VANCOUVER – Roberto Luongo says he is willing to wait as long as necessary for a trade.
The goaltender returned to the ice for an informal workout with his Vancouver Canucks teammates Friday while facing an uncertain NHL future.
Luongo was displaced as Vancouver’s starting goaltender by Cory Schneider in last spring’s Stanley Cup playoffs. After the season, Luongo said he would waive his no-trade clause if asked. But Vancouver general manager Mike Gillis could not swing a deal before the 113-day NHL lockout began Sept. 15.
“I told (Gillis) I was ready to go as long as it took,” said Luongo. “Whether it’s a couple days, next week, two weeks, at the end of the season, it’s totally fine with me.”
Luongo has long been rumoured to be headed to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Trades are prohibited until players have ratified the proposed new collective bargaining agreement.
Approval is expected on the weekend, with NHL training camps expected to open Sunday.
Pending a trade, Luongo will attend Vancouver’s camp after he was not expected to.
“If you asked in May last year, I would have said no,” said Luongo when asked whether he expected to be back with the Canucks.
As the lockout dragged on, Luongo expected that he might be back, and said in September at a Canucks charity golf tournament he would be at camp, if necessary.
Luongo, 33, who was acquired from the Florida Panther after the last lockout cancelled the entire 2004-05 season, said he is not worrying about his future. Now that he is in his 30s, and having dealt with many things with the Canucks, he has been able to stay calm about his situation.
When he was in his 20s, the Montreal native indicated, he would have been more stressed out.
“I’ve matured in the sense where I can handle adversity than I did back then,” said Luongo. “That’s why I’ve been really calm about the whole situation. I’ve been able to enjoy it, even though it’s not an easy situation. The fact that I’m so comfortable here will make it much easier.”
His pending departure is also much different than the unexpected trade from the Panthers that led to his arrival in Vancouver.
“The whole thing was a different circumstance,” he said. “I was just shocked by the whole thing.”
But despite being prepared for a trade out of Vancouver, it will still be difficult to leave the Canucks. Many of his teammates were with the team when he arrived, and he has forged close friendships with them.
“Those are the things that make it hard,” he said. “A lot of important moments happened here in Vancouver.”
Luongo’s teammates were happy to be back on the ice with him. They said his presence and the trade speculation surround him will not be a distraction.
Luongo ($5.3 million) and Schneider ($4 million) count for a total of $9.3 million on Vancouver’s salary cap until a deal is done. With the salary cap slated to be reduced to $64.3 million next season from a pro-rated $70.2 million this season, there is more urgency to trade Luongo for financial reasons.
But coach Alain Vigneault refused to say who will be the team’s starter when the season opens.
“(Luongo’s) one of my two goaltenders,” said Vigneault during a media availability at Rogers Arena. “We’ve always made the decisions in the best interest of the team. We’ve got two great goaltenders, two great people that are great teammates and both want to play.”
Like Canuck players, Vigneault is not worried about Luongo’s presence being a disruption at the outset of a compressed season in which all teams must play well from the get-go.
“You have seen (Luongo) throughout the last couple of months,” said Vigneault. “He’s a class individual. He’s a smart and bright young man.
“He always puts the team ahead of himself, and he’s a Vancouver Canuck player, and I’m not gonna speculate on what’s going on outside of that. Right now he’s one of my two goaltenders—and I’m very fortunate to have him.”
Schneider, who signed a new three-year contract worth a total of $12 million in the summer, said Luongo’s presence will not be a problem. The two have become close friends in the past few seasons, and Schneider credits much of his success to Luongo.
“I’ve learned a lot just by watching him,” said Schneider. “It’s not that he’s sat me down and taught me the secrets of life. But just by sitting down and watching him go about his business, it was fun to watch and great to see how you become one of the best goalies in the NHL. I think I’ve taken a lot of those cues from him.”
The Canucks, who have won the President’s Trophy as the top team in the past two regular seasons, rate as the team to beat in a shortened season. The campaign is expected to be set a 48 games.
Schneider indicated he has no concerns about Luongo possibly staying with the Canucks for the whole season, if necessary.
“It’s gonna be a sprint,” said Schneider. “And to have two good goalies through a 48-game sprint, I’m sure we can make that work.”
Luongo said he would not speculate on whether he is bound for Toronto, or his potential trade to the Leafs factored into the club’s dismissal of former general manager Brian Burke. The goaltender does not want to pay “too much attention” to his future until Gillis presents an actual offer for him to consider.
In the meantime, his teammates are just glad to have him around.
“We had a few good laughs this morning,” said winger Alex Burrows. “But once we get on the ice, he’s all professional, all business.”