Op-Ed: Luongo to Leafs looms large, or Brian Burke is done like dinner
Canucks GM Mike Gillis is talking openly to the media about his efforts to trade goalie Roberto Luongo and says he has multiple teams bidding. But the number doesn't matter, in the end it's gotta be the Leafs.
Either that or, to borrow a phrase from the great Tiger Williams, Toronto GM Brian Burke is done like dinner. Mind you, Williams
was wrong when he said it about the Philadelphia Flyers in 1977, who came back to eliminate his Leafs, but this time it's Burke who'll be ousted.
Roberto Luongo could lead Leafs to playoffs
Gillis and Burke are doing that thing pro sports team do at trade time, one trying to drive the price up, the other, naturally the buyer, to drive it down. They'll do it a while longer, maybe even beyond the draft. But the Leafs need a veteran goalie to go with James Reimer and with Josh Harding, Tomas Vokoun and Tim Thomas out of the running, notwithstanding Scott Clemmenson, Marty Turco or Dan Ellis, Burke has no where else to turn.
The gold-medal winning Luongo routinely hovers at the top of the league in goals against average and save percentage and while he often starts slowly, by November is stealing his team games night in and night out. At a cap hit of $5.3 million he's a bargain and with him in goal, the playoffs would be a lock for the Leafs.
There is only one other team with the motivation to land Luongo who are able to do it, the Florida Panthers, but given Jose Theodore is still under contract their need is less. Sure the Flyers would love to jettison the erratic Ilya Bryzgalov but a massive contract (Bryzgalov's) is in the way. And there's no indication Luongo is willing to go to Chicago or Columbus, the only other two teams with a serious need.
Leafs will outbid Panthers
Nothing if not proud, Burke badly wants to be the guy to take the floating-in-a-puddle-of-futility Leafs back into being a competitive franchise. The next step obviously has to be a playoff spot. He has young players that need to grow and being demoralized again, and golfing or doing whatever it is non-playoff NHL players do in April, is hardly a prescription for growth.
There is no way Burke can let Florida walk away with his goalie and survive in Toronto. Imagine not getting Luongo and missing the postseason for the 8th straight year while Florida, with Luongo, makes the playoffs again? Burke and his assistant, Dave Nonis, would be looking for their fourth club to work in tandem for, and this time there might not be any offers.
Potential Sideshow: Luongo and Schneider
As for Gillis, imagine Cory Schneider and Luongo in camp in September and together throughout the season. Gillis claims he's comfortable with that but the Vancouver media, Vancouver fans, they'd be all over Luongo, examining his every start, save and utterance. Gillis would create a sideshow that would make a Todd Bertuzzi return to the Canucks seem a cohesive move.
And with the sizable raise the UFA Schneider is due, if he keeps both Gillis will wind up paying in the $9 million range for goalies, a hefty price considering only one plays each night. Further, how happy would Luongo and Schneider be with the same routine they've done the past two years? The 26-year-old Schneider has proven he's ready, the 33-year-old Luongo is no where near ready for a dramatically reduced role.
So while Burke is the more desperate, Gillis, too, has to make a move. Give it another week and you'll either see Roberto Luongo at a press conference in Toronto, or the beginnings of the final chapter in the saga of Brian Burke as the Leafs GM.