Three-hundred fifty-two days ago it was announced that Cory Schneider would get the start in game three of Vancouver’s Western Conference Quarterfinal series against the Los Angeles Kings. Schneider would dazzle, though the Canucks would lose anyway by a score of one to nothing. It appeared then that the end of the Roberto Luongo era in Vancouver was nigh, I mean, it just had to be.
Three-hundred and fifty-two days later and the Roberto Luongo era has fitfully, inexorably stretched on. It will continue until the summer at the earliest.
This has little to do with Roberto Luongo’s performance and everything to do with the deal he signed a few years back. "My contract sucks" an emotional and forthright Luongo told the media on Wednesday afternoon, "I’d scrap it now if I could."
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Read past the jump.
Though Luongo is tied to a life-time deal that other teams see as a liability, he remains an elite goaltender and there should be no doubt about that. So how much of a liability is his contract?
Well Steve Mason, easily the worst NHL netminder of the last four years, fetched a replacement level goaltender and a third-round pick in a trade on Thursday. Unproven young netminder Matt Hackett with the non-existent big league resume and NHL bloodlines – a goaltender who at one point lost his AHL job this season – was a centrepiece of the Jason Pominville trade. Meanwhile Ottawa chuckled to themselves as they turned less than 20 good games from Ben Bishop into a young top-six forward and a pick.
The odds that any of Steve Mason, Ben Bishop and Matt Hackett turn into what Luongo still is today are longer than Luongo’s deal. "Unfortunately [my contract] is a big factor in trading me and it’s probably why I’m still here," Luongo reasoned, hitting the nail squarely on the head even as his General Manager scrambled to try and put that genie back in the bottle.
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The truth is that Mike Gillis, who has surely done more good than bad during his Vancouver tenure, has lost the plot on the Luongo trade front. He probably lost it a while ago, arguably when he decided to keep Cory Schneider in favour of the elite goalie on an immovable contract in the first place. As Gillis and his goaltender contradicted each other in their respective trade deadline press conference’s on Thursday afternoon, it became undeniable, what was a saga is now a circus.
Asked about whether or not he was ever asked to waive his no trade clause, Roberto Luongo denied it: "I was never approached with a trade somewhere else and I said no." Elaborating on this point he insisted that "nothing ever really materialized to the point where I had to make a decision about whether to waive or not." Mike Gillis’ take:
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Mike Gillis also referred to Luongo’s no-trade clause as a complication. So this is a difficult situation that could get even tougher for everyone involved by the sounds of it.
Back to Luongo who on separate occassions during his press conference rejected the terms "disappointed" and "frustrated" when describing his feelings about staying put in Vancouver, visible evidence to the contrary. Instead he offered a serene rationalization: ""Obviously the time wasn’t now."
Luongo’s dead right about that too. The time wasn’t now – it was nine months ago at the NHL Draft in Pittsburgh. Or before the season started in January.
Instead of a resolution to this distracting situation, a situation which sees the Canucks allocating 9.33 million in cap space to two players who cannot be on the ice at the same time, Luongo’s future – and the team’s for that matter – remain murky. Its certainly not a comfortable situation for Vancouver’s star backup who said of dealing with the uncertainty that, "I’m human and sometimes it gets to you."
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What’s clear now is that the Canucks aren’t going to get any useful assets in a Luongo trade this summer. That ship has long since sailed. In the meantime, Luongo remaining in Vancouver is rancid milk remaining in the sun. And it’s only going to smell worse going forward. Mike Gillis’ leverage will decrease like the salary cap does this summer too, making the need to move Luongo even more urgent.
For now Luongo’s looking forward, albeit with a heavy heart: "I’m going to gather myself for the rest of the day and make sure when I come to work tomorrow that I’m 100% dedicated to the team, no matter what the capacity. I’d like nothing better than to win the Stanley Cup this year."
But this is a proud guy, and a hyper-competitive athlete. An Olympic gold medal winner and the second best goaltender in the NHL in terms of being able to produce an elite save-percentage year after year. "It’s honestly," Luongo began before stopping to gather himself, "a hit on your pride that teams aren’t willing to give up much." It will also, presumably, be a hit on his pride when he spends the majority of the balance of this season and the first game of the coming playoffs sitting on the bench.
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