The Vancouver Canucks played 25 games in the Stanley Cup playoffs last season and came a win from winning it all, so there was not much expectation of change over the summer. This season, with only 5 playoff games, things are different.
There was this noticeable dip in goal production this past season; while they only scored 13 more goals in 2010-11, 262 to 249, they fell off over the last quarter of the year. There was also a noticeable rise in the play of Cory Schneider and these two things will combine to create an interesting off-season. With many Canucks fans still smarting from Roberto Luongo's discombobulation in Boston during the final last year, there will be a clamoring to trade Bobby Lou for someone who can score.
Roberto Luongo: Inconsistent Canuck
GM Mike Gillis will try and move Luongo for two reasons: he was supplanted by Schneider and coming back to Vancouver, even should they move Schneider, would leave Luongo in an untenable situation. There will forever be doubts and comparisons, forever be the knowledge he wasn't the go-to guy when it counted; and you can't keep two number one goalies, the crease gets crowded and with Schneider being a RFA, he's due for a big pay raise from his entry-level $800,000 per. The Canucks are already salary-cap challenged, one has to go and for the reasons above, it will be Luongo.
An impediment is salary, but there are two things to note. Firstly, in terms of money, the first year of Luongo's 12 year deal, last season, the 2010-11 season, saw him paid the most he will get for the length of it, $10,000,000. That's done with so the owners of any prospective team he might go to will doubtless be relieved they won't be giving him anything more than $6.7 million in any given year, and if Luongo really plays the whole thing out the money drops off. Of course the likelihood of him playing until he's 43 is slim.
The other issue is that the salary cap hit each year is only $5,333,333, a tidy sum, but for a goalie that routinely finishes near the top of the league in goals against average and save percentage, a guy that starts slowly but by November is capable of stealing his team games night in and night out, that's almost a bargain. And Luongo has had 5 seasons where he's played over 70 games and likes a heavy workload.
Roberto Luongo and the state of Florida
Will he waive his no-trade clause? After a demotion, albeit briefly, to back-up, and being criticized endlessly in media and by fans for years, there seems a likelihood he will. Naturally the question then becomes where. Everyone knows he has family ties in the state of Florida, his wife is from there, they met while he was a Florida Panther. So the Panthers are a strong possibility and so are the Tampa Bay Lightning.
In Florida, they got by with Jose Theodore, 35, and Scott Clemmensen, 34; both are signed short term, and cheap. Jakob Markstrom waits in the minors. It's a situation where a bona-fide number one could step in but the team, while having made the playoffs this season for the first time in 7, cobbled together a line-up by signing the likes of veterans Brian Campbell, Tomas Kopecky, Ed Jovanovski, John Madden and Mikael Samuelsson. Florida will struggle to have a strong team into the future and Luongo wants to win, his wife's home or no; but the Panthers are a maybe.
Tampa Bay is more likely. Their goaltending was woeful, their two main guys, veterans Dwayne Roloson (a .886 save percentage) and Mathieu Garon (a ,901 save percentage) simply didn't stop enough pucks. Roloson won't be back and may retire; Garon might be adequate as a back-up next year if youngster Dustin Tokarski isn't ready for that role.
Martin St. Louis, 36, and Vincent Lecavalier, 32, are not getting younger and after their semi-final appearance last season, have to be hungering for another final. And they've got youth: Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Brett Connolly and Brendan Mikkelson suggest the club has a great future and Steve Yzerman is the kind of GM any NHL player would want to play for. Tampa Bay seems to have the right climate for Luongo to thrive in now, and long-term
Luongo in Toronto as a Maple Leaf
There are others. Not Philadelphia, they'll never move Ilya Bryzgalov and his contract. Too much uncertainty in Columbus and, despite youth, it doesn't seem a situation Luongo would agree to join. But there is Toronto. GM Brian Burke says he wants a back-up to James Reimer but one more year of missing the playoffs and Burke leaves T.O. with his tail between his legs.
Luongo would mean certain playoffs for the Maple Leafs and that might be enough to induce Burke to somehow induce Luongo to go there. His assistant, Dave Nonis, was the one who got Luongo into Vancouver and that may help. And Toronto is much closer to Luongo's hometown of Montreal and to Miami, where the wife's family lives. Another hockey hotbed but Luongo has grown a thick skin in Vancouver.
Trade Bait for Bobby Lou
There will be much speculating on who the Canucks may want in return. Someone who can put the puck in the net seems obvious, but given Luongo is 33 and the contract, while not out of line, is nonetheless a substantial one, the return is not going to be what it would be for Schneider. Gillis will ask for someone who can score and a prospect or high draft pick.
What about getting Kris Versteeg and Jack Skille out of Florida? Or Mikkelson and Teddy Purchell from Tampa? And have the Leafs soured enough on Nazim Kadri and Luke Schenn to make those two available? Just looking at the roster of those three clubs there is a summer's worth of speculation and there will be other teams that could join the mix, like the Chicago Blackhawks and, after Marc-Andre Fleury's playoff performance, even the Pens could come calling.
So for Canuck fans the off-season will not be devoid of hockey, or at least not of hockey talk. And when the deal does come down, and it will, there will be renewed hope for next season.