The 2013 trade deadline played out in atypical fashion for Mike Gillis and the Canucks. Over the years Mike Gillis has seemingly played his cards at the deadline in a relatively predictable and conservative fashion: rarely acquiring pure rental players, and almost always sneaking in a buzzer beating deal, the terms of which usually aren’t made public until well after the deadline’s expiration.
This season Mike Gillis got his shopping done early and plugged the team’s biggest hole by acquiring Derek Roy, a pure rental, from Dallas for prospect Kevin Connauton and a 2nd round pick. He then stood pat on deadline day and made headlines by not trading Roberto Luongo – though he reportedly tried desperately – who was clearly emotional as a result of Mike Gillis’ inaction.
Let’s unpack some big picture themes that have emerged from Wednesday’s events.
We didn’t really think Roberto Luongo would be moved in advance of the trade deadline. But we thought he had been when he was pulled off the ice at practice ten minutes before noon pacific time. It now appears that he was merely briefed in advance of his emotional press conference, but the way that was handled caused a momentary media frenzy, and clearly caught Roberto Luongo – a guy who has been waiting for nearly a year to be moved and seems desperate to turn the page on his Canucks tenure, I might add – off guard as well.
It’s a microcosm for how the trade deadline as a whole played out for the Canucks. We didn’t expect Roberto Luongo to be moved at least until he was pulled off the ice and we also didn’t expect the Canucks to "go all in," until Laurence Gilman went on the radio and said they would on Tuesday afternoon.
Laurence Gilman said to expect "one maybe two" additional moves on top of the Derek Roy trade. Presuming one of those moves was Ryane Clowe – who the Canucks narrowly missed out on – and the other was perhaps a Roberto Luongo trade or something else that fell through today, he was being dead honest with us. But in his honesty – which we applaud of course – Gilman inflated expectations to the point where the team’s predictable inaction (with the exception of the Derek Roy acquistion) hit the fanbase like a tonne of bricks.
That disappointment obscures the fact that the Canucks went out and did one thing they really had to do. They found a quality centreman to play in the top-9 and serve as insurance should Ryan Kesler prove unable to find his old form coming off of a series of significant injuries. But what should’ve been a narrow win is being viewed in the immediate wake of the deadline as a big loss for the club.
The Canucks would’ve been wise to heed the famous words of Michael J. Fox and apply it to their fans: "My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations."
According to Darren Dreger – who we should mention is Leafs General Manager Dave Nonis’ cousin – this is how the last forty-five minutes before the deadline played out in Vancouver’s and Toronto’s respective war rooms:
Multiple options in Luongo trade talks with Leafs. Told Canucks wanted Scrivens and multiple picks in talk between 2pm and 3pm et. #TSN
— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) April 3, 2013
Canucks called at 2pm…made a trade offer, Tor declined.Van called at 2:30 with 2nd offer, Tor declined…3rd offer at 2:45pm…decline.
— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) April 3, 2013
Well we know where Dreger is getting that account of events…
Honestly, I don’t know how seriously to take that report, because of the reported lingering enmity between Mike Gillis and Nonis. It’s definitely not outside the realm of believability, and Mike Gillis has to know that he’s let this situation fester for too long.
That said, it does strike one as a particularly one-sided leak. I mean, how often do we get specifics on asking prices involved within three hours of a failed deal? And the specifics about the three calls in an hour? That sounds to me like a leak calculated, at least partially, to make the other side lose a bit of face.
Another possible factor? After spending a week trying to hammer out an extension with Miikka Kiprusoff, and re-engaging the Canucks on Luongo, this report allows the Leafs be seen to have an endless fountain of faith in James Reimer and Ben Scrivens. "And at 2:55 we called Mike Gillis again and said no one more time just for good measure, because our young goalies are the tops."
For all of my reservations about this report, I do tend to buy that at this stage of the game the Canucks would’ve accepted picks, cap relief and a back up goaltender in exchange for Luongo. But yeah, all of the other stuff I laid out is critical context too.
The Long Game
Asked about Roberto Luongo’s contract and whether or not it’s actually immovable, Mike Gillis plead "unique circumstances" during his post-deadline media availability. Here’s the quotes (my transcription via the Team 1040):
"We’ve had discussions with five teams over the past six months [about Roberto Luongo]. This has been a very difficult year for everybody because of the lockout, there have been changes to the CBA, which effect these situations. So it’s not like when we signed the contract. There’s been significant changes in how they’re dealt with. I think everybody needs an opportunity to work through those changes before you can suggest that [his contract is immovable].
I know some people have suggested it. At the time it was done it was very favorable for this organization and it was very favorable for Roberto. The top teams in the league that were competing for Stanley Cups did contracts like this for franchise players.
Since that has occurred there’s been a number of changes. It’s a fluid industry and things do change. The emergence of Cory, getting to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, there’s been a lot of shifting sands and we’ll have to deal with it down the road."
He also said that he felt a sense of obligation to move Roberto (something he’s suggested before):
"I do feel obligated to trade Roberto and get him into a position where he’s happy and competing the way he likes to and at the level he’s accustomed to. The needs in our team also play a role in this and trying to balance them is a difficult thing. We’ve been doing it for six months and trying to put him in the best situation and trying to put our team in the best situation and occasionally they’re in conflict."
One final, related quote on this topic before we get into it:
"It’s a fluid market place. We’ve been interrupted with a lockout and a changing CBA that has changed things as well. Based on the discussions we’ve had I still don’t think it’s as hard [to move Roberto Luongo’s contract] as people make it out to be. He’s a first class goaltender, he’s a great person.
There are ways to get this to happen, the immediacy of the ending of the lockout, new rules being applied, uncertainty with a lot of teams… They all play into this, and as we move along I think we’ll be able to accommodate Roberto’s needs and our team’s needs."
Maybe Mike Gillis is right to play the long game here, even if it’s testing the patience of, well, everybody involved. We don’t really know what other routes he could’ve taken short of trading Cory Schneider instead, which was never really on the table for a similar, long-game reason.
But it’s worth noting a couple of things here. Firstly, Mike Gillis is right that it’s an atypical season with the lockout and continued CBA uncertainty – though I don’t buy that his position will improve any this summer with the salary cap descending.
Secondly, I do tend to believe that a guy like Luongo will be somewhat easier to move at the draft, which is where most players with poison pill contracts have historically been traded.
Thirdly, this situation hasn’t fully played out. So any fair analysis of Mike Gillis’ handling of this situation can’t be fully rendered yet. Admittedly it looks like any return on Roberto Luongo will ultimately be meagre, which is a pretty major mark in the negative side of our ledger. But Mike Gillis has played at least a few of his cards well here too.
For example, Gillis managed to get Schneider under contract long-term this summer, even though Luongo’s status was still in limbo. It was a huge coup, could you imagine what the tone of the coverage would be like if Schneider had signed a one year offer sheet this summer, or accepted his qualifying offer and was a pending unrestricted free-agent following this season?
Now that would’ve been a disaster. In comparison, Roberto Luongo still being a Canuck past the trade deadline is just a massive annoyance (for now).