The goalie they want to keep is drawing phone calls.
The one they’d like to move is drawing flies.
And on the eve of Sunday’s NHL entry draft, Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis has a whale of a decision on his hands with what’s become an anchor of a contract for Roberto Luongo.
With Luongo proving more difficult than ever to move, TSN’s Darren Dreger reported on Saturday morning that Canucks netminder Cory Schneider “is in play” in trade talks, with the asking price a first round pick and a prospect.
Meeting with the media in New York later in the day, Gillis acknowledged that teams were expressing interest in Schneider and that it wasn’t entirely out of the question he could be moved.
“I don’t know. We’ll see,” he said. “You listen to proposals. You never say never. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.
“I mean you have to listen. If you’re in any business, you have to listen to what the proposal is going to be.”
Desperation is what has led the Canucks to this point. And it’s obvious why Schneider would attract much more attention on the market, even if he’s going to cost an arm and a leg compared to Luongo.
Only 27, Schneider is coming off a season where he posted a .927 save percentage and he carries a reasonable $4-million cap hit for the next two years.
Luongo, meanwhile, is 34, had only a .907 save percentage in 20 games and has nine years (and more than $40-million) remaining on a behemoth deal Gillis gave him nearly four years ago.
After Philadelphia and Tampa made huge compliance buyouts earlier in the week with Ilya Bryzgalov and Vinny Lecavalier, the pressure has been upped on Canucks ownership to simply make the Luongo problem disappear for the incredible sum of $27-million.
Complicating matters is the fact it didn’t need to come to this. Moving Luongo in a trade was possible a year ago – and was heavily discussed at the 2012 draft with the Toronto Maple Leafs, among other teams – but Gillis’s asking price was sky high, scaring off teams that went in search of other solutions in goal.
A year later, pulling off the deal has become much more difficult as the cap has dropped and teams have become increasingly wary of the type of hugely frontloaded deals that were in vogue when Luongo signed his.
Now, any Luongo trade would likely involve the Canucks having to retain some salary for nine more years, which isn’t an easy pill to swallow given Vancouver is in cap hell already and hopes to be a high spending contender as long as it can.
The best case scenario at this point may simply mean getting rid of the contract while doing as little damage as possible to the rest of the roster. It’s possible, for example, that Luongo would be claimed on waivers – which he must be placed on before a buyout – by a team desperate for goaltending help.
Teams, however, could be motivated to simply sit tight and make a play for him in free agency, when Luongo could be had on a much shorter term deal.
The top suitor for both netminders at this point is believed to be the Edmonton Oilers, who are expected to be aggressive under new GM Craig MacTavish in the next week, but any deal would obviously be complicated by the fact they’re in Vancouver’s division.
Aside from that, however, they’re not the worst dance partners if Schneider is put up for bidding.
Edmonton has an abundance of promising, young talent up front, and the Canucks need some low cost scoring help at forward to ease the burden on the Sedin twins and take another run at a Stanley Cup.
And, in at least the very near future, the downgrade in goal from Schneider to Luongo may not be all that precipitous, as Luongo has still statistically been one of the NHL’s better goalies over the past few seasons.
Schneider, however, sits first among all netminders with a .931 save percentage in the last three years, and any deal moving him out would be incredibly unpopular with a Canucks fan base that is growing more disenchanted by the week after the team’s early exit in the playoffs.
Gillis’s preference continues to be finding a trade for Luongo, although who the bidders (or vultures) will be, remains a mystery. In addition to Edmonton, the New York Islanders could still be in the mix, but to date their only offer has been to give the Canucks an even worse problem contract (Rick DiPietro) in return.
All that would mean is a slightly smaller buyout for owner Francesco Aquilini to stomach.
“We’re listening to offers,” Gillis said of Luongo. “We’re talking to teams. And we’ll have to wait and see how it turns out.”
Canucks cap situation tighter than most
Part of what has Gillis in such a tough situation is he has essentially no cap space at the moment, with 17 players signed for a total of $64.25-million under what will be a $64.3-million cap.
Buying out or giving away Luongo would leave Vancouver with a little more than $5-million in wiggle room, but with upgrades needed, Gillis will likely require even more maneuvering room than that.
Another buyout candidate will be defenceman Keith Ballard, who played only 15 minutes a night this past season despite making $4.2-million a season.
Gillis said Saturday that that decision has yet to be made, as he will continue to try to trade out money instead.
Using both compliance buyouts will likely be the simplest solution to allow Vancouver to become much more of a player for some of the high profile free agents available next week.