Thomas Wolfe once said you can’t go home again.
But what if you never left?
In the merry world of the Vancouver Canucks, where their goaltending soap opera was a daily distraction last season, a development worthy of As the World Turns occurred Sunday during the NHL’s annual entry draft.
After more than a year of trying, Canucks general manager Mike Gillis finally found a home for one of his excess goaltenders.
But instead of trading away Roberto Luongo, who’d been practically run out of town on a rail, the plot took a fresh twist. Ultimately, it was Cory Schneider moving elsewhere and Luongo back in the team’s good graces as the old/new No. 1.
No, you really can’t make this stuff up.
Luongo put his condo up for sale during the playoffs as the Canucks were swept out of the first round by the San Jose Sharks. Recently, he was tweeting hilariously about new coach John Tortorella after Tortorella was hired to replace Alain Vigneault.
Luckily for Luongo, the NHL’s collective agreement would not permit him to follow through on a promise he made via social media – that he would be willing to stay in Vancouver and be the backup and play for free if they would just let him sit in at every Tortorella press conference.
Well, Luongo will be closer to Tortorella’s postgame insights than he originally thought. Unless he decides to breach the 12-year, $64-million (all currency U.S.) contract he signed with the Canucks in 2010, a contract that made him virtually untradeable, he is back to where he was two years ago, or before Schneider emerged as a younger, cheaper option as the team’s No. 1 goaltender.
Gillis had opportunities to trade Luongo a year ago, but wanted value in exchange for a player he viewed as one of the organization’s top assets.
No other NHL team saw it the same way, or at least, none would meet Gillis’s asking price. Then came the NHL lockout, a revamped collective agreement, a shrinking salary cap and suddenly the market for Luongo went from lukewarm to ice cold.
If nothing else, Gillis is a pragmatist. When Luongo proved to be untradeable and the Canucks determined they didn’t want to pay the $27.047-million that it would have cost to buy out the nine remaining years of his contract, it meant Schneider had to go.
In the end, for Schneider, the New Jersey Devils surrendered a first-round pick, ninth overall, to the Canucks. Vancouver selected London Knights centre Bo Horvat, putting a piece into a development pipeline that had gone virtually bone dry.
Was it enough?
The Canucks received inquiries from both the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames for Schneider, but elected to move him out of the conference, so that if he evolves into a Vézina Trophy-winning goaltender, it will happen much further from view.
Instead of teaming up with the goalie who backstopped Canada to the 2010 Olympic gold medal, Luongo, Schneider will now partner the goalie who backstopped Canada to the 2002 Olympic gold medal, 41-year-old Martin Brodeur.
Brodeur is planning to play at least one more season, so Schneider may have to wait some more to become the team’s pure, de facto No. 1. But he is moving closer to his Boston home and that may make life less complicated for him – and at least get him into an organization that minimizes the drama at every turn, thanks to their buttoned-down general manager, Lou Lamoriello.
The more pressing question for Canucks Nation, is how long will it take Luongo to get his head around the fact that he is back in Vancouver after having cut ties, emotionally and otherwise, with the city and his teammates?
The Canucks had planned to dispatch owner Francesco Aquilini to patch things up with Luongo in person. Probably a dozen roses and a rueful, foot-shuffling apology won’t get it done.
About the only saving grace for the Canucks is that Luongo possesses one of the steadiest and most phlegmatic personalities in the game.
Throughout the lunacy of last season, when every question after every game focused on the team’s goaltending, Luongo handled the daily circus with humour and professionalism. Luongo rarely lost his cool. He didn’t do media one night in Edmonton after being hung out to dry in the team’s season-ending game; and he didn’t say anything inflammatory after Vigneault switched to Schneider two games into the San Jose series after Luongo gave them two excellent starts.
If anyone can emotionally reconnect with what he thought of as his ex-team, it is Luongo. The Canucks are clinging to the idea that they can win with this core group, even as their Stanley Cup window closes. Tortorella is a coaching hire designed to win in the here and now; Luongo is still a viable goalie, but nearing his 35th birthday; and the Sedin twins are a year away from unrestricted free agency. What fun. What a frolic. Too bad the NHL doesn’t hand out silverware to the teams with the best story lines. The Canucks would be champions every year.