Luongo Starts Against the Blackhawks

Photo Credit: Jeff Vinnick

The news has come down that the Vancouver Canucks wil start elite netminder Roberto Luongo instead of elite netminder Cory Schneider in Friday night’s grudge match against the Chicago Blackhawks. Oy vey.

In some ways it’s appropriate. The Canucks organization’s seeming preference for Cory Schneider in "big games" dates back to game six of the preliminary round matchup between the Canucks and the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2010-11 postseason. You’ll recall that, on the heels of two rough outings for Roberto Luongo, Cory Schneider was selected to start that contest. Ultimately he didn’t finish it, partly as a result of anxiety induced cramps, but it was the first clear indication that the Canucks were legitimately weighing their options going forward.

Those options were weighed and twelve months later Cory Schneider’s ascendance came to pass in game three of the 2011-12 postseason, when Schneider was tapped to play the final three games of Vancouver’s first round series against the Los Angeles Kings. After a summer in which Luongo trade speculation ran rampant (and continued, against all odds, during the lockout), it was presumed that the sun was rising on the Cory Schneider era in Vancouver.

But with Luongo set to start his third straight game on Friday, it looks like perhaps the Cory Schneider era lasted a grand total of eight games. Read on past the jump.

There’s a few interesting things to break down here. The first is that Cory Schneider is 27, and has waited a long time for the opportunity to be "the guy" in Vancouver. From the sounds of things, he sounds (understandably) disappointed:

It also sounds a bit like the coaching staff’s communication with Schneider regarding whether or not he was starting on Friday left, ahem, a bit to be desired:

That obviously sucks. But at least Schneider is handling the whole thing with his trademark perspective and sense of humour (at least publicly):

This is, without doubt, a suboptimal way to kick off your career as a bonafide starting goaltender in the National Hockey League. But for what it’s worth, it doesn’t sound like Vancouver’s long-term plans in goal have changed all that much as a result of Luongo’s bangarang performance to begin this season.

Appearing on the Team1040 with Matt Sekeres and Blake Price, Mike Gillis dropped a million dollar quote saying: "Obviously we have a long-term plan that everyone’s aware of but as it sits right now… we’re going to play whoever gives us the best opportunity and we’re going to do it with both of them so long as they’re both here."

I’d also mention that Cory Schneider signed his current three year extension following the NHL draft. While at the time, no one – myself included – believed that Luongo would be in a Canucks uniform to begin the following season; Cory Schneider is a smart guy and he had to understand that it was at least possible that he’d be sharing the crease with Roberto Luongo for at least a little while longer. He could’ve held out, remained a restricted free-agent and even made life difficult for the Canucks over the summer.

That he chose to re-up with the team while Roberto Luongo was still officially on the roster probably speaks louder than any whispers about him being unhappy with the situation. I’d imagine it’s extremely frustrating though, especially when the coaching staff doesn’t come to you first to notify you about the decision…

Anyway during his radio appearance, Mike Gillis also elaborated on the rationale behind starting Roberto Luongo (odd that he knows the rationale already, since presumably it’s Alain Vigneault’s decision alone, eh?):

"Based on the fact that we played four games in six nights and didn’t play particularly well in the first couple of games I think it’s understandable that we’re going with the freshest guy who gives us the best chance to win… Roberto has played well the past two games and he deserves the start"

"I’m not sure if Roberto is ahead of Cory. We played so poorly in the opening game, I don’t think that’s a reflection on our goaltending. Game in San Jose we gave the puck away twice in the first three minutes, and essentially gave them layups so… We were happy with him."

As for what Mike Gillis says the team tells Cory Schneider in the wake of the club’s controversial decision to ride Roberto Luongo’s hot hand:

"Last year Cory started six games in a row. I find it kind of amusing that everyone is looking at this as an entitlement situation, from the moment I started here everyone has earned their keep and we’ve done everything possible to win the next game. I don’t think Cory would have any issue with what’s going on. He knew the situation, he knows what the situation is going to bring, we have great confidence in him, he’s going to be a star player in this league and that hasn’t changed at all.

The fact that Roberto has played well in a couple of games only increases the competition between them… Cory knows what’s going on, he knows the lay of the land, he’s very mature, we’re not concerned about Cory at all."

"I know you guys love to portray it as starter versus non-starter. But for us it’s how do we win the next game. That’s how we look at everything. We’re trying to get to the point where we have complete accountability about who plays and it’s based on merit. 

My goodness, so the Canucks reject old-fashioned labels like "starter versus non-starter"? Why it’s almost like they read Canucks Army! (Obviously they don’t actually, since no one reads CanucksArmy according to web-traffic expert and Alexa user Dan Tencer).

So there we have it. From my perspective you can’t go wrong with either netminder, and Schneider and Luongo are co-MVP’s for the Canucks through seven games. I expect that to continue, and I also expect this controversy and all of the belly-aching about it to be absolutely, ten-for-ten, unrelentingly hilarious.