The amount of teams that Mike Gillis has neared a deal with for Roberto Luongo is up to three, if my count is correct, after Aaron Portzline discussed the possibility of Luongo ending up, in all places, Chicago.
If a Luongo deal happens this summer, I doubt it will come with too much lead-up. The reason for this is that Gillis isn’t a conventional hockey man. A lot of people who have been inside the business as long as the Vancouver Canucks general manager are hockey lifers who formed the same bonds and friendships for their years in hockey.
Gillis isn’t like that. Gillis was a former first round pick who couldn’t hack it as a player, battling injuries and limited ice time for the better part of his 246 career games. He put his family first, quit hockey, went to law school and wound up back in the business as a player agent.
He’s the man who brought down Alan Eagleson. Only a few people remember him as Bobby Holik’s agent the summer that Glen Sather signed Holik to a 5-year, $45M deal. That was the maddest hockey contract of them all and a symbol of National Hockey League excess heading into the 2004-05 lockout.
He doesn’t work in convention, and he isn’t friends with the same people in the media business as the others. HIs relationship with the press isn’t necessarily toxic, but the man rarely tips his hand. This is seemingly why a deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs this weekend didn’t happen despite intense levels of speculation. You never know how close managers are in negotiations, but Gillis sat back, relaxed, and told the assembled media that the trade market is sure to be there as the summer progresses. He hasn’t made the decision on him yet.
Let’s be clear. No team that buys on Roberto Luongo is getting a guaranteed star goaltender for the next ten years of his contract. That contract acts as the single greatest deterrent to picking up one of the best goaltenders hockey.
Concerns about Luongo’s composure or mental toughness may be legitimate, but no goaltender has ever faced the peaks and valleys that Luongo has had during his “big game” career. Game 7 against the Chicago Blackhawks in 2011, Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals and a key overtime against the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Championship-clinching game remain some of the best performances.
But he follows up performances like that with efforts from Games 3, 4 and 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals, wherein he posted a .772 save percentage in three starts, culling his team’s chances to take a chokehold position in the final series.
Oddly enough, for a player who can play through the highest of highs and lowest of lows, his two biggest games: Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals and the gold medal game at the 2010 Winter Olympics, were two decidedly average performances.
Still, the goaltender has a higher quality start rate than the average goaltender, putting his teams in position to win more games. Unfortunately, he also posts more games with a save percentage of below 85%, cutting his team’s chances. Since his explosion onto the scene at the 1999 World Junior championships where he played lights-out and brought Canada to the gold medal game, he’s been a goalkeeper that has been talked about endlessly, even as he floundered for years as a Florida Panther.
He came off a horribly deflating playoff run and kept up his strong regular season performance. He had the fourth best even strength save percentage among goaltenders who made 50 or more starts this season, finishing just ahead of even Pekka Rinne and Tim Thomas.
Gillis and Luongo make an odd pairing. One man looks for closed-door efficiency, his famous moments withering in anonymity in the boardroom, while another is a polarizing figure, one who is simultaneously the best and worst goalie in the game, depending on who you ask.
If you’re Luongo, this needs to happen. Him and Rick Nash are the two sexiest names available on the NHL trade block this summer and wherever he is, people will discuss him. Absent of another long playoff run over the rest of his career, he will be forever judged by 24 games in the 2011 playoffs. No matter what he does for the rest of his career, getting a good return for Luongo could be the defining moment of Gillis’ career as an executive.
But I’m not convinced a deal is close, and I’m not convinced that we’ll know about it until the press releases are drawn up. Gillis is more than willing to take his time. He will let the allure of three or four years of spectacular goaltending become too much for other teams to resist, and knows that the cost of a lengthy deal at a high cap hit right now won’t compel teams to give up a good prospect or roster player or two for the man.
If Gillis respected convention, there would be Luongo sweaters available for purchase in Maple Leaf Square this morning. Getting the right deal, not just any deal for the sake of making a deal, is what matters.