In early June, before the Canucks and Mike Gillis had re-signed Cory Schneider, there was a lot of uncertainty between the pipes in Vancouver. Uncertainty in the hockey world is a putrefying fruit bowl, it attracts idle chatter and speculative conjecture like fruit flies. So I decided I’d start a "Strombabble" series to discuss the twists and turns of the Luongo trade market, and parse through the available information leading up to the draft. Lo and behold: a third of a calender year later, I’m still writing them.
This week, Luongo will do what was nearly unthinkable in late April: he’ll return to Vancouver to temporarily re-join his Canucks teammates for a celebrity golf tournament this week. Per George Richards of the Miami Herald:
— George Richards (@GeorgeRichards) September 10, 2012
Will Luongo also meet with Canucks brass to discuss their current trade posture, and the Strombian one’s possible future with a non-Panthers NHL club? We’ll have to wait and see, but clearly Mike Gillis wasn’t bluffing – though we guffawed about it at the time – when he spoke about retaining Luongo’s services next season.
Read on past the jump.
Complicating the matter is the shroud of CBA uncertainty that currently evelopes the league. A new CBA could include rollbacks to player salary, a significantly lowered salary cap and, who knows, maybe even some sort of "amnesty" provision. It’s concievable that any or all of those factors could have a marginal impact on the Luongo market. If the cap is drastically reduced in a new collective bargaining agreement, for example, then spending 9.33 million (per CapGeek) in cap-space on two players (Schneider and Luongo) who will never share the ice becomes even less palatable than it already is, and it’s already grossly inefficient.
But the outlook of a new CBA, and its potential impact on a hypothetical Luongo trade is something
war criminal former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld might categorize as an "unknown unknown." So let’s look past it. What we know for now is that nothing appears to be imminent, the offers from Florida stink, and Luongo isn’t the type to hold out.
It’s difficult at this point, to imagine Luongo being moved prior to this Saturday (when the current CBA expires) andfFor the first time this summer: I suspect that Luongo will play some games in a Canucks uniform next season (whenever that is). If Luongo returns next season, then the Canucks will be spending nearly
two a million more on their goaltending tandem than the next closest NHL club. Needless to say: that’s less than ideal.
But it’s not a disaster, at least not necessarily. At the very least, Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo are really good at frustratring NHL shooters. The tandem shared the Jennings Trophy in 2010-11, and the Canucks were in the top-5 in team save percentage last season. If you’re a hockey team that is going to spend a silly amount at one position (and you really shouldn’t, especially if that position is "your goaltenders"), you better at least be able to count on quality performances from those players.
Roberto Luongo’s prospective return to the Canucks next season would be awkward and probably a major distraction for the team. But even here, Mike Gillis has an "out" of sorts in that Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo just might have the personalities to make it work.
This is the major bullet in Gillis’ otherwise empty chamber (for the record I consider the "we’ll send you to the AHL" threat to be more of a nuclear bomb than a standard pistol round): by all accounts, Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider get along. While Luongo would obviously like to be an everday starter, he has consistently been supportive of Schneider’s ascension to the role of a bonafide NHL starter; Schneider on the other hand is one of Luongo’s most outspoken defenders.
In the past I’ve argued that Luongo has faced more criticism and pressure than any other NHL player in the history of hockey. I’ve always thought that at some point Luongo would just become teflon, and in the @strombone1 Twitter account – I think he’s found a healthy outlet to help him accomplish that. If you believe, and I very much do, that one of the biggest challenges for NHLers playing in the Vancouver hockey market is excelling despite the burden of expectations: then Luongo could even provide some value as a "scrutiny sponge."
None of this even mentions the possibility that Luongo comes into next season, following a summer in which he was very publicly on the trade block, and puts together a Tim Thomas style eff-you season.
Mike Gillis hasn’t handled the Luongo trade situation that well. Starting Schneider for the club’s last three games in the first round, for example, boxed the team into a corner somewhat – but at least Gillis has managed to minimize the potential damage. Locking Cory Schneider up before he was exposed to any poison pill offersheets was a big win, and the structure of Eddie Lack’s recent deal, which only becomes a one-way deal in the second year of the contract, provides the Canucks with some cover as well.
But Luongo will return to Vancouver this week amidst cacophanous speculation, a testament to the "immovability" of his contract. Gillis hasn’t been able to entice a sufficiently attractive offer for Luongo’s services from his colleagues this summer, and a result he’ll very likely have to pay the piper (9.33 million on two goaltenders!).
That was Gillis’ gamble when he held onto Luongo past the draft, and I doubt that it makes any sense to resolve this situation quickly by settling for a salary dump and just moving on. Beyond the need to save face publicly, Mike Gillis’ best shot at getting anything of value in return for Luongo would probably come during next season if the likes of Scrivens, Reimer, Crawford and Lindback can’t hack it, for example.
Having Luongo on the roster next season (and his cap-hit on the books) would be an uncharacteristic spot of bad asset management, and it could make this upcoming Canucks season something of a zoo. But is that better than the alternative of trading a perennial Vezina contender for buyout candidates? That we’re still talking about this, indicates that we already know Mike Gillis’ answer.