Friday, June 23, 2006
Updated: June 28, 5:33 PM ET
With this deal, there are no more excuses for Canucks
By Scott Burnside
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The excuse bank is now empty for the Vancouver Canucks.
After firing coach Marc Crawford, Canucks GM Dave Nonis pulled the trigger on the biggest deal of his tenure late Friday, dealing controversy-plagued forward Todd Bertuzzi, netminder Alex Auld and defenseman Bryan Allen to the Florida Panthers for disgruntled netminder Roberto Luongo, defenseman Lukas Krajicek and a sixth-round pick in Saturday's NHL Draft.
In one bold move, Nonis rid himself of a dressing room problem and big salary cap hit in Bertuzzi, who is due $5.27 million, and added what many believed has been the missing piece of the Canucks' Stanley Cup puzzle: an elite starting goaltender.
Never mind that Luongo has never appeared in an NHL playoff game. Nonis will take it on faith that Luongo's press clippings and international play can actually translate into the kind of playoff run the Canucks have failed to deliver in spite of icing a talent-laden team for the past half-dozen seasons.
The move was no less bold for Panthers GM Mike Keenan, who could not come to terms with Luongo in spite of offering him a five-year, $30-million deal that would have made him one of the highest-paid netminders in the game. Presumably, Nonis is prepared to make Luongo an offer that will make him happy enough to turn his back on a date with unrestricted free agency next summer, somewhere in the neighborhood of $7 million annually. If Nonis cannot pull that off, this trade is fraught with even greater risk for Nonis.
Certainly, this is the kind of deal that will define both general managers' tenures in their respective cities. It's the kind of deal that if it backfires on one or both, it will and should cost them their jobs.
It's also the kind of deal that will define both Luongo and Bertuzzi.
Such are the kinds of stakes that players of this caliber represent.
Keenan did what he thought was necessary to keep the franchise goalie happy. He signed captain Olli Jokinen to a long-term deal and made Luongo a more than generous offer. Instead, Luongo and agent Gilles Lupien filled the air with double-speak about how they were hurt by Keenan's bargaining stance and how much he wanted to stay in South Florida. Baloney. This was pure and simple about control.
It's hard to imagine a situation in which the hard-nosed, sometimes bombastic Keenan is seen in a sympathetic light, but this is it. Faced with the prospect of losing one of the top young goaltenders in the game to free agency next summer, Keenan chose to act now rather than wait and see if Luongo's temperament changed.
The risk for Keenan is in giving up a proven starter for Auld, who may or may not be the kind of goaltender who can take the Panthers to the postseason after five straight seasons without a postseason game. That is nothing compared to the kind of risk Bertuzzi represents, which is off the charts.
Keenan is essentially gambling his future that the power forward can return to the form that made him just a few short years ago one of the top players in the NHL. Then, Bertuzzi was a force, bowling over defenders, driving the net with an unusually wicked shot, intimidating opponents off the puck in the corner.
That is the Bertuzzi Keenan is hoping he is bringing to Florida, not the sullen, disinterested, apparently fragile Bertuzzi who managed 25 goals last season, just more than half the 46 he notched in 2002-03.
The Kitchener, Ontario, native has yet to fully recover from his attack on Steve Moore in March 2004 and subsequent suspension for the balance of that season and the playoffs. Bertuzzi also pleaded guilty to criminal charges connected to the on-ice assault and was given a conditional discharge.
A controversial addition to the Canadian Olympic team last winter, Bertuzzi should have been a force in the new NHL, either drawing penalties or creating scoring chances on almost every shift. It never happened.
The constant reminders of the Moore incident seemed to make the already brooding forward even more distant.
By the end of the Canucks' lamentable freefall out of a playoff berth in mid-April, rumors were rampant that Bertuzzi and captain Markus Naslund were an island unto themselves in the dressing room and that coach Marc Crawford had lost control.
Crawford was immediately canned, resurfacing a few weeks later as the head coach of the Los Angeles Kings.
Now Bertuzzi, too, has been given a new lease on hockey life on a team that has the potential to be a playoff contender.
Meanwhile, in Vancouver, there will be no more excuses for those who are left behind.
Scott Burnside is an NHL writer for ESPN.com.