First Tim Thomas announced a sabbatical.
Then Tomas Vokoun engineered a trade-and-sign deal to land with the Pittsburgh Penguins for two years.
Suddenly the already thin goaltending market is down two veteran options for teams desperately in need of a No. 1.
Aside from Roberto Luongo, that is.
The thing is, all indications at the moment are that the two teams most in need of a goaltender – the Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs – are not particularly interested in taking on Luongo’s contract.
With Vokoun now out of the mix after being pursued by seven or eight teams over the last week, that leaves an unrestricted free agent class that is positively skeletal in terms of established veterans.
Mostly the options there are backup types: Dwayne Roloson, Chris Mason, Dan Ellis, Johan Hedberg, Scott Clemmensen, Jonas Gustavsson, Martin Biron, Josh Harding, etc.
What’s curious is that neither the Lightning or Leafs were particularly desperate to land Vokoun; their interest was believed to be relatively mild despite his track record and the modest $2-million a season on the two-year term he was looking for.
One reason why? Look at all of the compelling names available in the restricted free agency class.
There’s Carey Price, Tuukka Rask, Ondrej Pavelec, Cory Schneider, Anders Lindback and Devan Dubnyk all in need of contracts, with two or three of those names potential targets for offer sheets when free agency opens this summer.
The Canadiens can avoid that situation with Price by electing for arbitration before July 1, but that isn’t an option until after July 1 with Rask and Schneider given their low salaries.
Both Boston and Vancouver are relatively tight against the cap as well, with big salaries dedicated to Thomas (even if he doesn’t play) and Luongo making their goaltending situations precarious.
Some in the hockey world I’ve spoken with think this is being contemplated and that one reason GMs Steve Yzerman and Brian Burke have been so quiet on the goaltending front is that they plan on making a bold play on July 1.
Failing that, Luongo becomes an option – but only then.
Consider the pressure a Schneider offer sheet (or even the threat of one) could put on the Canucks.
If the offer sheet was in the $5-million-a-season range, the compensation would be only a first- and a third-round pick – relative peanuts when it comes to a young potential star in goal.
(It’d also be a more reasonable contract than the one Luongo has for a goaltender who is seven years younger.)
Once Schneider signs the offer sheet, the Canucks only have two options: Keep him at that contract (with no ability to trade him for the first year of the deal) or let him walk for the picks and go with Luongo in goal.
It stands to reason Vancouver would match and hang onto one of their prized assets, but at that point, keeping both Schneider and Luongo – which is currently considered a possibility for next season – becomes completely unwieldy.
And there just happen to be at least two teams still in need of a No. 1 goaltender.
It’s dirty pool, but it would also be very effective. The Canucks would then have to dump Luongo in short order and in a situation where he could dictate his destination because of the no-trade clause, meaning the return could be even worse than without Schneider’s contract jacked up.
The worst part from a Vancouver perspective is there’s not a whole lot they can do here. If a team wants to stick them with a big ticket on a goaltender who’s played all of 68 NHL games, they can do it.
If they suddenly have to move Luongo in a situation like that, they may be forced to take back an unwanted contract to make it happen.
This type of situation isn’t entirely unprecedented. When the Chicago Blackhawks were in cap hell after winning the Cup two years ago, the San Jose Sharks threw them an anchor in the form of an offer sheet to defenceman Niklas Hjalmarsson that greased the wheels for netminder Antti Niemi to leave town.
A month later, Niemi signed with the Sharks for just $2-million. Chicago went with Marty Turco for about half that.
And it’s not out of the question we see history repeat itself this summer with several teams desperate to improve in goal.