Not two years ago, Roberto Luongo was one of the best goaltenders in the game. He was, if not beloved by Vancouver, at least embraced as the man most responsible for making the Canucks a Cup contender. But something weird happened. He fell out of favor, even before the Canucks fell in a Game 7. This tends to happen in hockey-crazy cities like Vancouver, but the turnaround was startling. In no time, Luongo was being mocked for his head-clearing walks in the park, and becoming the butt of "overpaid" jokes on the local news.
It's largely because of the emergence of Cory Schneider that Luongo's bags were eagerly packed for him. Schneider's younger, cheaper, and an unknown. And in sports, the unknown is often preferable to the consistently good—even if Schneider hasn't proven he's the better goalie. But by the end of last season, it was clear that Luongo would be traded at the earliest opportunity, and though he has a no-trade clause, he seemed more than willing to move on.
Plenty of teams seemed like they had use for a proven No. 1 goalie, Toronto and Florida chief among them. But an abbreviated free agency period didn't see Luongo traded, nor any serious movement towards a deal. Then the lockout, in which negotiations or contact between management and players were banned. And despite GM Mike Gillis saying moving Luongo was a high priority earlier this month, the season has started, and Luongo's still a Canuck.
The season's started oddly. Schneider was officially named the No. 1 guy. "Can't wait," tweeted Luongo, who's taken everything better than anyone could have hoped. Schneider got shelled in the opener, and was replaced by Luongo. Luongo started the Canucks' second game and gave up two goals on 32 shots in a shootout loss. In a shortened season, having two dependable goalies will be extra-important. Could Vancouver keep Luongo after all?
It doesn't sound like it. Mike Gillis had a nice long interview in today's Vancouver Sun, and he was very open about still getting a deal done. But not for anything less than fair value.
"We have a potential deal in place with one team that has to do something with another player that they have - and it's not who anybody thinks it is - and so we have to wait. (But) we've been offered packages that don't fit what our plan is, what we need," said Gillis.
"Excess salary coming back with a [throw-in] player who can't play in our lineup. They say, ‘OK, we'll do this, but you've got to take this.' Well, we're not taking it. We've had lots of proposals like that with good pieces that can help us but the other part doesn't help us, and oftentimes they have term attached to them, so we'd just be turning around and buying out a guy.
"I'd rather keep the guy we know, who's a good person."
Puck Daddy tries to figure out what team in need of a goalie fits the description, and comes up empty. It's apparently not the Leafs. Luongo's contract, with 10 years left, might scare some teams off. The Canucks, beset by injury, are desperate for a second-line forward. This is a mess, and it seems like there's every chance in the world Luongo remains in Vancouver until the trade deadline (April 3), or even for the rest of the season.
Which is exactly what Mike Gillis wants you to believe. It's in the Canucks' interest for potential trade partners to think they're on the verge of a deal, so they'd better up their offers now. It's also good negotiating to signal that you won't make a deal just to make one—GMs can smell desperation.
One way or another, Luongo's not long for Vancouver. The only question is how long it will take Canuck fans to tire of Cory Schneider, and long for the good old days of Luongo in net.