Luong Time Coming: Luongo traded to Panthers

It took two years of controversy, countless false alarms, another high-end goalie being traded, an emotional press conference at the 2013 NHL trade deadline, and a complete fanbase meltdown at BC Place this past weekend. But finally, mercifully, Roberto Luongo has been re-assigned to Vancouver’s Eastern Conference affiliate traded to the Florida Panthers.

Luongo has confirmed the deal and even tweeted out an emoticon of a palm tree. Obviously he’s excited about going home. 

Coming back to Vancouver is a package that includes Jacob Markstrom – who Eddie Lack used to backup in Brynas – and probably forward Shawn Matthias. The Vancouver Canucks are reportedly, and unsurprisingly, retaining a portion of Luongo’s salary in the transaction supposedly 15% or 800,000. You have to retain an equal proportion of both salary and cap-hit under the league’s retained salary transaction provisions so, yeah. Also the Canucks are sending Stephen Anthony to Florida. He’s not a prospect and that’s just a book keeping part of the deal.

Click past the jump for more.

First we have to touch on Luongo himself, because this is an emotional day for most Canucks fans. During the entirety of his Canucks tenure Luongo was a super-elite goaltender and was good enough every season to carry a bad team to the playoffs (which is something the Canucks only occassionally were). 

By my personal odd standard of evaluating netminders – I care about a netminder posting an elite even-strength save percentage year-after-year above all – Luongo was the best or the second best netminder in the NHL (besides Henrik Lundqvist) throughout his time as a Canuck. 

Luongo captained the Canucks for a few years, he led them to six playoff series victories and to a Stanley Cup Final. Most memorably he won a gold medal starting for Team Canada when the Olympics were hosted by Vancouver in 2010. Despite his track record, he was probably the most polarizing star in franchise history and this is a franchise that arguably retired Pavel Bure’s number a decade too late, so that’s saying something…

It’s tough to figure out what Luongo’s legacy will be in the final analysis. There’s significant baggage on the negative side of the ledger, after all, from the playoff collapses to the two-year trade saga (which Luongo reportedly played a part in exacerbating at the 2012 NHL draft). But that Luongo is unrivaled as the greatest netminder in the history of the Canucks franchise should be beyond question. 

Maybe a decade or two from now the franchise will figure out a way to honour him appropriately, if he lets them. No one would blame him if he wanted no part of it, however.

Onto the trade. The Canucks get Shawn Matthias and Jacob Markstrom who are relatively young and somewhat promising. Matthias is big and decent but not a consistent top-six forward. Markstrom has been consistent and stellar in the AHL, but his high level of performance in San Antonio hasn’t translated at the NHL level where he’s struggled enormously. Will he figure it out? Who knows.

The real benefit to the Canucks is that they get out from under Luongo’s “immovable” lifetime contract. Yeah there’s a ticking time bomb waiting for them as a result of the “Luongo rule” or cap-benefit recapture penalty, but that’s for another day (and probably another management regime) to worry about. The cap might be at 90+ million by then anyway.

All things considered the Canucks did alright with this deal, I figure. Matthias and Markstrom are decent, inexpensive, relatively young assets and the team is eating only 800,000 of Luongo’s contract. That’s certainly inconvenient but it isn’t too painful – especially with the upper limit of the salary cap expected to rise going forward. Think of it this way: it’s just the cost of one Tom Sestito! 

But that cheery summary is just us looking at the deal in a vacuum, and this saga has gone on for way to long for today’s trade to be analyzed that way.

The fact is, this was a reactive move. It was likely a move borne out of necessity and desperation after the circus that was this past weekend’s Heritage Classic. A number of forces have contributed to what went down in Vancouver’s crease over the past year: the lockout, a reigned in salary cap, the vindictive cap benefit recapture clause. Also you might add ownership’s clear and complete unwillingness to use a compliance buyout to get out from under Luongo’s deal last summer. Anyway that’s a quick list of contributing outside factors that were beyond management’s control, y’know, for the sake of fairness.

Let’s recap how we got here. You may remember that the team first began the long process of alienating Luongo by starting Cory Schneider against the Kings in April of 2012. Schneider had posted a better save percentage than Luongo had for two years running by that point, and from a hockey perspective it wasn’t an absurd move. But it led to Luongo asking out of Vancouver, and it diminished Vancouver’s leverage. Basically they’d revealed their hand on the most public of stages.

At the 2012 NHL draft and throughout that subsequent summer, the Canucks were unable to move Luongo and his massive deal. There were no takers, and anyway Luongo was steering the bus to Sunrise exclusively, which was fully within his rights as he had a no-trade clause. 

By the time the new CBA was ratified, Vancouver’s goose was cooked on this front. There was no moving Luongo in a cap-benefit recapture environment and with the salary cap’s upper limit due to recede to $64.3 illion this season. Not without retaining salary at least, (which Vancouver was unwilling to do until this past weekend apparently). They literally couldn’t give him away, as they proved at last year’s trade deadline.

At the 2013 NHL entry draft the Canucks changed course at the last moment when they finally read the writing on the wall. Unable to find a serious offer for Luongo, they traded Cory Schneider instead for the 9th overall pick. They used it to select Bo Horvat who is having a monster year for London. 

That trade, in a vacuum, was a good one. In fact one could argue – and Tyler Dellow has convincingly – that the Canucks recouped fair value for Schneider’s services. The Canucks made like Churchill’s conception of America and made the right move – they dealt the comparable goaltender with way higher trade value – but they did so only after exhausting all other options.

The problem with that deal is the same problem with the Luongo deal today: this is a management team that throughout this process has appeared to be flying by the seat of their pants, reacting rather than anticipating a shifting landscape. 

Trading Schneider for a prospect like Horvat was the right move, had it been made a year earlier. But by the time Schneider was moved, Luongo was so fully alienated that he didn’t talk to the press all summer and changed agents. This “getting back together” thing was never going to work after what Luongo had been through. It cost Vancouver not one, but two excellent NHL goaltenders.

This all brings us to this season, where Luongo was outperformed once again by his backup (for the fourth straight year), culminating in the Heritage Classic kerfuffle. I’d reiterate that I don’t think the Canucks have done that poorly with this trade, in a vacuum. But when you step back and look at the forest rather than the trees, the breadth and the extent to which this process was marked by failures to anticipate – the market, the new CBA, Luongo’s emotional state – it’s pretty galling. 

This is a tough day for Canucks fans, and a tough day for a management team that has turned what was one of the best tandems in the NHL into an unproven one. In the process they added a third-liner and a two-way ace (in the OHL). Not exactly an enviable haul, that.

But at least it’s a good day for Luongo, who gets to move on. And actually when you factor in the cathartic element, the relief of closure that this trade brings, maybe it’s a good day for the organization and its fans too in a sense. But it sure doesn’t look or feel that way at the moment.

  • argoleas

    “It cost Vancouver not one, but two excellent NHL goaltenders.”

    That’s it right there. This deal, on it’s own, looks pretty good. As much as I’ll miss Luongo and his talent, this was a good ending for both parties, all things considered. But when you step back and look at the last couple of years, and the fact that we tried to trade Lu, then traded Cory, and now we’ve traded Lu…what an awful mess.

    I think Gillis has done some good things during his time in Vancouver, but good lord that is a huge black mark on his resume. I would not be opposed to him being let go at the end of this season.

    I’m blown away by how nuts this season has become compared to my expectations at the beginning of the season.

  • KleptoKlown

    So Van went fron having two #1 goalies to a prospect, a 3rd string goalie and a 3rd line grinder in the span of 9 months. This is beyond awful Gillis is just terrible.

    Oh and not to mebtion your left with two rookie goalies that have a combined 68 games played

  • JCDavies

    The deal in and of itself isn’t so bad — I don’t know how Markstrom all of a sudden got to be such a bust, he’s all of 24 and his NHL experience has been with a pretty crappy NHL team. It’s actually a lot more than I was expecting we’d get for Luongo at the end of the day. But as many others have pointed out, losing two #1 goalies for a high pick, a good prospect (you know, the opposite of a Steven Anthony) and a 3rd liner doesn’t look too hot (though in today’s NHL we all know that it’s often as much about contracts as straight hockey value).

    But even if we got Barkov I would’ve said that Gillis and the front office team has managed to completely screw this up. At best Canucks management looks incompetent, at worst clueless and out of touch with its players and coaches. If this was really forced by being sat post-Olympics and for the outdoor game — and I find it hard to believe that Tortorella precipitated all of this — then the coach should be fired, with Gillis shortly following suit for a mountain of ineptitude this season.

    It’s also so cute to see Flames and Oilers fans crowing about this. At least Blackhawks, Bruins, Kings, etc fans have something to hang their hat on this century. Though it was nice to see Edmonton turn Bryzgalov into something of value.

    • Alsker

      I don’t believe for a second that the decision to sit Luongo for the Heritage Classic was made by Torts. Management was working on a deal and was terrified an untimely injury would derail it. I absolutely refused to believe that this deal came together from nothing post-Heritage Classic. Period.

  • JCDavies

    So much revisionist history today. Where to start?

    First, no one accurately predicted how incredibly punitive the cap recapture provisions of the new CBA would be. We can all contend today that Mike Gillis should have looked into his crystal ball and accepted the (still) totally rumoured and totally unconfirmed offer from the Toronto Maple Leafs for Luongo two summer’s ago. 20/20 hindsight is a VERY handy thing to have.

    Then comes those provisions and big drop in the salary cap. The market for Luongo disappeared overnight.

    In the end Schneider is traded for a decent return as far as what goalies fetch. Horvat is a legitimate blue chip prospect (Yes NM00 I know he will never be a Valeri Nichushkin!). Goalie controversy solved.

    This year Lack plays better than anyone reasonably expected him to. Torts seems to like how the team plays in front of Lack better than Luongo (I do too), new ownership comes to Florida ready to make a deal for Luongo the old ownership wouldn’t the previous summer and viola! The “untradeable” “albatross” contract is gone.

    Result: Vancouver fans still poop their pants and wring their hands after screaming that a) Luongo and his crazy contract should be traded for a bucket of piss and b) the core of the team should all be dispatched in an aggressive rebuild.

  • asdf

    The upside of this trade is the buyout still left that will be used on Booth. That would free up around 10 mil in cap space, making the Canucks a player in next years FA market.

    Kessler may still be traded, but with the cap space, it will take a BOAT load to get Kessler. Which will be advantages either way. Retool with fresh blood and hopefully a complimentary Winger for the Sedins and new winger for a Kessler line and the young guys come in and bring some energy to an older team.

    Then there is the Edler card??? He could bring a package and keep Kessler. This will be an interesting day.

  • Gunnar

    Oiler and Flame Fans yuk it up you’ve been waiting a number of (division titles, president trophies, and PLAYOFFS) years for this. There you go, get it out of your system. Now back to reality, you guys are going to take runs at the Canucks organization? Really, really!

    Flames Fans, admittedly the Lou situation was handled…. badly, yeah that works lets leave it at that. But does this “disaster” even crack the flames top five @%^$ ups, and I’m just talking the last two years here only. Forget the past 25 years were your franchise has made it out of the first round once, hell did they even make the playoffs in half those years? Answer: Hells No. No lets not go to far into the past (Glass houses being what they are no naucks fan can make a firm stand on glorious pasts), lets just keep this current.

    Your franchise goalie got a return of what? There’s got to be something to show for the greatest goalie in franchise history, a draft pick, future considerations, something right. Whats that, nothing you say. You got absolutely $*&^ all. A third line NHL player even for 20 game only and a prospect doesn’t look so bad now does it.

    Iginla, the greatest player to ever wear the flaming C. Got a nickel and two pieces of lint on the dollar for him. Slow clap to you boys. Some one should have been fired for this tire fire. Oh someone was good job, but not before he did this;

    Drafting Mark Jankowski…… hahahahahaahaahahahahahahahahahahhahhahaaaahhhahahahahahhhahaahhahahahahahaaaa…………………. oh god…. side hurts……hahaahah… can’t breath…………………..hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaahahaha ……ahahhahahahahhahaahahahahahahahahahahhaahhahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahhaa.

    These are some epic disasters flames fans but lets not forget Ryan O’Reilly. Your team signs a player knowing that they’d have to give up first, second, and third round picks but doesn’t know that they then have to put him through waivers!!!!!! WTF!!! GMMG may have handle Louigate like a drunken sailor in port after six months at sea but at least he knows the elfin CBA, yo know cause it his JOB.

    Alright, I couldn’t find a fifth @%^$ up bigger then Louigate but thats a whole heaping pile of you no what Flames Fans. Best clean up your own back yard before you going knocking on our door.

    Oilers Fans, I’d love to tear into your franchise and its recent ineptitude but man piling on you guys just feels like picking on the blind deaf kid in school. Besides I’ve lived in Edmonton so I know there is nothing anyone can say our do to you that would be worse then having to live there. You guys just keep on keeping on.

    That said, anyone want to bet on which team completes the rb first and gets back into the playoffs flames fans? oiler fans? Yeah didn’t think so.

    • Mantastic

      you really want to make fun of people drafting? seriously?

      the canucks and all their glory have won 1 more playoff game than the Oilers and Flames in the past 2 years. the thing is we know that our team is bad, and that the canucks are even a good comparable is hilarious. welcome to the basement.

  • JCDavies

    “The fact is, this was a reactive move. It was likely a move borne out of necessity and desperation after the circus that was this past weekend’s Heritage Classic.”

    Do you really think this was reactionary to the weekend? The first thought I had when Lack started the two games after the break and then it was announced that Lack was starting the Heritage classic was that Luongo was finally getting his wish to be traded out of Vancouver.

    People who think Gillis (and Torts) didn’t know this was in process coming out of the Olympic break need to use their brain. They kept out a player who was being discussed in trade talks. Did it really make any sense (and do people really think) Gillis didn’t know what the reaction would be to not having Luongo play in the Heritage classic?

  • JCDavies

    To be honest, I thought Lu and his agent completely messed this up last year but Lu held his ground and got what he wanted. This is great for Lu and I am genuinely happy for him.