Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun debate how the goaltending situation will play out in Vancouver:
Burnside: Good day, my friend. It's bright and sunny here in Washington, D.C., although less cheery in the land of the Capitals. But let's talk a little Vancouver Canucks, specifically the goaltending conundrum facing GM Mike Gillis and coach Alain Vigneault.
With Roberto Luongo stapled to the end of the bench, Cory Schneider has reeled off five straight wins for the suddenly surging Canucks. During that span, Schneider has posted two shutouts and given up four goals. When Luongo was nursing an injury, not much was said; but now that he is healthy, there has to be more than a little bit of discomfort knowing he is under contract until 2021-22. How do you see this playing out?
LeBrun: I do a spot every day on the Team 1040 radio in Vancouver, the city's popular sports radio station. Believe me when I say this is the only story in town right now. And you knew at some point this season, this kind of thing probably would happen given how Luongo's season ended in June.
Canucks fans were just waiting for a chance to jump on Bobby Lu and anoint Schneider. You can't blame Vigneault for how he's navigated this so far because the Canucks were a middling team until they finally caught fire with the first of five straight wins on Nov. 20. Interestingly, Luongo's last start before his injury was solid, a 2-1 win over the New York Islanders in which he stopped 23 of 24 shots.
Meanwhile, Schneider's first start in replacing the injured Luongo wasn't good at all, as he got lit up in a 5-1 loss to Chicago on Nov. 16. My point: The injury played a huge part in this turn of events because odds are a healthy Luongo likely would have been in net against the Hawks or, at the very least, would have come back in net after Schneider got lit up. But who's looking back now in Vancouver?
Schneider has been unreal, which is all the better for Canucks management. The goalie's stock on the trade market continues to rise. As one NHL GM told us back in October when we talked about Schneider's future, "I'm sure he's good, but how are we going to know until he plays some games?" Well, now we know. The question is, should the Canucks trade him or keep him?
Burnside: Well, I would be shocked if the Canucks moved Schneider this season, if they move him at all. How could you, given how poorly Luongo played at times during the playoffs? With Ryan Kesler rounding into form and Daniel and Henrik Sedin again having stellar campaigns, there's no reason not to consider the Canucks a legitimate Stanley Cup contender as they were a year ago.
But you know the goaltending killed them in the Cup finals against Boston. (Yes, I know they were banged-up, but if Luongo hadn't played like a bag of hammers in that series, the Canucks would be the defending Stanley Cup champs.) The more Schneider plays, the more confidence Vigneault and the team will have, especially if they have to or, more to the point, want to turn to him come playoff time. So how can you trade him, even if you might get a first-round pick or a collection of attractive prospects? Not going to happen.
LeBrun: From my conversations with Canucks management, they absolutely still believe in Luongo. It's not just about saying the right thing; they really do. Luongo was brilliant in Game 7 against Chicago in the first round last season and solid against Nashville and San Jose in the next two rounds. But, as you said, all that people will remember were his efforts in the Cup finals.
If I were the Canucks, I would wait until the offseason to decide what to do with my goalies. Why? First, it affords you tremendous protection in goal for another run at the Cup; second, you can involve more teams in the bidding for Schneider if you choose to move him. The other option -- and this is a bit out of left field, but what the heck -- is maybe to wait and see what the next collective bargaining agreement brings.
When the last CBA began in August 2005, it allowed for a onetime buyout per team that wouldn't count against the salary cap. There's no way of knowing whether the next CBA will have that again, but it's something to keep in the back of your mind if the Canucks believe that is a way of shedding Luongo's contract. But the fact is, his $5.33 million cap hit is pretty reasonable for a top-end goalie, and like Canucks management, I believe that Luongo remains just that.
Burnside: But maybe we're looking at this from the wrong angle. What market, if any, would there be for Luongo? Maybe not during this current season, but we've certainly seen contracts that were once thought untradable moved, and not just one of them. Brian Campbell, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter are three big-time players with big-time contracts that found new homes in this past offseason. Why not Luongo? And if the writing is on the wall in Vancouver (and I'm not saying it is at this point, but we may be seeing the first scribbles), would he welcome a change in scenery?
What about the Tampa Bay Lightning, for instance? The Bolts have struggled mightily in net, and there always have been whispers the Lightning would like to get out from under the Vincent Lecavalier deal. Sounds like a match made in heaven, no? Either way, the challenge is going to be for Vigneault et al to try to avoid having this burst into a full-blown melodrama that will dog them the rest of this regular season and into the playoffs. Not sure how they accomplish that exactly, but it's going to be fun to watch.
LeBrun: You're on crack if you think there is any way the Canucks would ever touch Lecavalier's contract, which carries a $7.72 million cap hit through the 2019-20 season. Maybe I'm out to lunch, but come playoff time, I predict Luongo will be in net for Game 1. If I'm wrong, I'll buy you a diet cola at the Stanley Cup finals, my friend. Until next time.