Is it lights out for Luongo?
By Josh Martin, Sports Editor
It’s been just over a week since the Canucks were knocked out by the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the playoffs, and the fate of the number one goaltending position is up in the air. Coach Alain Vigneault’s decision of starting goaltender Cory Schneider in game four of the series—in the most important game of the season—over Roberto Luongo has stirred up some big controversy and has created high speculation of who will return as the starting goaltender with Vancouver come next fall.
As of right now it looks as though the man between the pipes will be the young 26-year-old Schneids’—taking the starting job from Luongo, who has been a member of the Canucks organization for the past six seasons. Schneider is coming off an unbelievable year in his second NHL season with a 20–8–1 record, a .937 Save Percentage (second-best among goalies in the league), and a 1.96 Goals Against Average (third-best). He has clearly proven that he is ready to take on a starting position with an NHL squad and, after the decision by Vigneault to start him in game three, it looks as though the Canucks are that team.
In the three games that Schneider played in the LA series, he made 101 saves on 105 shots and posted a 1.31 GAA and a sparkling .960 SV%, while Luongo—in the two games that he played—had a .891 SV% and a 3.59 GAA. Is this really a hard decision to make with those numbers in mind? Well, when you bring in the history of how Luongo came into this franchise and how he arguably single-handedly turned it around into a Stanley Cup-contending team, it does begin to get a little sentimental. But then again, it is a business, and right now Schneider is the better goalie. It’s just that simple… or is it?
Luongo has 10 years remaining on his contract with the Canucks, which carries a $5.33 million salary-cap hit throughout with a no-trade clause; however, after the first round of the playoffs, Luongo told reporters that he’d be willing to wave it to help out the team.
“Yeah, of course, if they ask me too… I don’t want to be one of those guys that’s going to stand in the way of anything. I always want to put the team ahead of me first.
“It’s a unique circumstance we’re in, where we’ve got an elite young guy who is probably going to dominate the league for many years,” Luongo said. “So I’m not sure what I would do if I was GM. It’s going to be what’s best for the team, and whatever scenario that is, I am okay with it. Whether that involves me being here or not is okay.”
With Luongo likely leaving, there are a number of ways this can turn out. There have been multiple reports suggesting that Luongo will be submitting a list of teams that he would prefer to be traded to, if in fact he were traded. The list will be given sometime within the next week, but reports say that the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Toronto Maple Leafs are possible destinations among the teams on his “short list.” Other rumours have said that the New Jersey Devils and even the dreaded Chicago Blackhawks are on that list—although I could not picture Luongo being able to cope listening to the “Chelsea dagger” song that plays every time the Blackhawks score. He’s listened to it far too many times over the past several seasons.
Tampa Bay being a possibility isn’t surprising, considering that Luongo’s family lives down in Florida and that he lives there in the off-season. The Toronto Maple Leafs is a brave choice on his part, being the biggest hockey market in North America, even more so than Vancouver. And the fact that he didn’t exactly relish under the microscope in the past six seasons with his time in Vancouver doesn’t help his argument. But the Leafs are desperate for a goalie, which could be good for the Canucks’ sake in getting something juicy in return. Possibly Joffrey Lupul, who had 25 goals and 42 assists in 66 games, who would fit nicely alongside the Sedin twins. The New Jersey Devils would be a nice transition for Luongo, filling in future Hall-of-Famer Martin Brodeur’s shoes. The team is already built around the crease, so having Bobby Lu step in wouldn’t change a whole lot of the Devil’s structure.
The main thing for the Canucks would be unloading Luongo to any team willing to take him and his contract and getting something in return that could benefit their team. But with Luongo’s pricey and lengthy contract, that’s going to be a lot more difficult to achieve. And right now, with Schneider becoming a restricted free agent this summer, that means that GM Mike Gillis will have to work out a contract with him before he can even begin to look for a deal with Luongo. So the next few weeks could either be really quiet or hectic depending on how Gillis wants to approach this situation.
All in all, Luongo came in and replaced Alex Auld and Dan Cloutier six years ago, now Cory Schneider has the incredibly difficult task to replace the best goalie that ever played for the Canucks.