What Caused Roberto Luongo To Switch Agents?

Roberto Luongo switched representation on Wednesday. What can we make of this?
Image via Wikimedia Commons.

There aren’t many (or any, really) members of the Vancouver media who have a better read on the state of the Canucks than Sportsnet’s Dan Murphy. Murphy offered his take yesterday on Luongo changing agents just days after meeting with Mike Gillis. As he wrote at the beginning of his post, “Why would a guy with nine years left on his contract fire his agent?”

Let’s try to figure it out, shall we? Read on for more.

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What we know – Mike Gillis believes that his meeting with Luongo last week went well.

“It was fine, it was good,” Gillis said of the meeting. “It was fun. It was amicable. It wasn’t stressful. We talked about the team and we talked about the coaching change. We talked pretty well about everything we could possibly talk about. I told Roberto how I felt about him and how we felt about him as an organization.

So, naturally, it makes perfect sense that Luongo announces he is changing agents a day after Gillis makes those comments, right?

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Luongo’s new agents, Pat Brisson and JP Barry, are two heavy hitters in the hockey world. Brisson represents a number of high-profile players, including Sidney Crosby. JP Barry is the agent for the Sedin twins and Evgeni Malkin (among other players), and Vancouver fans may remember him particularly for his starring role as Mats Sundin’s agent and part-time TEAM 1040 radio show host during Sundin’s “negotiations” with the Canucks back in 2008 (also known as the four month fishing trip).

Since Luongo’s previous agent, Gilles Lupien, negotiated his 12-year contract, Lupien will continue to collect his percentage of Luongo’s paycheque. So why would Brisson and Barry take him on as a client? Pro bono work? Seems unlikely.

As Murphy alluded to, perhaps Luongo and Brisson/Barry have worked out an arrangement where the agents would receive a fee if and when they are able to facilitate a trade out of Vancouver? This could very well be possible, but I’m not sure what they would be able to do in terms of finding a willing trading partner. Teams in the NHL are simply unwilling to take on Luongo’s contract, as we’ve all come to find out. Perhaps after 30 or 40 games of Ben Bishop and Anders Lindback, Steve Yzerman may change his tune.

Or is this move Luongo’s way of punishing his former agent for mishandling the trade negotiations over the past year or two? That is a storyline that isn’t getting enough traction. Perhaps Luongo feels that it is time to end his professional relationship with an agent who he made a lot of money for and who was unable to grant his wishes.

Does Barry want to have more leverage over Mike Gillis? The two were allies in the agent world back when Gillis used to represent players, and the fact that they have a good relationship could be seen as a silver lining in the storm cloud that is the Luongo situation. Barry and Gillis will be sitting down soon to talk about the future of Daniel and Henrik, and Barry now has the Luongo card to play, as well. What that card is, we don’t exactly know.

I don’t see Luongo holding out. Piggybacking off of Murphy’s thoughts, Luongo loves his teammates and is a really, really proud guy (which we have seen through the years in several emotional interactions with the media). But, most of all, the carrot that is the Sochi Olympics is dangled right in front of him. I don’t think holding out would provide him the best opportunity to play himself onto that team.

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Communication Breakdown

Something along the way fell apart between Luongo and Gillis. One would think that Gillis would have a significant advantage over other NHL general managers with his extensive experience as a player agent. Agents learn how players tick. They help them with their finances and personal lives. They become friends and confidants. Gillis seemed to leverage this experience during his first few years with the Canucks, negotiating several hometown discounts with important players.

However, he didn’t exactly provide clear communication to Luongo along the way. You could argue that his job isn’t to keep his highly-paid players happy. But even if there was a 1% chance of this situation ending with a Cory Schneider trade (which didn’t seem plausible as recent as two months ago), Luongo had to be kept at least somewhat in the loop.

Perhaps Gillis and Lupien weren’t on the same page. We know that Gillis and Luongo definitely weren’t (and still aren’t, perhaps). The comments below are from Kevin Woodley, who writes for NHL.com and has a good working relationship with Luongo.

Gillis and Barry have a positive relationship, as I alluded to above. Perhaps these two men can mend the fence? But why would Luongo change agents just so he could have a better relationship with the team he seems to want no part of?

To summarize, we simply have no idea why Luongo changed agents. Perhaps he still wants out of Vancouver. Maybe he was angry with Lupien for not delivering him a deal.

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This is just another turn in one of the most bizarre hockey stories in recent memory.

Previously from Jeff (@anguscertified):

  • antro

    If I remember correctly from when the contract was first signed, weren’t there a couple “outs” put into the contract? One for the Canucks and one for Luongo, at around the 5- and 7-year mark? Could that be coming into play?

    • ubermiguel

      I’ve been thinking the same thing. He’s going into year 4 of this contract and he has the right to ask for a trade again at the end of this season. The cap will likely go up next year and teams might not be so scared of his contract.

      I’ve also been wondering if maybe he’s thinking of playing this year and if the trade doesn’t happen, sitting out the following year, voiding his contract. If he does that he can still play in the Olympics, Lupein stops getting paid, and Barry gets to find him a new contract. Of course that would mean sitting out a year at age 35 and trying to get a contract at 36 without having played for a year, but I’m sure there would still be teams interested.

      • pheenster

        From a purely financial viewpoint, this is the dream scenario for the Canucks.

        – Lou plays this year (and who knows, maybe they add up to more than the sum of their parts and make some playoff noise)
        – Lou walks out, voiding his contract
        – Contract gone
        – Cap recapture gone
        – Lack and Ericsson have had another year to develop; cap hit for both combined won’t equal Lou’s at this point
        – if they stink the place up there’s bags of cap space to sign a UFA goalie the next summer (assuming any UFA goalie would touch Vancouver with a barge pole)

  • BrudnySeaby

    I’ve always been of the opinion, and still are, that if Schneider would be the one traded and Luongo would be the one to stay, it would be a huge mistake and could only work if there was a different GM who could re-evaluate the goalie situation from a neutral position and then make a trade.

    Alas, Aquilini chose to keep Gillis. And Gillis chose to make this mistake.
    So, I really can’t see this working long time. I think Gillis can thank his lucky stars it’s and Olympic season as that gives Luongo a reason to report to the Canucks. But I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Luongo plays for the Canucks this year (to show GM’s he can still play and to make the Olympics!!) and asks to be traded for the start of the 14/15 season, or just walks out.

    And then we still have a messy goalie situation where Lack or Ericsson are probably not ready for the limelight yet.

    Besides all that, there is one other factor that gets no traction in the MSM which is hugely important I think. It’s the fact that Gillis is untrustworthy now. He makes big promises to 2 guys and then does a complete 180. That’s not how you build trust in an organization, or accountability, or draw high-end UFA talent to your team. And this will be felt for years.

    Yeah, it’s a messy situation the Canucks are in. And who knows how that will influence the Sedin negotiations for next year.

    (And just to point something out from the summit, who really believes Gillis when he says that his visit to Luongo was fine. Come on, really!? Everything was fine? Why should we trust anything he says!?)

    • BrudnySeaby

      “It’s the fact that Gillis is untrustworthy now. He makes big promises to 2 guys and then does a complete 180.”

      Don’t forget the willingness to break an inherent promise to Alex Edler and go public with it.

      Flyers West.

  • antro

    To add to one of your questions: any chance Luongo feels Lupien counselled him wrongly when it looked like there was a chance to get a trade to Toronto in the summer of 2012? Maybe Lupien thought the Florida option would be possible, and now Luongo regrets not going to Toronto. (Pure speculation, I realize it.) Or maybe Luongo’s just pissed about the 12 year contract Lupien helped him do, and anything connected to the contract pisses him off too.

    Great post, btw.

  • antro

    Or maybe … just maybe … Luongo wants heavy-weights in his corner that will stop the BS and speculation emanating from the COTU and the Vancouver MSM?

    I expect a press conference in the next couple weeks where the Canucks and Luongo will give a single opportunity to ask questions about this perceived controversy. One. After that it is focus on the Canucks and making the Canadian Olympic team.

    Sometimes I long for simple sports-writing. When the term “sports journalism” was coined, you may as well have included “sports tabloid journalism” in the mix. Why can’t a comment just be a comment? Why all the dissection? Do “people really want to know?”. I don’t. Take a person and their words at face value and stop looking for hidden meaning.

    Hockey and the “Luongo Saga” is not “The Da Vinci Code” (which is a work of fiction, BTW).

  • BrudnySeaby

    “Or is this move Luongo’s way of punishing his former agent for mishandling the trade negotiations over the past year or two? That is a storyline that isn’t getting enough traction.”

    Care to elaborate on this?

    Perhaps I am forgetting something, but where is the evidence that Lupien has mishandled anything in the last 2 years?

  • ubermiguel

    Because Lupien had no financial incentive to get a trade for his client. Loungo needs a mouthpiece to put pressure on Gillis, and maybe even open some lines of communication between GMs.

  • Dimitri Filipovic

    Maybe Gillis mentioned to Lupien that the Schnieder trade was very plausible and he in turn didnt return the memo to Luongo.. anything is possible nothing but speculation till Luongo comes out and says it all

  • ubermiguel

    To me, it’s an indication that he’s going to test the free market at some point, either next year or the year after. I don’t see any other point to changing agents.

    Sure they might act as friends and advisors or whatever, but at Luongo’s age with his experience, he’s not terribly in need of any of that right now. Anyone else remember after the Schneider trade he said he just needs to “evaluate his options”?

    Ohhh, what if he went to the KHL!? I doubt it, but that would be juicy and fun. I need to turn off my imagination…

  • pheenster

    nobody would take that contract before schneider was traded and nobody will take it now. or ever. the canucks will never get anything for luongo other than years of compliance buyout payments. gillis screwed this situation up massively, face it.

  • Fred-65

    Let’s be honest hear at least consider and add two facts to the equation. Mrs Luongo wouldn’t live in Vcr far away from her parents in Florida and Luo didn’t like the batchelor life. If these two events hadn’t taken place, Mrs Luo settled down in a Luxury home in West Vancouver and Luo didn’t have to look else where for fun a lot of this wouldn’t have happened period. …. but it did. Subsequent to this a contract signed under the old CBA was chnaged with a stoke of the pen under the new CBA making Lou and his contract all but impossible to trade.

    The next thing was try and make the best of a bad situation from that point forward.

    At the draft MG needed to consider 2 points make Schneider his number 1 but buy out Luongo for US$24 million ….or …. keep Luongo and picks up a Bo Horvat for a rebuild when the Sedins retire. Pretty simple choice IMO. As I understand picking up Erickson to an already good goalie in the system (Lack) made it easier.

    If Lupien wants to vent so be it but direct it at Mrs Luo and Gary Betteman…Gillis simply had to deal with the fall out