For a couple of years now, the Canucks have enjoyed the luxury of trotting out two blue-chip goalies in Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo to guard their net. While it’s widely assumed that Roberto Luongo will be traded over the course of this summer, and Coach Vigneault reiterated Luongo’s desire to get a fresh start elsewhere just yesterday; late last week, General Manager Mike Gillis told the Team 1040’s afternoon show that the Canucks would be very happy to deploy that same platoon again next season.
And why not? The Canucks were in the top-5 in terms of fewest goals allowed this past season, and Luongo and Schneider combined to stop .930% of all shots against at even-strength. While the team in front of them was occasionally listless, the two Canucks goaltenders were spectacular. By Gillis’ own admission they carried the rest of the club through long stretches of the regular season, and were unquestionably the team’s two most valuable players.
That said, if Canucks training camp opens this fall and both Luongo and Schneider report for duty, it will represent a major failure of asset management on the part of the organization.
Read past the jump for more.
By now Canucks fans can recite the arguments in favour of keeping Schneider and dealing Luongo from memory: he’s younger, he’s cheaper and based on their play over the past couple of seasons, he may be the better goaltender. As the team’s first round series against the Los Angeles Kings drew to a close, with Schneider starting games 3, 4 and 5 and playing extraordinarily well, it appeared that the Canucks had tipped their hand on who they saw between the pipes going forward. Mike Gillis’ recent comments about the possibility of the team returning both Schneider and Luongo next season notwithstanding, it’s pretty clear which way the wind is blowing in Vancouver.
There are so many moving pieces in the Luongo/Schneider situation, and in all likelihood the outcome of the Canucks log-jam in net will define Mike Gillis’ Canucks tenure. In terms of a potential Luongo trade – there is Luongo’s contract to consider, his no movement clause, and a potentially saturated goaltending market that could include the likes of: Tim Thomas, Mika Kipprusoff, Jonathan Bernier, Anders Lindback, Tomas Vokoun and Josh Harding. There is also the question of whether or not Luongo can be moved without the Canucks being forced to take on a toxic contract in return (I tend to believe they can, but I imagine it won’t be an easy sell).
In terms of re-signing Cory Schneider, I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume that the Canucks need to move Luongo in order to get Schneider to commit to the Canucks on a long-term contract carrying a reasonable cap-hit. Cory Schneider has an awful lot of leverage at the moment, he’s coming off of a gangbusters season, he’s arguably the most popular Canucks roster player in the Vancouver market, and he’s only one year away from hitting the open market as an unrestricted free agent.
Reading between the lines, it’s clear what the Canucks are looking to do in their net this summer: move Luongo for assets, and sign the cheaper, younger netminder to a long-term deal with a reasonable hit. From a "moneypuck" perspective, it’s absolutely the right course of action, but it’s fraught with risk. If Gillis can pull it off, it will represent one hell of a deft maneuver.
Losing the Plot
What’s particularly interesting to me about Gillis’ recent "distinct possibility" comments, is that this isn’t the first time in this saga that the Canucks General Manager has had to quell speculation or sourced reports regarding the team’s trade posture on Roberto Luongo. In all likelihood, it won’t be the last.
On April 25th, for example, during locker clean out day, Luongo said he’d be willing to waive his no trade clause if he was asked. The very next day, April 26th, it was reported (by Nick Kyprios) that Luongo requested a trade at his exit meeting. It was also reported by two different sources (Murph and James Duthie) that that the list of teams Luongo would be willing to accept a trade to, included at least Toronto and Tampa Bay.
That’s an awful lot of scuttlebutt being put out there by a variety of different parties. Still, on April 27th, Mike Gillis appeared on the Team 1040 in Vancouver and poured some cold water on the reports of a Luongo "trade request":
“We’ve met, but we’ve decided we’ll take our time and talk in the next few days over the phone. I’m not quite sure why something like that [the reports] would be out there.”
It’s fair to point out that Gillis’ comments on April 27th, and his comments earlier this week are both consistent with what you’d expect from a General Manager who is seeking to maximize his leverage ahead of the draft and free agency. Mike Gillis wants to appear to his colleagues to have "options." That means that officially Luongo hasn’t requested a trade, and officially there’s a "distinct possibility" that both goaltenders could return next season.
Reading the tea leaves, however, the only really desirable potential outcome is that the Canucks move Roberto Luongo, and sign Cory Schneider to a long-term deal at a reasonable rate.
If you believe Mike Gillis about the possibility of Luongo and Schneider returning next season, then you believe that the Canucks GM would be willing to invest upwards of 8.5 million dollars in cap-space next season on two netminders. Roberto Luongo carries a 5.4 million dollar cap-hit and Cory Schneider should get anywhere between 3-4 million this summer (depending on whether or not he re-signs with the Canucks, is tapped by a predatory offer sheet, or is taken by the Canucks to arbitration). While I suppose we can’t in good faith describe such an outcome as impossible, it’s fair to characterize it as extremely undesirable.
Consider that only three teams spent in excess of 7 million dollars against the cap on their goaltenders this past season (the Rangers, Hurricanes and Flyers) and none of those teams exceeded 8 million. Most observers expect the the salary cap to descend modestly once the league and the players association reach an accord on a new collective bargaining agreement, so if the Canucks brought both goaltenders back – they’d be looking at spending somewhere in the realm of 13-14% of their cap-space on two players who can never be on the ice at the same time. That’s just wasteful.
The best case scenario for the Canucks involves them moving Roberto Luongo for assets (and no bad contracts) at the draft, and then buying two or three of Schneider’s UFA years before July 1st, which probably pushes Schneider’s cap-hit next season comfortably north of 3.5 million per annum.
In this cheery scenario they’d free up close to 1.5 million in cap-space (assuming they sign a veteran back-up goaltender to compete with highly regarded Swedish prospect Eddie Lack for the backup roll) by getting out from under the Luongo contract.
The worst case scenario has been little discussed, probably because Canucks fans have learned to place a lot of faith in Mike Gillis’ generally able hands, but it’s grim. If the Canucks can’t find a willing taker, or a deal they like for Roberto Luongo at the draft, they’ll probably be forced to take Cory Schneider to arbitration.
Before they can file for team elected arbitration, Schneider will be exposed for five days to predatory offer sheets. When we thought the Canucks were keeping Roberto Luongo and looking to maximize a potential return for Cory Schneider – we called that a "worst case scenario." But an offer sheet is actually not a big deal if the team is trying to keep Schneider long-term. In fact, it probably plays into the Canucks hands since they possess the right of first refusal, can match any offer and lock Schneider up long-term. Frankly, I’d wager Schneider’s camp is too smart to sign an offer sheet if Roberto Luongo is still Canucks property on July 1st – since it would surrender too much control of the situation.
In this darkest potential timeline, the Canucks would probably accept an arbitrators decision (or come to terms with Schneider on a one year deal on the eve of the hearing, as per Gillis’ usual modus operandi) and be stuck paying two goaltenders upwards of 8 million dollars against the cap next season. I’d assume that Schneider would go into the season as the presumptive starter, and the Canucks would presumably continue to find potential trade partners for Luongo, while continuing to try and lock up Schneider long-term.
There is a lot of risk inherent in this delicate situation, and the Canucks could wind up alienating both goaltenders and then ultimately lose Schneider for nothing next summer. Needless to say, that would be an unmitigated disaster. Regardless, the way this complex situation plays out will represent a defining moment for Gillis’ Canucks tenure.