A collective gasp and then a burst of applause marked the end of the Vancouver Canucks goaltending controversy.
Just before the New Jersey Devils were to make their ninth overall selection at the NHL entry draft, it was announced at the Prudential Center the hometown team just made a trade: The ninth pick for Canucks goaltender Cory Schneider. The near capacity crowd quickly realized Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello had just solved his succession problem with 41-year-old Martin Brodeur and roared its approval.
For Canucks’ fans, it was a sorry end to a year-long drama that could not have been botched any worse by general manager Mike Gillis, who now adds this to his portfolio along with two consecutive first-round playoff exits by his team. Even though he took a solid prospect with the ninth pick in centre Bo Horvat from the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights, Gillis is now left in a situation that can be described as awkward at best.
One year ago, Roberto Luongo was told he was no longer the Canucks’ No. 1 goaltender despite the fact they invested $64-million (all currency U.S.) in him two years earlier with a 12-year contract. Schneider, 27, who has two years left on his contract with a salary-cap hit of $4-million, was going to be the new top gun and Luongo would be traded.
But as just about everyone around the league predicted, Gillis was not able to trade Luongo’s contract. He could have made a deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the summer of 2012 but was too stubborn about a reasonable price. The Leafs backed off again at the trading deadline in February when Gillis finally agreed to most of elements of a trade but refused to cover part of Luongo’s salary.
In the meantime, both goaltenders made the best of a terrible situation once the season started, although you had to wonder if it did not have an effect on Schneider. He was not consistent enough to keep the No. 1 job full-time and Luongo had to try and bail out the Canucks in their first-round playoff loss to the San Jose Sharks.
By the time June rolled around, Gillis’s only choices were to give Luongo a compliance buyout, which would have cost $27-million over 16 years, try for a last-ditch trade or, trade the guy you publicly promised would be your No. 1 goalie for a long time. Obviously, Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini was not interested in setting a new record for buyouts, so Schneider was gone at a discount price.
So somehow Gillis, who stubbornly insisted he could get a great return on a Luongo trade, and was said to be demanding picks in the first and second rounds plus a prospect for Schneider, has to explain to the fans, not to mention his owner, how this is a good outcome. The Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers were bidding hard along with the Devils (and the price for them was higher) but there was no way Schneider was going to a team that will be in the Canucks’ division next season.
One more thing Gillis has to do is try and repair the relationship with Luongo, who handled the situation with good grace and lots of humour on Twitter. The only thing the GM has going for him there is that Luongo is easy-going enough to forgive, although even he will not forget.