be a GM out there willing to do an offer sheet.

        Not because he isn’t worth it, but because GM’s don’t seem to be willing to do it.

        If he gets to July 5th, he might not have much choice but to return to the Canucks.

        Ultimately, I think he will be traded so it’s all moot.

  • The other variable is Ballard’s contract; if there’s an amnesty clause in the new CBA he could leave that way, he could be sent down to the AHL (although Gillis seems reluctant to do this), or he could be packaged with prospects and dealt to a salary floor team. Any of those options would likely let the Canucks keep Schneider if he’s signed to an offer sheet.

    Also, I’m curious, what contract do you think Luongo should have been signed to?

  • I agree with your assessment that Gillis will try and auction Schneider at the draft. The problem is that no GM is going to trade to Vancouver assets that are worth more than the draft picks they have to give up if they sign Schneider to an offer sheet. This limits the top end of offers to a 1st and a 3rd.

    It’s the exact same wall Maloney came up against with Turris, except far more GMs will actually want Schneider and sign him for the money he wants. Turris couldn’t get an offer sheet that Maloney wouldn’t match (and he wanted out of Phoenix).

    Also, while you note there has only been the one offer sheet signed in the pre-team elected arbitration window, I would be curious how many RFAs have gone through that window that would be cobsidered desirable. Can’t be that many.