Roberto Luongo is the most successful goalie in Canucks history; there’s no debating that. With 224 wins and 33 shutouts over a six-year tenure in Vancouver, his resume is certainly filled . A two-time Vezina nominee who led Canada to a gold medal at the 2010 Olympics, the star netminder has been under heavy scrutiny from the media in the last few years due to a poor reputation, largely stemming from his playoff “failures.” Yet just one week after his team was shockingly eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, the goaltender who was considered one of the most valuable players in the league just a few short years ago, is on the trade block.
Just under eleven months ago, Luongo led the Canucks to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, before coming up just short in a heartbreaking 4-0 loss on home ice. He won fifteen playoff games that magical spring, recording two shutouts in the finals alone; a statistic no one will ever remember, sadly, due to his team’s lack of performance in the seventh and final game on June 15, 2011. Yes, he had troubles keeping pucks out of the net at the TD Garden, but he was sheer brilliant on home ice up until that night.
Fast forward to this season, when Cory Schneider began to emerge as a star, posting a 20-8-1 record with a 0.937% save percentage and a 1.96 goals against average; remarkable numbers, to say the least. Luongo started just 54 games this year, his lowest total since his first season in Florida, all the way back in 2000. Despite Luongo remaining to be the clear starter during the regular season, Schneider ultimately took the helm this postseason, starting in the final three games of the opening round before bowing out to the Los Angeles Kings in Game 5.
Some will argue that the Canucks play with a completely different mentality with Schneider in net; this, in fact, is true. But while Schneider may post superior numbers to Luongo, the case in point is this; this has been Luongo’s team for six years running, and the Canucks have shown that they can win with him in net, on the big scale, too. Reaching the seventh game of the Stanley Cup final with him in net last spring was no fluke, so why give up now? Time and time again, the star netminder has shown he can come up key in clutch situations; look no further than overtime wins against the United States in the gold medal game two years ago and the Chicago Blackhawks in that epic Game 7 overtime last spring. And Luongo can’t even be blamed for his team’s early exit this year; they failed to score goals in the opening two games of the first round, while he did everything he could to keep his team in it.
However, the fact of the matter is one of the Canucks’ goaltenders will be playing elsewhere come next fall. Whether it be Luongo or Schneider remains in the hands of management, and not the team’s fans, thankfully. While Schneider is surely an up-and-coming star, trading Roberto Luongo this off-season would be one of the biggest mistakes the franchise has ever made.
Trading Luongo would likely fetch a “cap dump” and/or a prospect, along with some draft picks from a team like Tampa Bay or Toronto; a measly return at best, which would be a massive setback for this team. How would such a deal help the Canucks in their ongoing quest for a first-ever Stanley Cup? Last year, they were beat up by the Bruins, and addressed their gaping need for toughness, however only slightly, albeit. This year, it was their inability to score on a blazing-hot goaltender, Jonathan Quick, as well as some defensive collapses by players such as Alexander Edler. Acquiring some young assets for the future won’t help the Canucks at all, in the short-term run. And that’s what it’s all about for this team; the now. The Canucks have come up short the last two years, half of their four-year window to compete for the Cup. With just two years left to earn hockey’s most prized trophy, the pressure is quickly mounting on ownership and management to make the necessary deals that will give Vancouver the best opportunity to compete for the Stanley Cup.
And that’s where Cory Schneider comes in.
Putting Schneider on the market would indeed create a “bidding war” of sorts for the emerging star goaltender. He would surely fetch a young power forward in return, or perhaps a star defenseman, both of which the Canucks so desperately need. Up-and-coming prospects are not what this team needs right now; it’s offensive guns up front, and fortuitous defensemen on the back end. And due to Luongo’s tarnished image around the league, despite his sensational play, he would not fetch the type of return Canucks fans are hoping, and looking for. The package for Schneider, on the other hand, would likely exceed all of our wildest dreams; it’s been reported the asking price is “[stupidly] high.”
Luongo’s reputation as a “choker” is simply a label placed upon him by outsider media types fans, both of whom have likely never watched the star goalie at his best. His cap hit of $5.3 million is actually quite reasonable, when you consider Niklas Backstrom cashes in at $6 million, and the inconsistent Ilya Bryzgalov earns $5.66 million a year, too. Yes, the length might be a tad over the top, but in all honesty, does it even matter if Luongo does indeed win the Stanley Cup for us during one, or more, of those years? A championship erases all of that negativity; all that matters at the end of the day is the result.
Whether the fans like it or not, this has always been Roberto Luongo’s team, and it should be for the duration of his time in Vancouver. It would be completely unfair to him to run him out of town simply due to the emergence of his apprentice, Cory Schneider. The assets Schneider could bring back to the Canucks in a trade would significantly boost the team’s overall performance next spring, and for years to come.
At the end of the day, neither the fans nor the media will decide who will be in between the pipes next season for the Vancouver Canucks; that task remains in the hands of Mike Gillis and his staff. If there’s one thing we have learned as Canucks fans over the last few years when it comes to player transactions, it’s to expect the unexpected.
And hopefully Gillis will make the right call; keeping Roberto Luongo in the net for years to come, while reaping the rewards that a Cory Schneider trade will bring back.