SURREY, B.C. – Roberto Luongo was happy being a Vancouver Canuck—at least for one day.
The veteran goaltender has been in limbo since the end of last season, when he lost the starting job in Vancouver to Cory Schneider and said he would waive his no-trade clause if the Canucks could work out a deal to send him to an approved destination.
But Luongo was at a Canucks charity golf tournament on Wednesday, and he said he would have no trouble playing alongside his friend Schneider again and will attend Vancouver’s training camp, if necessary.
“Two months ago, after what had happened, and Schneids had just signed, I didn’t really see myself being here for training camp,” Luongo said. “But I realized once we got into August, that that was a possibility, and that I was OK with that.”
He showed he was OK by participating in the Canucks’ annual event, golfing with teammates and team staff at Northview Golf Course.
“The fact that I have a lot of good friends on the team, in the staff and the coaching staff and the organization, makes it a lot easier for me to be here,” he said. “That’s why I’m here today, and I didn’t really hesitate in deciding whether I should come or not.”
Under collective bargaining rules, Luongo must be traded before Saturday’s NHL lockout deadline or wait until the labour dispute is resolved.
Luongo was displaced by Schneider as Vancouver’s starting goaltender in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs as they bowed 4-1 to the eventual champion Los Angeles Kings. The Canucks subsequently signed Schneider to a new three-year, US$12-million contract.
Schneider was not present Wednesday, because he and Manny Malhotra were in New York as part of the NHL Players Association’s bargaining committee, trying to help work out a new labour agreement before the looming lockout. Even without the current labour uncertainty, it would be difficult financially to keep both goaltenders.
The 33-year-old Montreal native has indicated the Florida Panthers are his preferred destination. Luongo makes his off-season home in Florida and played for the Panthers before he was acquired in a trade by the Canucks following the last lockout in 2004-05.
But the former Vezina Trophy winner, who still has 10 years left on his 12-year, $64-million contract, said the Canucks have not asked him to submit a list of preferred teams, and he will wait until general manager Mike Gillis has a deal for him to consider. Until then, Luongo is willing to be patient given the unusual situation with the lockout pending.
“I’m going to leave that more up to (Gillis) to do his thing,” Luongo said. “I don’t really want to be talking about any other teams right now. I’m here with Vancouver. I think it’s a bit disrespectful towards (Gillis) and others to be talking about other places.”
In the meantime, Luongo said he is focusing on preparing himself for a season that may not come, regardless of where he is winds up playing.
“I’m just here to play, man,” Luongo said. “That’s all I want to do. I’m going to play and work hard like I always do—and the cards will fall where they may.”
Gillis said he was not surprised that Luongo accepted an invitation to participate in the golf tournament because the goaltender has always taken a team-first approach.
The GM said teams have pursued Luongo and presented “solid” trade proposals, but the Canucks have not yet received an offer to their liking.
“We’re going to do our best to make sure that Roberto is taken care of whether he is here or somewhere else,” Gillis said. “We’re going to look at his best interests, but also look at ours.”
The Canucks are expected to take on a big contract to offset the costs that the other team inherits in Luongo’s deal. Gillis said the Canucks will listen to all presented options, and a deal could involve three teams.
“It has to give us an opportunity to be different,” Gillis said. “I don’t think you replace an all-star goalie and necessarily feel you have to be better—but you have to be different.”
Gillis stopped short of saying Schneider is Vancouver’s new starting goaltender. If necessary, the GM said, Schneider and Luongo will compete for No. 1 status in camp.
Luongo indicated he does not have a problem with that scenario.
“Whatever the future holds is going to be fine with me,” Luongo said.
Note: The Canucks are negotiating a contract extension with Alex Burrows. The winger said he hopes to get a new deal before Saturday, but does not feel rushed.