Not even an NHL lockout can fully kill the Roberto Luongo trade rumors.
Having been linked throughout the summer to the Florida Panthers, speculation has recently sprung up suggesting Luongo will be headed to the Toronto Maple Leafs instead, perhaps soon after the NHL lockout is over.
The chatter began on Oct. 18, when Sportsnet’s John Shannon stated his belief that a trade sending Luongo from Vancouver to Toronto was “all but done” and was merely awaiting the implementation of a new collective bargaining agreement.
Shannon’s claim swiftly made the rounds among hockey followers hungry for any NHL news unrelated to the CBA, providing a welcome distraction from the league’s ongoing labor dispute.
Jason Botchford of the Vancouver Province promptly followed up by reporting the Leafs were closest to striking a deal for Luongo at this year’s NHL draft, where they offered up defenseman Luke Schenn.
Canucks GM Mike Gillis, however, reportedly sought a deal that included promising blueliner Jake Gardiner “among others.” Schenn was subsequently shipped to the Philadelphia Flyers for James van Riemsdyk.
Despite rumors suggesting Luongo would only waive his no-trade clause to return to the Panthers, Botchford reported the netminder was told by Canucks management that the Panthers’ interest had faded, so he’d have to consider other options.
Botchford also claimed the Canucks, in the final weeks leading up to the expiration of the CBA, received offers from the Edmonton Oilers and a “mystery team.” This unnamed team apparently wasn’t the Columbus Blue Jackets or Chicago Blackhawks, two clubs previously linked to Luongo in this summer’s rumor mill.
The Toronto Star’s Damien Cox, meanwhile, claimed a deal between the Canucks and Leafs for Luongo wasn’t close, “at least, not yet.”
According to Cox, it’s believed Gillis and Leafs GM Brian Burke last spoke around two weeks ago, when the Canucks GM lowered his original asking price (Gardiner, center Tyler Bozak, right winger Matt Frattin and a first round pick), but not enough for Burke’s liking.
By Friday, sources from both clubs were denying the “Luongo-to-Toronto” rumors, but Shannon stood by his story and claimed his source for the rumor was “reputable” and insisted the trade would be contingent upon what is contained in the next CBA.
The provisions in the next CBA will certainly be a factor, not just affecting a possible Luongo trade, but potential deals among other NHL clubs following the lockout.
A proposal contained in the league’s latest CBA offer regarding players on expensive, front-loaded contracts (like Luongo) could end up in the final agreement between the NHL and NHLPA and would have major repercussions.
It calls for the average annual salary for any contract longer than five years to continue to count against the salary cap if the player retires before the contract expires. Furthermore, if the player is traded and subsequently retires before his contract expires, the cap hit reverts back to the team with which he originally signed the deal.
As Botchford noted, Luongo is 33 and has 10 seasons remaining on his contract, at an average annual cap hit of $5.333 million.
If, for example, the Canucks traded Luongo to the Maple Leafs and he retired in seven years, the remaining three years of his contract would count against the Canucks’ salary cap, at the full hit of $5.333 million per season.
Knowing they wouldn’t be on the hook for the full amount of Luongo’s contract if he retired early could stimulate interest in the goalie’s services when the NHL returns to action, not just from the Maple Leafs, but perhaps other clubs.
Though it is possible Luongo’s contract will come back to haunt the Canucks at some point down the road, it’s unlikely to deter Gillis’ efforts to move the goalie as soon as possible and free up cap space in the short term.
If Luongo is willing to go to Toronto, it’ll be interesting to see what the return is.
Bozak, 26, would be of interest to the Canucks, who could use depth at center, especially given Ryan Kesler’s recent injury history.
The Leafs won’t part with Gardiner and seem unlikely to part with Frattin. Burke is also reportedly unwilling to move Carter Ashton.
Other possibilities include Nazem Kadri, under-performing Nikolai Kulemin, blueliners Cody Franson or Carl Gunnarsson, or newcomer Leo Komarov.
For now, all of this is merely speculation and both clubs continue to deny the rumors, but that won’t kill off the anticipation of Luongo heading to Toronto when the lockout ends.
Rumor Roundup appears Monday-Friday only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News, Kukla’s Korner and The Guardian, Charlottetown.