The Vancouver Canucks have welcomed back two spectacles, soon-to-be-traded Roberto Luongo and avid marksman and outspoken Christian David Booth. One likely will be around town longer than the other – and will be an important piece of the team's fortunes in this shortened season.
On the Luongo front, a media circus is set for about noon Friday, after the goaltender finishes practice with his (still) teammates. He returned to town on Thursday, greeted by a small cadre of reporters, and said little, as would be expected.
Friday, there'll be enough reporters to comprise a throng, but it's hard to imagine he will, or can, say more than he did Thursday. Ever since he wasn't traded at the start of last summer, around the draft and free agency, Luongo started to figure a brief return to Vancouver was possible, so he's hardly quivering or fragile about it all. As for the swirl of rumours – Toronto! Philadelphia! Florida! – the 33-year-old said his younger self would have been rattled and stressed but these days he takes it in stride, which can be clearly seen in his happy insouciance on Twitter under his @strombone1 handle.
"Unless it comes from Mike, you kind of let it go," said Luongo on Thursday of the constant rumours and of the only real voice that counts, that of Canucks president/general manager Mike Gillis.
How long he stays is unclear. It's quite possible he is on the ice Sunday, as the Canucks open camp – because it's unclear exactly how soon after players ratify the labour pact (set for Saturday) that teams can start signing players and making trades.
On the Booth front, the second-line winger caused far greater stirs on Twitter after last season was over than he ever managed in his time with the Canucks, arriving from Florida in October, 2011, only to underperform. On Twitter, he was a sensation, whether it was his love of hunting, in one case bear hunting with the distasteful method of bear baiting, or his evangelical Christian faith, notably wondering after the Sandy Hook massacre of schoolchildren "why not bring Christ back into the schools?"
Returning to the ice Thursday in Vancouver, Booth was smiles and in good spirits. Of his Twitter exploits, he said: "My Twitter is my personal life. Sorry for the people I offended."
On the ice, for Canucks fans, is the question. The biggest challenge of the abbreviated preseason, Booth said, is "reaction time – getting into the speed of the game." It will be essential, especially since Booth will be an important contributor of goals on a Canucks squad that struggled mightily to light up the red light from late February on last season, a problem that eventually snubbed their Stanley Cup hopes as they went down to the Los Angeles Kings.
Booth, in between struggles with concussions, has shown prowess in his career. His best year in Florida, 2008-09, he scored 31 goals in 72 games – 0.43 per game. The next year was wiped out by concussion but he returned in 2010-11 to score 23 in 82 games, a less-impressive 0.28 per game. For the Canucks, he produced the same, just 16 goals in 56 games last year, 0.29 per game. His five games against L.A. in the playoff were particularly terrible, one assist and no goals.
Booth is on six-year, $25.5-million deal that runs through the 2014-15 season. For the Canucks to stick by him, he'll have to hit numbers like he managed in 2008-09, which would produce a 21-goal season over a shortened 48-game schedule. While he was not forthcoming on Thursday with his goals for the year, Booth did say a 15- to 20-goal season was "within reach."
More directly in reach is dinner. The hunter said he had some elk on hand in the locker room Thursday and promised he'd have some billy goat meat for his teammates soon, too, the goat being one of his great kills of the fall, scored in the wet and cold at high altitude after hiking up most of a mountain. "The billy goat," said Booth, "was something special."