At this point, it simply makes too much sense not to happen.
That’s not to say that it will, only that it should.
The Vancouver Canucks have a mini-albatross on their hands in a highly paid 33-year-old backup goalie who wants to remain a starter in the league.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are essentially the only team with all of the need, desire, available assets and financial wherewithal to take on said goalie.
So is it then a done deal Roberto Luongo becomes a Leaf whenever this silly lockout lifts?
Not exactly. But it’s close.
Sportsnet’s John Shannon started this firestorm when he reported on Wednesday that the two sides had some sort of an agreement in principle ready to go for when player movement will finally be allowed again, a report that brought on the usual denials from both teams.
Given Vancouver and Toronto were knee deep in Luongo discussions at the draft in late June, when Leafs GM Brian Burke balked at the Canucks' sky-high asking price, it’s certainly not hard to imagine those talks at some point picked up again and are now further along.
The reality of the situation is that while Luongo would rather return to the South Florida area – where he lives in the off-season and his wife is from – the Panthers have an up-and-comer in goal in Jacob Markstrom and aren’t willing to offer anything other than some dead weight to the Canucks.
And the other landing spots for a goalie with 10 years remaining on a deal with a $5.33-million cap hit are pretty well nonexistent.
Aside from Toronto.
Sure, there are questions surrounding a “Luongo to the Leafs” trade, but none that can’t be overcome. The three that come top of mind are (1) does he want to play in Toronto (2) will the new collective agreement facilitate a trade and (3) do the Canucks see something they want in return?
On the first, the answer from those who know him in the game appears to be yes. What Luongo definitely doesn’t want is to wallow in Vancouver behind Cory Schneider, and going to Toronto, where he has a relationship with those in charge and they’re desperately in need of a playoff berth after eight years, would allow him to play a key role in an unlikely revitalization.
The sense, too, is that Luongo wants to do something about the reputation he’s gained as a fragile player in Vancouver, and as a competitive individual who isn’t far from his prime (especially for a goalie), he would relish the chance to take on one last starring role in hockey’s biggest market.
As for No. 2, the next CBA may involve some interesting wrinkles for a potential deal. For one, Luongo’s salary cap hit could revert back to the Canucks in the event he retires, meaning keeping him happy and playing as long as possible becomes a concern for both sides.
More importantly, the latest proposal by the owners included a provision whereby teams would be able to retain some salary in a deal, which could break the deadlock if Canucks GM Mike Gillis agrees to hold onto a $1-million or so chunk of Luongo’s contract to get him off their books as his team pursues a championship.
Or maybe the Leafs push out an unwanted contract – while retaining a fair portion of it – in the deal. (Lord knows they have a few candidates.)
Finally, there are also some interesting candidates for Vancouver to pluck out of the Leafs lineup to give them some depth in a deal like this. Toronto is low on high-end talent, but has plenty of useful and relatively cheap forwards, the type that could slide in on the Canucks' third or fourth line and help immediately on a contending team.
Whether that’s Tyler Bozak, Nikolai Kulemin or someone else remains to be seen, but despite the Leafs bottom-feeding status, it’s not as if this is an organization lacking any assets at all – especially in the prospect department.
All the pieces, in other words, are there for something to get done. And here’s betting it will.