Photo Credit: (Dave Sandford/Getty Images)
There should be bigger fish to fry at this point in the NHL lockout, but for whatever shameless reason "Luongo to Toronto" rumours are the hot topic of today. Before we get started, let’s remember that Mike Gillis can’t chat with Roberto Luongo – who has the right to approve any trade he’s involved in – during the lockout. As such this is a purely hypothetical exercise, as are the rumours being bandied about.
For a variety of reasons, Toronto has always made the most sense as a "Luongo destination," and I’m very dubious of the notion that these latest "reports" tell us anything new. But let’s track down some scuttlebutt and engage in some skeptical analysis anyway. Read on past the jump.
Let’s produce a quick timeline documenting the reignition of Luongo to Toronto trade rumours this week.
Now lots of informed folks would point to John Shannon’s "all but done" comment on Sportsnet and Doug MacLean’s "Burke will make an unbelievable push for Luongo" follow up, as the first time they heard something linking Luongo to the Maple Leafs this week.
But I’d point to something else, something significantly sketchier: a message on the Canucks(dot)com (CDC) forums from a forum member who identified himself as a student at Windsor. In his message board post, he described a conversation he had with Richard Peddie – a former CEO of MLSE, and Windsor alum – after a seminar Peddie spoke at. This was posted on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Shannon and Maclean – who both work for Rogers Sportsnet, which is owned by the same folks who own Toronto’s hockey team – made their "Luongo Toronto comments."
Now I’m not saying that John Shannon took his report from CDC or anything, I wouldn’t know and I wouldn’t accuse anyone of being that unscrupulous without hard proof. But as a general rule, when I hear media speculating about a rumour the day after I read the same rumour somewhere unreliable and deemed it to be silly and – well, my skepticisim is naturally heightened. Maybe this is a case of "where there’s smoke there’s fire," or maybe this is an example of everything that sucks about hockey media sometimes. Most likely: it’s all just a coincidence.
Anyway, on Thursday, Canucks General Manager Mike Gillis appeared on the Team 1040 with Jason Botchford and while he pulled a Bill Clinton and quibbled with the definition of the word "close," the rest of his answer was a definitive denial:
"I’m not sure why John would say that because that’s certainly not the case; but everyone is entitled to speculate on whatever they’d like to speculate on."
I guess Mr. Gillis didn’t count on everyone who works in sports media in Toronto and Vancouver to take him up on his generous offer to speculate freely. Since Gillis’ Team1040 appearance, we’ve had this from Jason Botchford (heavily edited because Botch brings up a lot that I want to discuss):
"Toronto was closest to a deal for Luongo at the draft, in a negotiation that included the Leafs offering Luke Schenn and the Canucks countering by asking for Jake Gardiner-plus-plus-plus…
[In September] Vancouver GM Mike Gillis said the Leafs had several assets which could get a trade for Luongo done…
Multiple Canucks sources played down the report, including Gillis. But they had reactions that needled more toward the category of non-denial denials…
Before negotiations with Florida went totally off the rails, the Canucks were chasing highly touted 6-foot-4 centre Nick Bjugstad. The Leafs closest comparable is probably 6-foot-5 centre Joe Colborne.
"At the draft, reports indicated Vancouver asked for centre Tyler Bozak, defenceman Jake Gardiner, a first-round pick and winger Matt Frattin in exchange for the 33-year-old Luongo. The Leafs had no interest in paying that kind of price, largely because there is no significant market for the services of the veteran goaltender.
So talks have continued on and off, with Bozak as the centrepiece."
So, let’s review. A sketchy rumour about an imminent Luongo trade surfaced on the CDC message boards on Tuesday. Something eerily similar was then reported on Sportsnet on Wednesday. On Thursday Mike Gillis was asked about the report and explicitly repudiated it. Then on Thursday night and Friday morning, two well connected sports writers wrote columns recapping the discussions the two sides have had at various points over the past few months.
You’ll have to forgive me, but I don’t see much of a "value add" in most of the reporting going on here. In fact, I tend to think this is exactly the sort of rumour that takes advantage of hockey’s peculiar "Insider" culture, spreads like a disease and ultimately becomes legitimate through an unsourced media report.
For months the Leafs have made the most sense as a Luongo destination. That was true in June and it is still true this week. That the two teams have discussed a price point repeatedly and have probably even been "close" to making a deal isn’t really new information. We knew this, didn’t we?
Hard to see Jake Gardiner moving in any Luongo trade.
My skepticism aside, I think there is some new information here. Namely I find it interesting that Cox and Botch’s reports by and large corroborate each other. Where Botchford says that the Canucks counter offer at the draft included "Gardiner-plus-plus-plus," Damien Cox does some rumour algebra, and produces three assets: a first round pick, Matt Frattin and Tyler Bozak.
Of course, the corroboration only goes so far, and the writer writing for a Vancouver audience brought up super sized prospect Joe Colborne as a possible centre piece, while the writer writing for a Toronto audience claimed that the replacement level Tyler Bozak is the object of Vancouver’s desire. But I think it’s pretty likely that Botchford and Cox are both talking about the same Vancouver counter proposal, and I think it’s probable that their sources on this are sound.
If you find that compelling as well, then we can infer a few things about what the Canucks want from Toronto in a return for Luongo. In terms of positional need, the Canucks are interested in acquiring a defenseman, a winger and a centreman and in terms of value they’re looking for a lot: a top prospect, and two young roster players.
The positional need aspect isn’t all that surprising. Before the offseason began we identified Vancouver’s needs as such: a third-line centre, a top-six winger and a top-four defenseman (preferably one who can play the right side). To address those needs the Canucks brought in Jason Garrison, a solid top-four defenseman on a reasonable contract, but also a guy who played most of his even-strength minutes on the left side last season. They haven’t yet done anything to shore up their pivot depth, or their depth on the wings.
Now let’s assume that Jake Gardiner is untouchable (because he should be, and Brian Burke isn’t an idiot) and let’s do the same with Nazem Kadri. Here are players the Leafs possess who could fill Vancouver’s assorted needs:
Defenseman: Carl Gunnarsson, Korbinian Holzer (righty), Cody Franson (righty).
Centre: Tyler Bozak, Joe Colborne, David Steckel.
Wingers: Clark MacArthur, James Van Riemsdyk, Nikolai Kulmien, Matt Frattin, Joffery Lupul.
I think if you use some combination of those players, you can come up with something resembling a fair deal.
The consensus in Toronto seems to be that Mike Gillis has no leverage (because of Luongo’s contract, and the perception that there is no market for his services), while the consensus in Vancouver seems to be that Brian Burke is going to have to pay up for one of the NHL’s best goaltenders and that there’s pressure on him to do so because of the whole, you know, keeping his job thing.
I’d argue that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Burke is probably going to have to part with at least two – but maybe three – young players in any Luongo trade, and there will be significant pressure on him to pay up. I tend to believe that James Reimer can have a rebound season this year, but even assuming that happens, the Leafs aren’t going anywhere with a Scrivens-Reimer tandem. Luongo could bring playoff games back to the centre of the universe.
Mike Gillis on the other hand, isn’t going to get Kadri or Gardiner – and he’s unlikely to get Joe Colborne without greasing the skids by either accepting a lesser player to fill one of Vancouver’s other needs, or giving up on acquiring a non-player asset.
In summary, it seems unlikely that there’s anything "new" going on in the discussions between the Leafs and the Canucks about a Luongo trade this week. As a result of some dubious rumours, I suspect however that we did learn a little bit more about Vancouver’s asking price for Roberto Luongo.