Roberto Luongo’s decision to change agents isn’t a confirmation he’ll never play for the Vancouver Canucks again. However, it absolutely is an indication the saga that has developed between the star goalie and his current team is anything but at an end.
When Luongo announced Wednesday he’d chosen to leave longtime representative Gilles Lupien and join powerhouse agents Pat Brisson and J.P. Barry, there was an immediate spike in speculation as to his willingness to return to Vancouver as the clear-cut starter in net. With the exception of a couple typically hilarious tweets, Luongo has maintained radio silence since Canucks GM Mike Gillis backtracked on his initial plans to move Luongo and instead traded former goalie-of-the-future Cory Schneider at the NHL draft. But at first blush, changing agents seemed to be an unmistakable shot across the bow of Vancouver management.
We may look back a few years from now and agree that yes, the move to Brisson and Barry was the first step in Luongo ultimately engineering his way out of British Columbia. However, in the here and now, the change isn’t likely to have any real effect on Luongo’s playing status. The goalie market is flatter than an open can of beer left in the sun all day and as we all should be aware by this stage, Luongo’s contract (specifically, the nine years still remaining on it) is a millstone of garlic around his neck, scaring away NHL GM vampires who have smelled blood in Vancouver’s waters for quite some time.
So for now at least, Luongo and the Canucks are a match, even if it’s one not made in heaven. But if you’re taking a longer view of his status in Vancouver, it’s fair to suspect the agent change is a preparation for a battle that could arrive on his doorstep in the not-too-distant future.
To wit: let’s say Luongo starts the season in great spirits, but the Canucks drop seven or eight of their first 10 games. For that matter, let’s say Luongo and/or the team slumps at any point in the regular season. Imagine how quickly the local peanut galleries would explode with angst and outrage. At that point, it wouldn’t make a difference that Luongo is in a mess not entirely of his own making. All that would matter is finding a solution that gets him out of town with as little damage as possible.
No disrespect to Lupien, but under similar circumstances this (and last) summer, he and Gillis were unable to do such a thing. So you can see why the 34-year-old might want to see if another agent could do the job. And remember, the Canucks still have one of their amnesty contract buyouts they can use next summer. If things don’t go swimmingly this coming season, having two of the NHL’s most powerful agents in his corner can only increase Luongo’s leverage.
Besides, having lived through five years of Gillis’ tenure in Vancouver, who can blame Luongo if he were more skeptical of the promises made now and the team’s actions down the line? After all, this is a GM who made Luongo the captain, then stripped him of it. This is a GM who made it abundantly clear Schneider was going to be the future and Luongo the past – until he terribly misjudged the goaltending market and reversed his position. This is a GM who actually said the following this week during a Canucks fan summit:
“Ninety-five percent of the stuff that was reported (regarding Luongo) was inaccurate and people made up trades and teams he was being traded to. There was a lot of misinformation out there.”
Got that? Gillis, who on numerous occasions said there were a number of teams interested in acquiring Luongo, is now giving lectures on misinformation. It is to laugh – unless you’re Luongo, in which case it is to laugh and then to cry.
So don’t expect fireworks to quickly follow Luongo’s hiring of new representatives. Through sticky situations, he’s proven himself to be a solid teammate and employee. But given the rocky road he’s traveled with that organization, nobody should fault him for wanting the best disaster insurance he can get in the days to come.
Adam Proteau is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Adam on Twitter at @ProteauType.