VANCOUVER, B.C. – They are two goaltenders at the opposite ends of their careers, fighting for the same job with the Vancouver Canucks.
The future lies ahead for Cory Schneider while veteran Andrew Raycroft may be down to his last chance in the NHL as the two battle for the backup position behind Roberto Luongo.
Schneider, 23, has youth and potential on his side. Raycroft, 29, has veteran experience but a sketchy track record.
The salary cap, the best option for Schneider’s development, and which player has the better mentality to spend most of the winter watching Luongo play are all factors expected to contribute to Canucks management’s decision.
Raycroft said the situation doesn’t need to be complicated.
“You just go out and try and stop the puck,” he said Sunday after the Canucks skated for the first time at UBC’s Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre. “We’re not doing rocket science out there.
“There is always competition. You just go out and work hard.”
Coach Alain Vigneault said the exhibition season will probably determine who gets the job.
“At the end of the day, I think they are going to decide who ever plays the best,” he said.
Schneider has been considered the heir apparent to Luongo. The former first-round draft pick led the Manitoba Moose, Vancouver’s farm team, to the Calder Cup final this season and was named the top goalie in the American Hockey League.
“My goal has been to make this team the entire summer,” said Schneider, a six-foot-two, 195-pound native of Marblehead, Mass.
The Boston College graduate has shown steady improvement with the Moose. The question is, should he continue to start on a regular basis in the AHL, or does he gain more by practising regularly at the NHL level, while playing just a handful of games?
“You always want to play games, get in the action, and stay warm,” said Schneider. “But at the same time there is something to be said about being at this level and practising here every day and getting used to the pace and the shots and the intensity that comes along with being an NHL player.
“That’s up to management. They’ve done a good job with me so far. They’ve seen me develop and grow for five years. I’m just going to leave it up to them.”
Vigneault has heard both sides of the argument.
“Some people would say he’s better off playing,” he said. “Some others would say he’s better off being behind Roberto.
“I think this year, because it’s an Olympic year, it would be safe to assume that a backup, with the number of back-to-back (games) and travel, would get more games.”
Raycroft signed with the Canucks on the assumption he would be Vancouver’s No. 2
“I have all the intention of being here and watching Louie play,” said the six-foot, 185-pound Belleville, Ont., native.
Asked about maybe being sent to Winnipeg, Raycroft shrugged.
“I don’t really think about that to be honest,” he said. “As long as I work hard and play well, all that stuff is not really in my control. We’ll see how it plays out.”
Raycroft has travelled a rocky road.
He was named the NHL’s top rookie in 2004 after posting a 29-18-9 record with the Boston Bruins. In 57 games he had a goals-against average of 2.05.
Since then he’s struggled. The Bruins traded him to the Toronto Maple Leafs in June 2006. After a decent first season in Toronto, where he had a 37-25-9 record in 72 matches, his game went south the second year.
Raycroft signed as a free agent with Colorado last year. He earned $800,000 and had a 12-16-0 record, 3.14 goals-against average and a .892 save percentage.
Raycroft knows his best chance to stay in the league is as a backup.
“We all want to be the guy that plays 70 games,” he said. “As the same time, it’s a hockey career.
“I’m happy to one of the top 60 (goalies) in the world. If I can do that again this year, I’ll be happy to work hard and be on a good team.”
While Raycroft may have regressed, Schneider didn’t exactly shine last year when called up after Luongo went down with a groin injury. He had a 2-4-1 record in eight games and a 3.38 goals-against average.
“There were a couple of good games and, obviously, some bad games,” Schneider said. “I feel more confident and ready this year.
“I know what to expect and hopefully there won’t be any surprises for me.”
Money is also an issue. Raycroft will be paid US$500,000 this season whether he plays in Vancouver or Manitoba.
Schneider would earn US$984,200 in Vancouver, but much less with the Moose.
Schneider’s long-term future may be with another team. Luongo signed a US$64-million, 12-year contract extension this summer.
“The long-term future is a little cloudy now,” Schneider admitted. “Louie is here for a long time. I’m hoping to be a No. 1 goalie in this league at some point. That probably won’t be here if Louis is still here.
“That’s down the road. Anything can happen. I’m just worried about the short term and making this team.”