There are still many questions surrounding the Vancouver Canucks even though they managed to stay alive in the NHL playoffs save one – is Roberto Luongo still their main man?
Luongo's up-and-down career with the Canucks is almost certainly in its final weeks now that the Canucks' organization, from general manager Mike Gillis and head coach Alain Vigneault on down, turned to emerging goaltender Cory Schneider for the last two games with the team's season on the line. Schneider served notice Thursday he is ready for the No. 1 job with 43 saves in a 3-1 win, the Canucks' first against three losses in their playoff series against the Los Angeles Kings.
The irony is that Luongo, who tormented Canucks fans for years with performances that ranged from awful to good to great with little in-between, finally lost his job despite playing well. He was not the problem in the Canucks' first two losses to the Kings but Vigneault turned to Schneider because the team needed some sort of change and the players have a lot of confidence in the younger goaltender.
The only question now is can the Canucks trade Luongo, 33, and the 10 seasons left on his contract, with a salary-cap hit of $5.33-million (all currency U.S.) per year? While there was some thought the Canucks might find it easier to trade him when the Vancouver Province reported there is an out in Luongo's contract, it turns out that is not the case.
The only thing related to an out in Luongo's contract is a modified no-trade clause. Within 48 hours of his team's last game of the 2013-14 season, Luongo can provide his team with a list of five teams to which he would approve a trade. The trade would have to be done between July 1 and July 15 or by the end of the 15th day after the free-agent period opens. In 2018, if Luongo does not provide a five-team list within 48 hours after the last game of the 2017-18 season, his team can trade him to anyone prior to Sept. 1, 2018.
Aside from getting him to waive his no-trade rights, the Canucks only options with Luongo next season are to buy him out, which will cause too many cap problems to consider, or waive him through the NHL, send him to the minor leagues and pay his full salary for the next 10 years.
This does not leave Gillis in an enviable situation. He can either settle for the league's most expensive backup goaltender next season or find someone desperate enough for goaltending to take the contract as long as Luongo agrees.
Looking around the NHL, strictly from the standpoint of who needs goaltending, the candidates are the Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, Columbus Blue Jackets and Edmonton Oilers. An argument could also be made for the New Jersey Devils, given Martin Brodeur's advanced age, but their financial problems rule out taking Luongo's contract.
Lightning GM Steve Yzerman stuck with ancient Dwayne Roloson this season after getting unexpected dividends a year ago and took a kick in the slats for his trouble.
The Maple Leafs are also in the conversation since GM Brian Burke is always watching whenever a prominent player is up for grabs. There is a poisonous relationship between Burke and his right-hand man Dave Nonis, who are both former Canucks GMs, and the current Vancouver boss, Mike Gillis, thanks to hard feelings about how Nonis was fired by the Canucks.
That relationship meant a trade for Schneider, who was long considered trade bait for other assets, was never in the cards. But given the difficulties for Gillis in unloading Luongo's contract and if Burke has another rash move in him then anything is possible.
The Oilers are the least likely of the group to be interested in Luongo, although the Blue Jackets are an intriguing possibility. They desperately need to appease their fans and the only way to get a top goaltender this summer, thanks to a thin free-agent market, is by a trade.
Gillis would certainly be happy enough to shed the contract that the price would not be high. In fact, Gillis will probably have to take at least one problem contract in return.
Luongo's cap hit of $5.33-million is not all that bad, but taking on 10 years of contract on a 33-year-old goaltender is not an appealing prospect. Also complicating matters is the fact a new collective agreement is expected this fall and no one knows what the salary cap and contract implications will be.
There is another problem, too. Luongo has never really lived up to the Hall-of-Fame potential once forecast for him. Any GM who rolls the dice had better feel pretty secure in his employment and there are precious few who do these days.