An already difficult situation in Vancouver may have become even more complicated over this past weekend. There has been a bright spotlight placed on the goal crease at the Canucks end of the rink, and everyone has been paying close attention to the "Luongo Situation". It was all supposed to be quite simple; Roberto Luongo was supposed to be traded as soon as the ink was dry on the legal paperwork associated with the new CBA. Toronto was supposed to be his destination, with Florida as a Plan "B". Cory Schnieder, signed to a contract that signalled the Canucks' intention of making him their number one goalie was supposed to perform up to expectations, free of the pressure of having the guy with the 200 foot tall picture of him on the outside of the arena, sitting at the end of the bench. But it hasn't worked out that way.
After getting lit up for 5 goals in just over a period of play, the last two only 11 seconds apart, Schneider was given the hook, and in went Luongo, who allowed two goals over the course of the rest of the game. This certainly wasn't the scenario the Canucks had hoped for, and Schneider didn't look anything like a goalie who is so good he could supplant a multiple All Star and Olympic Gold Medal winning net minder. Luongo didn't look too bad, and was given the start the next day vs. the Oilers, allowing two goals in regulation, and losing in a shootout. There's no shame in losing to Edmonton in a shootout these days, as the shootout format plays into the skillset of the Oilers perfectly.
As Eklund has reported on hockeybuzz, NBC's Mike Milbury commented that Alain Vigneault "screwed" his GM by pulling Schneider, and essentially threw gasoline on the fires of a smouldering goaltending controversy. While the circumstances have heightened the hype around the situation, the coach's actions were perfectly normal, were this a "normal" situation. There isn't an NHL coach out there who wouldn't have pulled his number 1 goalie, and put in his backup, in the case of giving up a 5th goal, 6 minutes into the 2nd period, with goal number 4 having come only seconds earlier. And don't read too much into Luongo getting the start the next night either. With lots of back to back games in the shortened season, backups are going to be scheduled for one of the two games often, and both goalies will be informed of that in advance. So, having Luongo in net for the next game was likely planned in advance. As for Vigneault "screwing" Mike Gillis by doing so, that's just Mike Milbury looking for a story where there isn't one. Vigneault was treating the goalies like any coach would. It's not his fault that his "backup" goalie has a $5.33 million cap hit. His job is to use the personnel on his roster, and up until now, Roberto Luongo is his backup goalie.
But, what should the Canucks do now? The much anticipated trade to the Leafs hasn't materialized, and Randy Carlyle threw a monkey wrench into the works by starting Ben Scrivens for the season opener over expected number one James Reimer, clouding the goalie situation in Toronto. That trade could still happen, but the rumor mill has ground to a near halt on that front. Other teams will have goaltending needs over the course of the season, and Luongo's name will pop up every time in every instance. Hardly the distraction the Canucks or their two goalies need. Vancouver could wait until the trade deadline, hoping the market for Luongo's services heats up, and they get a bigger return for him, taking advantage of another team's desperation level. But again, that extends the length of the soap opera and speculation that will swirl around it. They could go through the season with both Luongo and Schneider, and have what is likely the best one-two goaltender tandem in the NHL, and the advantage that brings in the playoffs. But that does nothing to sooth the mind of Schneider, who sure looked like he could have used the confidence of being "the" goalie in Vancouver Saturday night. If they go the distance with both goalies this season, they could get the cap relief they will need next summer by either a) trading Luongo then, or b) buying him out with an amnesty buyout.
Waiting until next summer is a bad choice for the Canucks for a couple of reasons. Vancouver becomes the desperate trading partner then, having to shed cap dollars as the cap goes down next off season, so the offers will be thin. Buying him out still saddles the Canucks with the financial responsibility of a high percentage of Luongo's contract, and the team gets zero return as far as on ice talent is concerned. The potential UFA crop is projected to be thin next summer, so any cap dollars that are freed up by Luongo being off the books likely won't have the impact that the players and/or picks coming back in a trade during this season would. Considering all of this, and not going into panic mode after only two games, it's still in the Canucks best interest to trade Roberto Luongo sooner than later.