A tale of two ‘tenders.
Even before it was confirmed by Alain Vigneault on Wednesday afternoon, all signs were pointing to Cory Schneider getting the nod for the Canucks in tonight’s "Do or Die" game four against the Kings. With the team on the brink, the Canucks have tipped their hand: Cory Schneider is starting tonight, and persumably he’ll be the team’s starter beyond this season.
Read past the jump.
The numbers confirm that Cory Schneider has outperformed Luongo all year, and that has continued in this series. Luongo’s play was solid in both of games one and two, but Schneider is the only Canucks goaltender who has managed to pitch a quality start in the team’s preliminary round series against Los Angeles.
If you’ve been paying attention and reading between the lines, it has been clear for a while that the Canucks have become increasingly enamored with Cory’s skill set and personality during his time with the club. He’s been put into "big games" all season to prepare him for this moment, and clearly the Canucks believe they have a future star on their hands.
Even before the postseason, Gillis didn’t sound like a guy who had any interest in selling Schneider’s services to the highest bidder, telling Rintoul and Botch on April 5th (transcription my own):
"I’ve been in professional hockey since I was nineteen and I don’t think I’ve encountered in all those years a player who is as professional as [Cory Schneider] is. He’s a wonderful guy personally, a great teammate and he’s just a pro. He handles himself with dignity, he’s faced a lot of pressures that other young players don’t face – he’s remarkable. That’s why we like having him here. So when people talk about trading Cory, that’s not something we’re even thinking about at this point in time, and if that does come to pass it will be with reluctance. But he’s a guy we want to have here, we like him here and we think he’s going to be a fantastic goalie"
At the time I suspected Gillis was simply managing his assets, and posturing as if the club thought of Cory Schneider as an essential, and untouchable piece of the puzzle. Actions, however, speak louder than words and the club’s decision to start Schneider with their season on the line speaks volumes about the way the winds are blowing in the Canucks crease going forward.
Does this decision mean that the "Luongo era" is over in Vancouver? Jason Botchford and Tony Gallagher – two of the most plugged in beat-writers in the Vancouver market – certainly seem to think so. Botch wrote a must-read take on the situation yesterday, but here’s the juiciest morsel:
When asked what went into his decision, Vigneault said: "Everything."
If it’s Luongo, it will be because of his experience.
If it’s Schneider, it will be because he has put up numbers that have become impossible to ignore. In two years combined, his save percentage is .933. His goals-against average is 2.09. His winning percentage, spanning 51 decisions is .735.
You can rationalize either choice.
But, whoever starts, the team is moving forward with Schneider in its plans. The Canucks don’t want to trade him. Would you?
A future with Schneider means Luongo isn’t likely to ever regain his seat as the definitive No. 1 goalie in Vancouver. That’s not something he’s going to embrace, no matter how well these two players work together. He’s a workhorse, and fiercely competitive. And he’s 33 years old, not 40.
Based on the realities of the salary cap, and the way that Cory Schneider’s restricted free-agency is structured, I’ve long believed it a reasonable certainty that the Canucks will move a goaltender at this year’s draft. The team assumes too much risk if they don’t, and spending 8+ million in cap-space on a goaltending tandem is beyond unwise, it’s wasteful.
Because of his albatross life-time contract, Luongo won’t fetch the type of return that the younger Cory Schneider would on the trade market. Luongo’s deal stil has 48 million dollars to pay out to Luongo, and Luongo can veto any possible deal since he has a no-movement clause. Those factors severely limit Vancouver’s options.
Nonetheless, Luongo’s cap-hit is manageable, he’s coming off two very strong seasons, has a stellar track record and he remains a top-10 NHL goaltender. You have to imagine that there are several teams, but Tampa Bay in particular, who are in desperate need of a top-10 NHL goaltender, and who’d be willing to take on Luongo’s contract (at the right price).
Luongo didn’t speak to the press this afternoon, and one imagines that he’s not too happy with the organization’s decision. He’s a competitor, so that’s no surprise. He also deserves better. Luongo has, frankly, put up with a lot of crap during his time in Vancouver – he’s been a constant scapegoat and on occassion, he’s been mercilessly and unfairly booed at Rogers Arena. For all of that negative attention, Luongo has maintained his sense of humour, he’s been supportive of Cory Schneider (even as the young netminder eclipsed Luongo’s Q Rating among the denizens of Canucks Nation) and he’s been the best goaltender in team history – and it’s not even close.
In Luongo’s six seasons in Vancouver, he’s led the team to the playoffs five times, led them past the first round four times, and brought the Canucks to the brink of immortality when they reached the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Final last season. He’s consistently put up a save-percentage around or above .920+, he’s been nominated for the Vezina twice and was even a finalist for the Hart Trophy in 2007. For a franchise that was long known as a "goalie graveyard" his record is totally unassailable by any other netminder in Canucks history.
Luongo was also the winning goaltender in the most pressure packed and important game that has ever been hosted on Vancouver soil: the Olympic gold medal game in Februrary 2010. While some in the media are persistent in only remembering Parise’s game-tying goal in that contest (Parise was left alone on the slot and scored on his second rebound, but that’s Luongo’s fault somehow), the fact of the matter is that Luongo’s presence stabilized the 2010 Canadian Men’s Olympic hockey team. In that tournament, he went 5-0-0, put up a save percentage well above .930% and made a miraculous save off of Slovakia’s Pavel Demitra (rest in peace) in the waning moments of team Canada’s tournament semi-final game.
It looks like tonight will mark the first game of the "Cory Schneider era" in the Canucks net. The passing of the torch will probably go largely unlamented too which, is sad considering how good, and how consistent Roberto Luongo has been throughout his Canucks tenure.