So Roberto Luongo is finally gone – to Florida, his destination of choice for over a year now. Well, why not? Better late than never, isn’t that what they say?
Never mind the Vancouver Canucks invested all that time in developing Cory Schneider just so he could be the New Jersey Devils goaltender of the future. Now, the Canucks are left with two kids in net: Eddie Lack and Jacob Markstrom (the primary piece coming back in Tuesday’s trade with the Florida Panthers).
Two promising kids, but kids nonetheless. Schneider is an established goaltender, among the league leaders in save percentage and goals-against average – and, at 27, just entering his prime.
What a mess – and what an odd 96 hours in an NHL, where goaltender trades tend to be among the hardest to make. (Isn’t that why Schneider had to go in the first place? Because the Canucks could never find a trading partner to get a Luongo deal done that gave them value in return?)
Since last Friday, when the Buffalo Sabres and St. Louis Blues swapped Ryan Miller for Jaroslav Halak, respectively, the goaltender carousel has spun six times. On Tuesday – just before the Luongo-Markstrom swap overshadowed a series of interesting but minor deals – the Anaheim Ducks sent Viktor Fasth to the Edmonton Oilers, and the Oilers turned around and traded Ilya Bryzgalov to the Minnesota Wild.
If there is a single overriding theme, it is the sense goaltenders, perhaps more than with position players, sometimes just need a fresh start.
Think about the past couple of years: How Sergei Bobrovsky couldn’t get the job done for the Philadelphia Flyers, but as soon as he landed in Columbus, promptly won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goalie. The man replaced, Steve Mason, was then traded to the Flyers, where he has resuscitated his career in what has traditionally been a goalie graveyard.
At last year’s NHL trade deadline, the smartest, shrewdest deal was probably made by the Tampa Bay Lightning: acquiring the No. 3 in the Ottawa Senators system, Ben Bishop, for rookie forward Cory Conacher and a fourth-round draft choice.
Bishop’s ability to stabilize the Lightning goaltending situation is why they’re in the playoff hunt this season, in a turnaround campaign after missing the postseason the last two years.
And that may be the real lesson of this NHL trading deadline, and all the deadlines of the recent past.
Winners cannot be accurately assessed in the immediate aftermath of a deal. Only by taking a longer view can the impact of the busiest day of the NHL calendar be truly evaluated.
If Fasth can do for Edmonton what Bishop did for Tampa, then Edmonton may have solved its goalie crisis. If Miller can do what the combination of Halak and Brian Elliott have been unable to do and get the Blues deeper down the playoff path, that will be deemed a success. Markstrom may well evolve into the second coming of Henrik Lundqvist, and if he does, the Canucks’ stumbling and fumbling of the past 12 months might be forgiven.
Sometimes, the view of a deal, at first blush, tends to shift over time.
Think back to last year, when the focus was all on the Pittsburgh Penguins and how they loaded up with Jarome Iginla, Brendan Morrow, Jussi Jokinen and Douglas Murray in the week leading up to the deadline. All that extra talent didn’t help them get past Boston in the third round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, where the player the Bruins found behind Door No. 2 (after their Iginla deal fell through), Jaromir Jagr, helped them get to the final.
Meanwhile, the Chicago Blackhawks won the Cup even though they added just a single secondary piece (centre Michal Handzus), at the deadline.
Many of the other players who did change hands last year – Ryane Clowe to the New York Rangers, Martin Erat to the Washington Capitals, Derek Roy to Vancouver, Jason Pominville to Minnesota, Marian Gaborik to Columbus – were either outright disasters or provided modest support in playoff chases that fell short.
The 2014 version of the trade deadline is already a slightly different animal as many teams made their big splashes days ahead of time, which may leave the various television panels helplessly trying to fill 10-plus hours of programming Wednesday with a lot of creative thumb-twiddling.
In time, the deal involving the NHL journeyman that goes flying by on the ticker, without much comment, may actually turn out to be a bigger event than wherever Gaborik or Ryan Kesler or Thomas Vanek or Matt Moulson happen to land this time around.
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