Vancouver Canucks’ general manager Mike Gillis went on the air late last night with David Pratt on Vancouver’s CKNW 980, and said a few fun things in regards to the eventual Roberto Luongo trade.
To set the stage, coach Alain Vigneault gave the start to the 1b Cory Schneider for Game Three of the Canucks’ series against the Los Angeles Kings. In Luongo’s exit interview after the Canucks’ lost out in the series in five games to Los Angeles, Luongo reportedly asked for a trade if he would be the backup. The draft and free agency both came and went with no movement, Luongo told an FM station in Vancouver that it was “time to move on” and rumours surfaced about interest from the Chicago Blackhawks in Luongo, and rumours surfaced about Luongo’s interest in the Florida Panthers.
So there’s a lot to clear up. This hasn’t been an easy process for Luongo, who seems to be wrapped around by Gillis, who admitted to Pratt that he’s had offers on the table the team has discussed, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a flow of information between the two sides. As Jason Botchford wrote in the Vancouver Province the other day:
He doesn’t want to be a Canuck. The Canucks don’t want him to be a Canuck. But here he is in September, and he’s still a Canuck.
That, as he explained to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, has been, at times, rough, tough and stressful. It’d nice if his clouded future would clear up. Nicer still, if, when it does, he’s still in Florida.
Doesn’t sound like Florida is too interested in Luongo however:
@chiefshockey97 that’s Lu’s dream but the offer blows
— Jason Botchford (@botchford) August 14, 2012
So perhaps they haven’t given Vancouver a delectable offer yet. Contrariwise, Gillis gave Vancouver fans and media people an overcooked steak on the radio yesterday that’s something we can chew on for days and days.
Roberto’s been a huge part of this team as you know and we’ve had some discussions with other teams, trying to accommodate his wishes, but if it’s right now we’re perfectly comfortable having Roberto back, he’s a true professional, he’s an all-star goalie in the National Hockey League and we’re going to continue to move ahead if he’s here and we’re happy to have him here and if he isn’t here, we’ll be improving our team in another area. [CKNW - Click the 7:00 p.m. hour from September 6]
Gillis stressed the quality of Luongo’s character and how good of a teammate he’s been through this whole situation, before Pratt asked him about Florida. Like Botchford said, it doesn’t sound like there’s too much interest coming from the Sunshine State:
I haven’t spoken to Dale [Tallon] in some time, you know the ball’s in their court to present a proposal that would really be acceptable to us.
Gillis also suggested that Luongo’s contract hasn’t been an issue in moving him, that teams have shown to be “eager” in signing long-term contracts at “large compensation dollars”. There “isn’t one team that has suggested to me that his contract is an issue in making a trade,” Gillis attested:
“Other teams have presented numerous proposals that are under consideration but you know as it sits right now everyone’s waiting to see what’s going to happen with the new system and the resolution of the CBA issues and I think until those are closer to being resolved, we’re not going to see a whole lot of activity in the NHL.”
And on stringing Luongo along through this period:
I’m not sure, I’m not sure. You know we have talked to Roberto about some of the other possibilities besides Florida and he seems to be open to those other possibilities, but we’ll see at the time. You know it’s a complicated situation and it’s not going to become uncomplicated so as we move our way through we’ll have a better idea of what we can do and what we can’t do.
Gillis’ mantra hasn’t changed here. He’s made it clear all summer that Luongo won’t get traded for the sake of getting a deal done, that the Canucks want to pick up one or two pieces to become a more competitive team. They aren’t rebuilding and don’t need to shed any salary under the current agreement, and with or without Luongo, are one of the favourites in the Western Conference this upcoming season.
That said, I’m not all that sold on the contention that Luongo’s contract hasn’t been a concern for teams. If I’m a rival general manager, that’s the only thing holding me back from making the deal. Among goaltenders with more than 50 starts, Luongo has finished 4th, 2nd, 10th, and 2nd in even strength save percentage in the years since Gillis was hired in Vancouver. In those pre-Gillis days under Dave Nonis in Vancouver, Luongo finished 6th and 6th with a heavy, heavy workload and in Florida, was 4th, 2nd, 7th, and 6th since becoming the everyday starter.
What’s the takeaway? Well, Luongo has played 10 consecutive seasons in the NHL registering 50-or-more starts and has not finished out of the Top 10 in even strength save percentage in any single one of them (to the credit of other goaltenders, he did spend four of those years in Florida, where they do probably over-count shots). He’s a very manageable 33 years old and probably has four good seasons left in him before he permanently falls out of that elite range.
However he’s under contract for ten more seasons, at a very, very expensive price. I may disagree with some of the emotional moves that general managers make, but for the most part, they aren’t idiots, and certainly not in Chicago where I think they’ve recognized the need for a goaltender as elite as their top six forwards and top four defence.
The $47,284,000.00 still owed on his contract, for ten seasons at a $5,333,333.33 salary cap hit just may have come up at some point.
Who knows, though. I’m normally against long-term goalie contracts because few goalies possess the power to stay consistently in those top 10 or top 5 slots in the league, with the exceptions, seemingly, of Luongo and Henrik Lundqvist in New York, the two goaltenders who I would argue have been the best and most consistent in between the collective bargaining agreements. They’ve also seen a very high workload. Getting a goalie who can start 70 games is much more preferable than a goalie who can start 50 games, since you have to assume, when calculating value, that the missing 20 games will be played by a replacement-level backup.
If the contract hasn’t been an issue, then Luongo ought to have been moved already. But it probably is, and Gillis needs to ramp up his sales pitch. It shouldn’t matter if Florida doesn’t want Luongo all that badly, since Luongo doesn’t necessarily need to be there. As much gets talked about his inability to play big games, he’s played four of his best games in the playoffs on the biggest stage. He fools around with the media and took an instant liking to Vancouver and being recognized as an NHL goaltender.
His playoff record of ups and downs clashes with his overall consistency but regardless of where he goes, the team that acquires him will have won the trade for the next two years while they get high-level goaltending. I think Chicago still makes the most sense from a hockey perspective, though it would take one of the biggest heel turns in hockey history for a former franchise player to waive a no-trade clause to play for his biggest rival. But again, Luongo is weird.
One thing I do agree with Gillis on though is that nothing is likely to happen until the CBA is sorted out. Gillis can talk all he wants about the contract not being an issue, even though the uncertainty clearly is.