In what may be interpreted as a preview of the Vancouver Canucks’ long-term goaltending plans, Cory Schneider was named the starter for Wednesday night’s fourth game of the Western Conference quarter-finals, a series led by the hometown (and upset-hungry) Los Angeles Kings.
In his own mind, coach Alain Vigneault said he’d decided on his starter even before Tuesday’s practice, which also featured the return of Daniel Sedin. But Sedin’s presence on the ice – and the possibility of his actually returning to play after missing a month because of a concussion – made the goaltending story a footnote, rather than leaving it front-and-centre, where it would normally be.
Sedin, incidentally, said Wednesday that, barring a setback, he expects to play in Game 4.
Vigneault met with Schneider and goaltender Roberto Luongo Tuesday night to inform them of his decision.
Schneider, who described Luongo as “very competitive and still a friend” said he was “excited” by the prospect of playing, “looking forward to it, focused – things that normally happen when you’re tapped to play. It’s going to be a fun game tonight. It’s going to be energetic and we’re going to give everything we have because we need to have this game.”
Ultimately, the Canucks will need to make an organizational decision about their net-minding direction over the summer, and the decision to opt for the youthful Schneider over the veteran Luongo may be a hint to how they’re leaning. For contractual reasons, it is unlikely that they can hold onto both players, meaning the choices are either to retain Luongo, who turned 33 earlier this month and has been their starter for the past six years, or turn the job over to Schneider, 26, who has been patiently apprenticing in the organization for the past four.
The fact that the Canucks have turned to Schneider in back-to-back games suggests they believe he gives them the best chance of winning – and in an organization hungry for the Stanley Cup, that is a telling development.
Luongo, normally the most gregarious of players, was not available for comment following the morning skate.
“We’ve said this all along, both of our goalies are tremendous and whoever is going to play, we know we’ll have a good chance to win,” said Daniel Sedin, assessing the team’s goaltending dilemma.
As for Sedin’s own status, he suggested that Tuesday’s full-out practice would help him tonight. As to how he will be deployed, Sedin isn’t sure.
“We’ll see how AV uses me. Once you’re out there, you want to play as much as you can. That’s always been my case.”
Nor does he expect the Kings to back off just because of his concussion history.
“Well why should they?” said Sedin. “I wouldn’t be back if I wasn’t 100 per cent. They expect the same from me – to be 100 per cent.”
So there is tons of intrigue in tonight’s match-up, something not normally associated with the fourth game of a series that stands 3-0. Ultimately, the Canucks’ long-term goaltending decision will come down to dollars; to Luongo’s wishes (since he has a no-trade) and the ability of GM Mike Gillis to trade a contract with 10 years to run, if he should try to do so.
Luongo has just completed the second year of a 12-year, $64-million contract, with an annual cap hit of $5.333 million that isn’t as bad as it looks upon first blush. The contract has six years left at $6.714-million in actual dollars out, and then it falls off the cliff after that in the final four ($3.382-million; $1.61-million; two final years at $1-million).
It is a cap circumventing contract of the first order, narrowly within the limits of what the league allows.
Schneider’s two-year, $1.8-million contract, with a $900,000 annual charge expires at the end of the season. He’s due for a raise and as a restricted free agent, could even an offer sheet or two this season.
Organizationally, Schneider has the bigger long-term value just because of his age and the fact that he wouldn’t be as costly Luongo, at least not on the next contract. Or you wouldn’t think.
And all of this obscures the most important fact today – that Vancouver’s goaltending has been good no matter who has played thus far in the series. More importantly, they need to jump-start the sputtering offence (three goals in four games, zero on the power play). However they manage to do that will determine if there’s a fifth game in the series this coming Sunday at the Rogers Arena.
“We had a great day (Monday) with the team, as good as you can have when you’re down 3-0,” said team captain Henrik Sedin. “We know where we are. We’re going to focus on (Wednesday night’s game). If we get one win, we bring it back to Vancouver and see what happens.”