VANCOUVER – The NHL trade deadline passed with Roberto Luongo still in Vancouver, and the Canucks goaltender gave a refreshingly blunt answer for a possible reason why.
“My contract sucks,” Luongo said with uncommon candour at a post-deadline news conference Wednesday. “It’s a big factor in trading me and why I’m probably still here. I’d scrap it if I could right now.”
Luongo, who has 10 years remaining on a 12-year contract worth US$64 million, asked for a trade in the off-season after being supplanted by Cory Schneider as the No. 1 netminder in Vancouver.
Despite being the subject of months of trade rumours, Luongo will remain with the Canucks for the rest of the season, serving as Schneider’s backup.
Vancouver general manager Mike Gillis spoke with five teams in the past six months, but no deal could be made.
“I do feel obligated to trade Roberto and get him into position where he’s happy and competing the way he likes to and the level he’s accustomed to,” Gills said. “The needs of our team also play a role in this. Trying to balance them is a difficult thing.”
Gillis said getting the right compensation in return has been the biggest stumbling block in dealing the 34-year-old netminder. He also said that there have been deals on the table that Luongo turned down, since he has a no-movement clause in his contract.
As for Luongo’s comments about his contract, Gillis is chalking that up to an emotional response.
“At the time (Luongo’s contract) was done, it was very favourable for this organization and very favourable for Roberto,” Gillis said. “The top teams in the league that were competing for Stanley Cups did contracts like this for franchise players.
“These days are very emotional for everybody. When you have a day like this where your whole life can be turned upside down and then you speak to (the media) right after, there’s a chance for things to be said that in the clear light of day might not be reflective of how he really feels.”
Luongo was taken off the ice 10 minutes early Wednesday at practice as the 3 p.m. ET deadline loomed, fuelling Twitter speculation that something may be in the works.
While Luongo didn’t get the trade he was looking for, he is relieved the speculation is over.
“It’s nice to get past this point,” Luongo said. “I’ve been pretty calm about the situation until yesterday, late evening, for some reason I started getting weird feelings in my stomach. I was getting nervous. It was the first time I’ve had that type of feeling in my gut.”
As far as the Canucks are concerned, having two No. 1-calibre goalies isn’t a bad thing.
“If one of our goalies slips up, we know we have an elite goalie coming into the pipes,” said forward Chris Higgins.
Schneider said having Luongo on the team will help drive him.
“He’s an asset on this team and we’re going to need him down the stretch,” Schneider said. “We trust the management and we want to win as badly as they do.
“He’s still an elite goaltender but there’s only one crease. You have to earn time in the crease, whether it’s Roberto or anybody else.”
Gillis didn’t make any trades Wednesday, though he said the club was involved in trade talks about “every player we could,.” That includes ex-Canuck Raffi Torres, who was dealt to the San Jose Sharks instead. Vancouver also missed out on winger Ryane Clowe, who waived his no-trade clause with the Sharks to join the New York Rangers.
Gillis’s most important move was made a day before the mad rush at the deadline, acquiring Derek Roy from the Dallas Stars for prospect Kevin Connauton and a third-round pick.
“That was our primary focus, to get a third-line centre,” Gillis said. “When Manny (Malhotra) got injured it really created a hole for us that we didn’t plan on dealing with.”
Roy, who turns 30 in a month, brings his four goals and 18 assists over from the Stars, who acquired him from the Buffalo Sabres, the only other team he’s played for, before this year.
“He brings an element of speed and skill,”said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. “He’s going to be a big asset to our team.”
In practice Wednesday, Roy was playing on a line with Higgins, who signed a four-year contract extension Tuesday.
“It’s always nice to get a breath of fresh air in the locker-room,” Higgins said. “From playing against him for a number of years in Montreal I know he’s a pretty crafty player, makes really smart passes around the net and I’m looking forward to seeing his game develop here in Vancouver.”
With Ryan Kesler set to return from a foot injury later this month, the acquisition of Roy will give Vancouver strength down the middle.
With added depth and the temporary removal the Luongo distraction,the Canucks are gearing up for a return to the Stanley Cup final, where they lost to Boston in Game 7 in 2011.
“Hopefully we can go on a run here and make something special happen in the playoffs,” Luongo said.