With the season on the line, Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault opted to start Cory Schneider in Game Four. Schneider had started game three in what was likely an attempt to shake up the Canucks after they’d lost their first two games at home, and he’d played well.
Does that decision mean that the Canucks are now Schneider’s team?
There’s always a desire to interpret larger meaning in the short-term, especially when the short-term is something big and high pressure, like the NHL playoffs. The short-term needs to be taken in the larger context.
For instance, this isn’t the first time that Alain Vigneault has gone to Cory Schneider in a pivotal game. Last year, in Game Six against Chicago, with the Canucks in danger of blowing a 3-0 series lead, Vigneault started his backup. Many at the time took that as a sign that he couldn’t possibly go back to Luongo.
Schneider wasn’t especially good in that game, allowing three goals before getting hurt. Luongo started Game Seven and played some of his best hockey, stopping 31 of 32 shots in an overtime win that advanced the Canucks to the second round. He’d be their goalie of choice both on the way to the Finals, and then again this season.
Then too, Luongo was Vigneault’s choice to start the playoffs. The goaltender was great in Game One; middling in Game Two. Schneider came in and played very well in Game Three. Both goalies performed well this season; based on what we’ve seen over Schneider’s short career he’s a comparable talent to Luongo. There’s not a lot to choose between them, and Schneider had been good. It’s possible that’s all there is to it.
My personal read is that goalie performance fluctuates quickly. Schneider had played well in his last game; Luongo had just been okay. With the two guys so close, Vigneault opted to stick with the relatively hot hand.
Despite that coaching decision (and barring a miraculous comeback) the Canucks will face the same choice this summer that they were about to face at the end of the regular season.
They have an elite starter that they committed to long-term. Term, dollars, and the no-trade clause in his contract make a trade somewhat problematic; the Canucks aren’t likely to get fair value for a guy who is a high-end starting goalie.
They also have an elite backup, a young player who has been superb at every level early in his career. Schneider’s even-strength save percentage this year was 0.931; last year it was 0.933. He’ll be cheaper than Luongo, he’s younger than Luongo, and there’s a case to be made that he might even be better than one of the league’s best over the long haul. He’s also likely to be very, very tradable at the draft; despite the overall drop in goalie value the last few years, we’ve seen teams pay through the nose for guys like Semyon Varlamov. Schneider’s value should be higher.
Those are the two main factors: trade value and uncertainty stemming from the fact that Schneider’s played less than 70 NHL games. The Canucks have hung on to both goalies for as long as possible, but this year Schneider is going to get paid and they don’t have the cap space for two high-priced goalies.
It isn’t an easy decision, and Alain Vigneault’s decision to start Schneider in Game Four probably doesn’t settle the matter.