I’m often amazed at how confidently some people expect a prospect to come in and instantly fix a problem. The NHL is more of a young man’s league than ever, but this logic still spits in the face of reality.
I’m even more amazed when that confidence is poured on a young and inexperienced goaltender. After all, that position is the most difficult to predict due to the fact it has the most variables.
So when I hear any mention that Cory Schneider is the indisputable answer in Vancouver and that Roberto Luongo should be traded, one blunt word comes to mind: dumb.
Why is it dumb? Because there is a plethora of evidence to suggest the transition to a 25-year-old, unproven (yes, unproven) goalie wouldn’t be as smooth as some seem to think it would be. And even if it appeared to be the right choice a week after making that type of move, there is still more reason to suspect it would blow up than continue on.
Goalies are a strange brew. Most scouts will tell you ‘keepers are the most difficult players to project because of the countless unforeseeable occurrences that can negatively affect their development. One groin injury can derail an otherwise promising career and a simple loss of confidence can lead to a permanent backup job or a trip to the Kontinental League. You can’t possibly see these things coming, but they aren’t all that rare.
This isn’t to say Schneider will never be a star No. 1 NHL goalie – that’s certainly possible. He’s had numerous accomplishments in his young career, from being a first round pick to being named the best goaltender in the American League in 2008-09. Schneider has a promising and excitable resume. I like Schneider and supported him taking over for Luongo once before: prior to Game 6 of Vancouver’s series with Chicago last season.
But that was a unique scenario. One thing Schneider isn’t: a year-in, year-out contender for the Vezina Trophy. And because Vancouver already has a goalie like that, it’s dumb to want to downgrade – plain and simple.
Take one quick look at the Columbus Blue Jackets and you’ll see the volatility of the goaltending position. Anyone suggesting that making Schneider the No. 1 is the best way to go must have been just as confident in Steve Mason two or three years ago. But Mason hasn’t been nearly the same since his incredible Calder Trophy season and is closer to being relegated than to winning any more NHL hardware.
And remember a guy by the name of Jim Carey? He was also named the AHL’s top goalie before winning the Vezina Trophy in 1995-96. He played 71 games for Washington that season, but only played another 73 in his NHL career and was out of the league before the new millennium.
Andrew Raycroft. Craig Anderson. Rick DiPietro. Justin Pogge. In different degrees all these recent goalies were expected to be No. 1s for their teams, but none turned out as expected. Are there examples to the contrary? Of course there are. But to assume the best lies ahead…well, you know what they say about assuming.
Luongo has been a divisive force among Canucks supporters more than any other star player. He has flaws, such as falling to his belly too often. But he does not “suck.” He is capable of stopping a beach ball. And Team Canada did not win gold “despite having him in net.” Those suggestions are nonsense and, if you’re among those making them, you might need to tighten a screw or two.
If Luongo is traded and Schneider becomes the latest casualty in the history of inflated expectations, what then? Luongo is a case of “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.” But if you’ve been paying attention to what’s happened in the Philadelphia crease for the past 30 years, fans should know exactly what they have with Luongo.
The fact of the matter is until goalies reach the consistently dominant stat levels Luongo has, they are unproven and unpredictable. And once your goalie becomes a player who posts better than .920 save percentage and 2.40 goals-against average more often than not, you should never let him go. Having a player on that level at that position gives you an instant leg up on the competition.
But if you really, really want to let Luongo go, I’m sure there’s a team in Florida that would take him back in a millisecond. There might even be an interested team on Long Island that knows the regretful pain of trading ‘Bobby Lu’ all too well.
Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com’s web editor. His column appears regularly only on THN.com.
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