Strombabble: Trade Deadline Preview

Luongo isn’t bored, he’s keeping up to date on the latest trade rumblings!
Image uncredited via PassittoBulis.

Roberto Luongo has had a tough March in net. In five starts this month, the Strombonian one has only posted a save percentage above .900 once and he’s had to deal with a gallon of flukey pucks fluttering into the net off of his own teammates skates. Meanwhile Cory Schneider has been unbeatable. Schneider’s been so good that he could probably stop more than just pucks at this point, and might want to take on, say, global warming or the consolidation of extra-legal power in the executive branch of the US Government… As such Luongo hasn’t started a game in ten days.

He’ll be on the bench again on Thursday as the Canucks host the Avalanche. More interesting though is the question of whether or not he’ll even be on the Canucks bench at this time next week. WIth the trade deadline approaching quickly, is a Roberto Luongo deal finally, mercifully close at hand? 

Read on past the jump.

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The short answer is that I have no godly idea, and I don’t think anyone else does either. What we’ll do today is just focus on the structural aspects of a potential deal. Does it make sense to trade Roberto Luongo this week or should the Canucks keep him for a playoff run? Alternatively, with a diminishing salary cap and the team in desperate need of help down the middle (and with limited trade chips to play with), can Canucks management really afford to hold on to him past the deadline?

Writing about this topic earlier in the week for the Province, Jason Botchford argued for the latter point:

What the Canucks do have is one too many No. 1 goalies. They will spend the lead-up to April 3 trying to finally close on the long-anticipated Roberto Luongo trade.

It’s time to shut the book on a saga that has drifted on way too long. If they can’t pull the trigger on a Luongo-for-a-centre deal, consider it a failure for an organization that will have one of its best assets sitting on the bench for every playoff game.

Much of the past 10 months have been spent trying to smoke out the perpetually soft goalie market. It’s not going to get any better. Either at the deadline or in the offseason, Mike Smith, Ryan Miller, Tim Thomas, Jonathan Bernier and Ben Bishop are some of the goalies who could be available. It may not be now or never for the Luongo deal, but it sure looks like now or good luck.

Last July, Luongo essentially said it was time for him to move on because this was Cory Schneider’s team now. This is the moment to make it official.

The key line to unpack from Botch’s take (emphasis my own)? "[The Canucks] will spend the lead-up to April 3rd trying to finally close on the long-anticipated Roberto Luongo trade." I’ve been reading Botchford’s work for long enough to trust that he wouldn’t use such a strong declarative if he wasn’t absolutely sure.

It makes sense that the Canucks would be pushing hard to trade Luongo, from both a hockey perspective and a financial one. Let’s start with the hockey perspective.

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Short of their ace backup, the team doesn’t really have much else in the way of redundant roster assets. They’re also lacking in expendable prospect depth. That’s a correlation of forces that I suspect ties Mike Gillis’ hands somewhat, especially in a sellers market like the one we’ve seen so far (and will continue to see) ahead of this year’s NHL trade deadline.

Compounding the issue for the Canucks is the critical need for a centreman capable of playing top-nine minutes on a quality team. Those types of players don’t come cheap, especially with so few sellers in the NHL marketplace. Goaltending is arguably the team’s only position of real depth (one might say they’ve got wing depth too, but with Booth and Kassian out that depth is significantly less sterling).

Finally there’s the issue of cap-space. As it currently stands the Canucks have 60.4 million worth of salary cap commitments next season, a total which takes into account only fourteen players. Even if the team were to use a compliance buyout on the likes of Keith Ballard, that’s a crunchy situation viz. the salary cap – which is scheduled to return to the level it was at during the 2011-12 season (~64 million dollars).

Hypothetically if the Canucks were to use one compliance buyout this summer (but keep Luongo), management would still be looking at only about eight million in cap-space with which to use to re-sign Chris Tanev and Jordan Schroeder (both RFAs after this season) and fill in the rest of their 23 man roster. So it goes more or less without saying that if the Canucks want to maintain a comparable level of depth next season as they’ve got this year, it’s pretty much essential for the team to move Roberto Luongo in a package that includes some cap-relief before next season. But whether that’s at the trade deadline or at the 2013 NHL Draft in Newark, doesn’t seem to matter much in my view.

So on the hockey front there’s probaby some urgency to consumate a Luongo deal. But from a salary-cap/money management perspective there’s a bit less urgency, I think. Still if you do the math a Luongo trade at the deadline makes a lot of sense for the Canucks. But only if they can get something of legitimate value in return. Yeah dreams of a B+ prospect like Nick Bjugstad should be put to bed, but if Vancouver can get out from under Luongo’s contract while bringing in a solid centreman (even on a rental deal, actually preferably on a rental deal) and a draft pick – I’d consider that a small-w win at this point in the game.

But I won’t be sullen if the Canucks hold onto Luongo past the deadline, especially if the alternative is making a Jay Feaster quality trade. Having a well compensated and extremely useful player riding the pine for the playoffs is bad optics, but it’s also a quiet luxury. Who wouldn’t want a backup goaltender capable of stealing a playoff series or two, just in case?

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If the Canucks want to recoup value for Luongo, it’s even possible that the draft is the better place to do so than the trade deadline. Yes, the likes of Smith, Thomas, Miller, Bishop and Bernier could be on the market come draft day, but those players are only tangentially comparable items to Roberto Luongo – who by the numbers is the second best goaltender in the NHL. And teams are historically more willing to take on salary and plan for the long-term at the draft (even Scott Gomez and Brian Campbell’s contracts can be traded on draft day) than they are midseason. 

All of which is to say that I wouldn’t be surprised if this was Roberto Luongo’s last week in Vancouver. For his sake – and he’s handled this saga like a consummate professional – I hope it is. He’s shown a lot of loyalty to his teammates and the Canucks organization throughout the past twelve months, but he’s obviously a hyper-competitive guy and I’m sure it sucks not to be playing on an everyday basis.

On the other hand, when you’ve gone all in with a patient approach as Mike Gillis has on the Luongo trade front, what’s another three months? If Canucks management can’t get a useful piece in return for the second best goaltender in the NHL, I wouldn’t be shocked if Luongo remained in blue, green and white for the balance of this season.

Let me end this post where I started: with a humble admission that I have no clue how this one will play out. The only thing I’m certain of, is that it’ll be fascinating to observe the fallout either way.

  • Is Lou was in play as a trade asset he would probably be playing at least a game before deadline. no? You’d assume GMs would like a last look at his game before trading for him. Not good that he is not playing against the avs.

    Other consideration: canucks at this point can only take on a guy making 1.6 million annually or they are over the cap. saw that on cap geek. Who do you get for 1.6 mill that will make an impact?

    • JCDavies

      Luongo is pretty much a known quantity at this point, there isn’t really much value in showcasing him. If he gets injured however, there is zero chance he gets traded at the deadline.

  • Gilman said they won’t trade Luongo for a rental. What teams need a goaltender though? Leafs are fine with Reimer, Panthers will stick with Markstrom. Maybe the Lightning or the Avalanche?

    If we want a rental, Weiss will apparently return for the playoffs. Shouldn’t cost much.