As NHL owners careen their business toward a self-imposed cliff at midnight Saturday to lock out their players, the long ballad of Roberto Luongo looks as if it may get longer.
While recent trade talk has been all Florida Panthers, and maybe it’s the likely destination, don’t scratch the Toronto Maple Leafs from the discussion.
There is no Luongo trade in the offing, according to Vancouver Canucks president and general manager Mike Gillis, who said on Wednesday it is “unlikely” that one happens before the Saturday deadline. A lockout shuts down everything, including all forms of dealing and wheeling.
However, hockey will eventually begin again, and there will be a 339-win (No. 17 all-time) goaltender on the trade block, even if everyone – Gillis, Luongo, other Canucks – say it would be fine if training camp began with Luongo on the roster.
On Wednesday, at a team-sponsored charity golf tournament, it was Luongo’s first appearance here since April, after he was benched in key playoff games and said he would accept a trade. It seemed like a humbling end to his impressive six years in Vancouver.
No trade occurred, of course, and last week Luongo said his preferred destination was his former hockey home, the Panthers, where he and his wife and kids live in the off-season. Luongo sported a blackened right eye on Wednesday, courtesy of his 2 1/2-year-old son’s errant elbow.
Luongo said on Wednesday that he wouldn’t talk specific teams, as it would be “disrespectful” to do so. He said he never provided a list of five teams he would move to, as had been rumoured in late April. Luongo twice said there was no “animosity” between himself and Gillis. Luongo added that he wouldn’t speculate on various scenarios and noted: “Once he [Gillis] approaches me with [a proposed trade], we’ll make those decisions when they come.”
“I said I’d be willing to lift my no-trade clause, if asked, and so far I haven’t been asked,” Luongo said.
Gillis has been accused of looking to get too much in a trade for a 33-year-old goaltender whose playoff performances have been erratic and who has $47.3-million (all currency U.S.) and a decade left on a contract with a $5.3-million-a-year cap hit.
“We’re one of the wealthiest teams in the league,” Gillis said. “We don’t have fire sales.”
Gillis, who also said he feels he remains in the Shane Doan lottery, said teams have been “pursuing us” for Luongo, and various scenarios have been floated. There is, Gillis suggested, the possibility of a multiteam trade. The collective agreement, however, is a problem, particularly because a new version might provide some amnesty on fat, long-term contracts.
“That has been part of the discussions that we’ve had with other teams, what if this and what if that,” Gillis said. “It’s impossible to predict what may be the outcome, so, you know, there’s some hesitancy on that front.”
Gillis added that he is trying to do the best for his team and Luongo, but added, “At the end of the day, you’re either going to play hockey or you’re not going to play hockey.”
So is Florida the certain destination? Perhaps. The Panthers haven’t offered anything particularly intriguing to the Canucks, as yet. But the Leafs and others have pieces the Canucks are interested in. The refrain from the Vancouver brass is “younger and bigger.” They know they’re not getting an established star back for their established star. But they’re not giving Luongo away, either. It’s not a salary dump.
Enter Brian Burke, president and general manager of the Maple Leafs, a man whose reputation is on the line when hockey begins anew.
On Monday Burke told reporters: “We have said from the get-go if we get an opportunity to upgrade at the goaltender position, we’re going to do it. That’s still the case. But it’s not a frantic search for a goaltender. We believe in James Reimer.”
In a game of poker, especially one that ceases on Saturday, no one shows his cards until he has to. It might be a while. The ballad of Bobby Lu plays on.