Luongo practices in a Canucks jersey in Florida this morning.
Photo credit: Farhan Lalji.
With the new collective bargaining agreement days away from ratification and the transaction window re-opening for NHL clubs, reporters like TSN’s Farhan Lalji and the Toronto Sun’s Rob Longley have descended on Coral Springs, Florida – home of the Florida Panthers practice facility – to cover the drawn out but possibly, finally imminent Roberto Luongo trade.
This morning Roberto Luongo has been photographed non-stop at a practice session in Coral Springs. Not that it’s Luongo’s intention but when you’re wearing a Canucks jersey and practicing with a former Maple Leafs goalie coach at the Florida Panthers practice facility: you’re going to draw the media’s attention. It’s unavoidable.
So the frenzy is upon us and there are more grainy practice photos of Roberto Luongo (like the one Farhan posted above, of Luongo wearing a Canuck practice jersey) on Twitter this morning than there are famous fakes of mythical beasts like the Sasquatch or Loch Ness. This is particularly appropriate since, by weeks end, Luongo could concievably make it into the cryptozoological journals and become a chimerical creature of the sort the world hasn’t seen in nearly a decade. I’m talking of course about a consistently competent Maple Leafs goaltender.
We’ll look at some of the pressure points and moving pieces in a possible Luongo deal, recap media chatter, parse some quotes, and try to find our bearings. Read on past the jump.
Is the deal done already?
Even during the lockout, when teams were ostensibly unable to discuss trade-specifics, reports surfaced from Sportsnet’s John Shannon – who is pretty plugged in – that the Luongo deal was all but completed. That sentiment was echoed again recently by the likes of Josh Rimer.
For what it’s worth we didn’t buy it then and we don’t buy it now. TSN’s Bob McKenzie repudiated this notion yesterday, and James Mirtle threw additional gasoline on the fire by questioning on Twitter whether or not Luongo would waive his no-trade clause and approve a deal that would send him to Bay Street (more on this in a moment).
Canucks General Manager Mike Gillis was asked about Luongo’s trade status early in a media conference call on Sunday afternoon, and after chuckling about how quickly the subject was broached gave the following answer:
"Until this [collective bargaining agreement] gets ratified we’re not talking about trades with any team. [This agreement] done very early [Sunday] morning and we don’t have the specific details yet – other than what’s been reported – and we’re not going to do anything until we see a collective agreement that’s ratified [by all sides]. At that point we’ll begin to move forward on a variety of different fronts that we’ve been thinking about."
I have to believe that, until the parameters and the language of the next CBA are set in stone, the framework of any Roberto Luongo deal will remain in flux. For example, unknown variables like the precise way that amnesty buyouts will work in the next CBA and whether or not the Kovy Klause makes it into the ten year deal would presumably impact the leverage and priorities of each side.
Obviously I don’t have any insider information, but I find it tough to imagine a relatively conservative front office like Vancouver’s agreeing to a trade of this magnitude without first poring obsessively over the new CBA. That being said, smart folks with a better handle on the Canucks’ thinking than I, like Jason Botchford or Brad Zeimer, are handicapping a Luongo deal to happen, and to happen quickly.
Would Luongo even accept a trade to Toronto?
That’s the question James Mirtle broached on Twitter on Sunday evening.
Only question on Luongo to Toronto for me is if he’s willing to come here. Only uncertainty right now.
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) January 6, 2013
Luongo situation funny in that hockey world seems split on what will happen with him. Most lately say he’ll decline to go to Toronto.
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) January 6, 2013
Generally speaking the thinking in Vancouver has been that Luongo would rather go to a market like Toronto or Edmonton and play as an everyday starter, than use his leverage to steer a trade exclusively to the Panthers (who are obviously unwilling to pay up, clearly looking for a second Brian Campbell
trade steal) and ride the pine in Vancouver. But maybe it’s worth revisiting the report from Aaron Portzline, who heard that Luongo had vetoed a trade to Toronto in late-June of 2012:
— Aaron Portzline (@Aportzline) June 25, 2012
Now Luongo’s agent Gilles Lupien and Luongo himself denied this report at the time while the Canucks publicly said there was no deal in place for Luongo to veto. But, I mean, what else were they going to say?
Ultimately, I narrowly buy that Luongo hasn’t yet vetoed any specific deal. Presuming that Portzline’s source comes from the Columbus frontoffice, it’s concievable that they were strategically coddled by the Canucks on this point during trade talks ("oh don’t worry, he’s turned down lots of destinations not just you Columbus, seriously what are you willing to part with?").
Still, the sense we got when Luongo met the media at a charity golf tournament on the eve of the NHL lockout was that Luongo’s preference was indeed to be moved to the Panthers throughout this past summer. Maybe he’s relaxed that stance since (that seemed to be the case at the time), or maybe he’s still going to maximize his leverage and push for a trade to his former organization. It’s well within his rights to do so, and only he knows for sure.
My take, which is pretty much worthless since I don’t know Luongo personally: I’d be mildly surprised if he refused to be traded to the Maple Leafs. For a super competitive guy who despite the media’s weird "Luongo’s a choker" perception seems to live for the big game, the prospect and challenge of playing every day in Toronto has to be tempting. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that no Luongo trade can be completed without his approval, and that he’s got the ability to stop to any transaction between the Leafs and the Canucks dead in its tracks.
Update: It looks like Luongo is doing Mike Gillis and the Canucks a big favour, and has given the team the "green light" to do what they will:
— Rob Longley (@longleysunsport) January 7, 2013
Man, Luongo is all class. Though I’d still take this with a grain of salt, since I still highly doubt that "green light" equates to "yeah I’m happy to go play in Columbus."
Could the Canucks return both Luongo and Schneider this season?
This is the million dollar question heading into the likely opening of Canucks training camp this weekend. James Mirtle, again causing trouble, seems to see it as a possibility. As mentioned previously, however, the Canucks beat-writers appear to be convinced that it’s unlikely in the extreme, though, Jason Botchford qualified that today when he wrote:
The organization has maintained through it all that it’s willing to at least start the season with both Luongo and Cory Schneider. That’s not a smokescreen.
Keeping Luongo around for next season would certainly be a distraction, but it would also make a lot of hockey sense, especially in a shortened season. In a shortened, condensed season: starting quickly and racking up as many wins in 48 or 50 games, while dealing with less time off between those contests, is going to be key. Obviously there’s a better chance than usual that a lower quality team could ride the percentages to an undeserved playoff berth, a dangerous prospect for a good team like the Canucks. Not to mention that having two guys you trust between the pipes would be a big advantage for a team that will rely on a goaltender in Schneider who has enver been an everyday starter at the NHL level.
Basically Luongo’s experience and steady, reliable presence in net could be particularly valuable to the Canucks in a shortened season, a fact that becomes especially stark when you remember that Eddie Lack is injured and has struggled this season anyway. Seriously, the backup goaltender cupboard on the free-agent market is as barren as the pantry at your divorée father’s house was (before he remarried).
So the obvious answer here is that, yes, the Canucks could return both Schneider and Luongo to start the season. It might even be the "right" call to do so. Boy, I have a tough time seeing it though.
In terms of teams that could be in on the Luongo-sweeps, we’ve got Florida (who seem like a long-shot for now, but that could change in a hurry), Toronto, Edmonton (who apparently got into the bidding just before the lockout) and Chicago. By far the most likely of those destinations strikes me as Toronto but that’s really just based on their tradable assets, their glaring need, and the familiarity the Maple Leafs front office has with Luongo (Dave Nonis made the trade that brought Luongo to Vancouver).
For what it’s worth, Mike Gillis did his best to put the pressure on the buyers when he was asked on Sunday’s conference call whether or not trading Luongo was a "priority" for the Canucks:
"It’s the priority for a number of other teams, so it’ll become a priority for us. We’ll have to wait and see what comes our way now that we can begin discussing specific things with teams. It’s probably a new landscape now with a new CBA, so it’s unfair of me to comment right now…"
For the Canucks, the best case scenario is that Burke is so desperate to make the playoffs and save his job that he acts like Giovanni Ribisi’s character in Ted. Nazem Kadri – come on down!
The worst case scenario, on the other hand, is that Luongo is obstinate and insists on being moved to the Panthers (again, this would be well within his rights to do, and I wouldn’t blame him if he took this tack), in which case: Mike Santorelli – come on down!
Frankly I wouldn’t be surprised by either scenario, or anything in between and as the gap between Kadri and Santorelli might suggest: that basically means nothing would surprise me, at this point, on the Luongo front. The Canucks could net a huge bounty for his services, or they might have to settle for mid-level prospects and cap-space. It’s that breadth possibilities that has kept this story and the speculation surrounding it so fresh and fascinating (even though we’ve beaten the material into the ground rather thoroughly around these parts).
Obviously from the moment the CBA gets ratified, it will be a DefCon1 situation for those waiting on this saga to finally draw to a close. For the hockey media: they’re already there.