Ever since Cory Schneider first started serving notice that he was a goaltending prospect to watch, he’s been firmly on the NHL rumour board in the minds of many. After all, the Canucks have one of the few bona fide franchise goalies in the game in Roberto Luongo, and now that he is signed until shortly after doomsday there seems to be nowhere for Schneider to go in the organization.
This doesn’t, however, mean that the Canucks will be forced to trade him away this summer.
Before I explain, let’s look at the other pressure the organization feels in net. Sure, Schneider is bubbling just under Luongo, pushing for more playing time, but there is a second pressure point on that number two goaltending position coming from the other direction. Eddie Lack, a free agent pickup by the Canucks last summer, was pencilled in as one of two goaltenders for the Canucks’ farm team in Manitboa, along with Tyler Weiman, a 26-year old who had a very nice run with Colorado’s AHL affiliate.
Weiman has been just fine, posting a 0.910 SV% over 23 games with the Moose, but Eddie Lack has been truly exceptional. The 6’4” Swede has won the #3 job in the organization outright, thanks to a 0.927 SV% over 43 games. Lack, who just turned 23, also has a pretty good track record back in Sweden, and at this point he’s knocking on the door for NHL work.
Balanced against these pressures is a problem of supply and demand: the Canucks have a young goaltender they could supply to other teams as early as this summer, but the demand hasn’t been shown. If anything, the goaltending market has imploded the past few years as waiver wire pickups and undrafted Europeans have walked into organizations and not only enjoyed success but often blown right past established NHL ‘tenders. There are only 60 NHL goaltending jobs available, and there are easily more than 60 goaltenders in contention for those positions.
Eve for a stellar young goaltender with a bright future and some NHL success, the return can be unimpressive. Last summer, Jaroslav Halak was an established starter with a strong resume coming off a spectacular playoff run with Montreal; a legitimate starter who might even make the leap into the top echelon of NHL goalies. All the Canadiens were able to leverage that into was a prospect with draft pedigree but underwhelming recent results (Lars Eller) and a WHL banger with virtually no offensive upside at the major league level.
What Gillis can get for Schneider seems relatively clear: he can ease some organizational pressures and probably get a middling prospect via trade. Weighed against that is the value Schneider has to the team: he can spell Luongo (and even though I’d argue that goaltender fatigue is highly overrated, this is probably something the Canucks value) and if Luongo gets hurt the Canucks have an option they can rely on in net. This is not a small consideration; NHL teams generally have a narrow window in which to win and the Canucks are in the middle of that window now. There is no sense to decreasing their odds of winning the Stanley Cup in return for a fringe prospect.
Even in the worst imaginable scenario, I don’t know that the Canucks are forced to trade Schneider. Let’s pretend that he gets an offer sheet the team can’t match, and while we’re at it, let’s pretend that Eddie Lack goes back to Europe because he’s sick of waiting for an NHL job. That leaves the Canucks with a franchise goaltender signed forever and an open slot behind him, a slot that will be ever so easily filled in the summer with one of any number of goaltenders desperate for NHL work.
In short: the Canucks are better positioned for wins today with Schneider as a back-up goaltender, he’s dirt cheap next season as well, and there’s no overly compelling reason for the team to feel they have to move him. Unless the team suddenly decides that they must have Lack at the NHL level or someone is willing to overpay, I don’t think they trade Schneider until the end of his current deal in the summer of 2012.