It sounded like - as Roberto Luongo’s voice quietly cracked - the Vancouver Canucks will have a new starting goaltender next season after Luongo’s six excellent years in net for the hockey team.
Luongo spoke with Vancouver president and general manager Mike Gillis on Tuesday morning and, later, speaking with reporters, Luongo said he would waive the no-trade clause in his 12-year, $64-million contract.
“It’s going to be what’s best for the team,” said Luongo. “Whatever scenario that is, I’m okay with it - whether that involves me being here or not is okay. We’ve got a lot of potential in this locker room, there’s a great core of guys, and the chance to do something special.”
The Canucks, after winning their second consecutive Presidents’ Trophy, went down in five games to the Los Angeles Kings in the first round, a terrible result 10 months after nearly winning the Stanley Cup.
Luongo was benched for Game 3 in favour of backup Cory Schneider, who at 26 is seven years younger than Luongo and appears set to become Vancouver’s starter. Schneider started Games 3, 4 and 5, giving up just four goals, including the series winner in overtime on Sunday night.
“They’ve got a guy [Schneider]here that is going to be a superstar in this league for the next 10, 12, 15 years,” said Luongo. “It is a business and that’s the way it goes. I loved being here the last six years. I think my career has really taken off and we did some incredible things. If I’m here in the future, then great. If I’m not, that’s good also.”
Schneider, the goaltender in ascendancy, put up a strong year as a backup. His save-percentage, .937 in 33 games, ranked No 2 in the NHL, behind St. Louis’s Brian Elliot, who posted a .940 in 38 games. Then, in the playoffs, Schneider was also excellent, with a save-percentage of .960 in three games, the highest among all goaltenders in the postseason.
“Would I like to get at least an opportunity to be a starting goaltender? Sure. Everyone would,” said Schneider on Tuesday. “I think I’ve at least earned the right to get a chance, and to get a look. Wherever that may be, I don’t know. If it’s here, that’s great. I’ll think about that when it comes.”
This summer in Boston, near where Schneider grew up and where he has an apartment, he plans to work on stick-handling, a weakness in his game, and his conditioning and strength, with the aim to be ready to be a starter in October, “playing 60, 70 games, something like that.”
As for the puck he couldn’t stop, in overtime on Sunday night, the Jarret Stoll missile that went in high on the short side, Schneider said:
“You have to leave it behind. It happened so fast. Again, he made a good shot. Guys in this league can do that. It was inches either way, it misses the net, or I get a piece of it. It means I’ve got to be a few inches better. It was a good learning experience, and something I’ll keep with me, in terms of the experience.”
Schneider, who had a salary of $900,000, is a restricted free agent and will likely attract offer sheets from other teams, so the price for the Canucks to retain him could be high. This is the complication in keeping both goaltenders, given that Luongo’s contract is a salary-cap hit of $5.3-million each year for the rest of the decade.
The situation is a challenge for Vancouver president/general manager Mike Gillis, who would ideally like to keep both but that is likely impossible.
Speaking to reporters early on Tuesday, Gillis said: “The emergence of Cory to be so outstanding as a young goalie changes the landscape. We’re in the middle of that changing landscape that we need to evaluate properly.”