The goalie market was goosed again when the Philadelphia Flyers set a new record for paying players not to work – but that does not mean Roberto Luongo will be released from contract purgatory any time soon.
Well, not until July 4 at any rate. That is the deadline for NHL teams to make their compliance buyouts. So it could be the day Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis breaks the buyout record by finally giving Luongo his freedom.
The latest record was set Tuesday, when Flyers GM Paul Holmgren announced he reluctantly decided to make goalie Ilya Bryzgalov his second compliance buyout of the week. It will cost the team $23-million (U.S.) over the next 14 years, two-thirds of the money left on the contract spread over twice the remaining term as per the collective agreement. Bryzgalov played two mediocre and bizarre seasons for the Flyers after signing a nine-year, $51-million contract that was the centrepiece of some of the worst general managing in history.
Anyone who thinks this means Holmgren is now chasing Gillis around trying to trade for a 34-year-old goaltender with nine years and $40.5-million left on his contract must be one of those dwindling true believers who bought all those whoppers from the Canucks GM going back almost a year that there is a long line of NHL teams eager to make a trade for Luongo.
Actually, the Bryzgalov buyout just made it harder for Gillis to avoid his own compliance buyout on Luongo instead of finally dumping his contract in a trade.
While Holmgren does need a goaltender, he has other problems that rule out Luongo. “I don’t see how that would work,” he said of the chances of acquiring Luongo in a trade.
Holmgren created $12.17-million in salary cap space over the next two seasons with the Bryzgalov and Daniel Brière buyouts but he already needs/has used some of that in signing defenceman Mark Streit, while centre Claude Giroux will be a restricted free agent at the end of next season.
Better Holmgren waits to see if Luongo becomes available as a free agent after a buyout. Or he could chase pending free agents Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes or Ray Emery of the Chicago Blackhawks.
In the meantime, Gillis’s chances of escaping Luongo’s contract with a trade are as bad as they have ever been. Based solely on skill, Luongo is the best goalie available – but as Luongo himself noted when the NHL trade deadline passed in February, the contract is the problem.
While there may be the Flyers and a few other teams (New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers) looking for goaltenders, there are not a lot of them. And there are some cheaper albeit riskier options such as Emery and maybe even Bryzgalov, who proved with the Coyotes he can be a good NHL goaltender in the right system.
Even if word filtered out of Finland that Miikka Kiprusoff decided he will retire, do not look for Calgary Flames GM Jay Feaster to join the goalie chase. He has Karri Ramo, 26, whom Feaster drafted when he was running the Tampa Bay Lightning, coming from the KHL, along with Reto Berra from the Swiss league.
Ramo was ordinary at best for a couple of seasons in Tampa but he was a star in Russia, and Feaster believes he can be a starter. The backup job will be a fight between Berra and Joey MacDonald.
That is just one segment of what should be a busy trade market leading up to Sunday’s NHL entry draft in Newark.
The dealing may start with the No. 1 pick overall, as an informal survey of NHL types shows hardly any of them believe Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy, the new hockey bosses with the Colorado Avalanche, when they say they will take one of forwards Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin or Alexander Barkov Jr. instead of defenceman Seth Jones with the first pick.
The belief is Sakic and Roy are trying to spark some trade offers so they can improve their young roster immediately.
There will also be some established players up for grabs, which could include Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman and captain Dion Phaneuf. His contract is done a year from now and Leafs GM David Nonis told Toronto all-sports radio station Sportsnet 590 The Fan “it depends where the [salary] cap goes,” when it comes to keeping him for the long-term. Nonis is looking for a No. 1 centre and a top-four defenceman.
Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford was non-committal in a recent conversation, but his No. 5 draft pick could be in play in the search for a top-four defenceman.