NEWARK, N.J. – When Roberto Luongo told the Vancouver Canucks last April that he’d be willing to waive his no-trade clause, he officially raised the curtain on one of the most bizarre soap operas in NHL history.
Here we are 431 days later and Luongo is still standing as a Canuck, as the No. 1 goalie. When Canucks GM Mike Gillis made the shocking move to instead deal Cory Schneider at the draft Sunday afternoon, reaction ranged from disbelief that Gillis could have fouled up this situation so badly and still ended up with a very promising prospect in Bo Horvat when all the dust settled to the feeling that Gillis could not have possibly screwed up this whole situation more cataclysmically.
Give Gillis credit though. The man has chutzpah. He still defended moves, claiming he didn’t have a crystal ball, so it would be impossible for him to regret the way things unfolded. Then there was this whopper: “Our plan three years ago was to develop Cory and move him for a high pick and that’s what we ultimately did.”
In a perfect world, perhaps Gillis would be right. After all, Luongo signed his contract three years ago for huge money and in return, he should be expected to show up at training camp and continue his career with the Canucks. But not even Gillis and the Canucks realize that this is not a perfect world. If they did, Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini would not have immediately jumped on a plane to Florida to smooth things out with Luongo after the Canucks made their decision.
There’s a healthy segment of the population that believes after the way Luongo was strung along, he’d have every right to slam the door in Aquilini’s face, refuse to report to training camp and demand a trade. After all, he’s made $52 million already, so he can probably afford to sit and cool his heels. But Luongo handled the situation with professionalism and aplomb – his “my contract sucks” statement at the trade deadline notwithstanding – and gained a lot of admiration for his willingness to be a good soldier and roll with the punches using his sense of humor. If he does stiff the Canucks, he risks becoming the villain in all of this and will, in fact, be turning his back on an opportunity to rejuvenate his career with the Canucks. And just because the Canucks handled the situation like a live hand grenade doesn’t necessarily mean Luongo has to do the same.
The Canucks had plenty of opportunity to move Luongo last summer, but held out thinking they could accomplish the two-pronged objective of ridding themselves of an albatross of a contract and get some quality roster players in return for him. And that is where Gillis made his most damning error. And as he said, it became very evident after the last collective bargaining agreement was struck that there was no way he was going to be able to move the Luongo deal, even for nothing. So, faced with the prospect of either buying Luongo out for just north of $27 million, the Canucks took the far more perilous route.
“I don’t think anyone wants to be buying out players for $25 million,” Gillis said. “It’s not something in our business that we want to do. We looked at all of our alternatives and that just wasn’t a viable alternative.”
The Schneider trade was the blockbuster of the first round, but there were several other moves that were intriguing as well. Two days after celebrating their championship with a Stanley Cup parade, the Chicago Blackhawks dumped David Bolland to the Toronto Maple Leafs and Michal Frolik to the Winnipeg Jets for draft picks. That indicates they’re probably very close to signing Bryan Bickell to a long-term extension. It also indicates the Blackhawks are in perilous danger of getting into salary cap trouble when the ceiling goes down to 64.3 million next season.
Another interesting deal had the New York Islanders moving the disgruntled Nino Niederreiter to the Minnesota Wild for Cal Clutterbuck and a pick, another move that clearly had salary cap implications. Wild GM Chuck Fletcher pointed out that the Wild now have four young forwards – Niederreiter, Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle – on entry-level deals that all carry two-way components. Even with that, as it stands today, the Wild are more than $1 million over the salary cap and still have to re-sign Jared Spurgeon and unrestricted free agent Pierre-Marc Bouchard.
As far as top-five picks, there had been lots of talk that the Carolina Hurricanes No. 5 pick was in play, but GM Jim Rutherford said the top-four defenseman they covet was not being offered. “The best offers we got were for forwards and we’d have to move down further in the draft that we would have liked,” Rutherford said. “We ended up getting a player (Elias Lindholm) that will be as good as a lot of the guys who were offered to us and he’ll be making a lot less money.”
OLYMPIC NEWS: It’s expected that the NHL and International Ice Hockey Federation will be in a position Monday to officially confirm the NHL’s participation in the 2014 Games in Sochi. In reality, the insurance, travel and access issues the NHL had with the IIHF and International Olympic Committee have been resolved. The only outstanding issues are with the NHL Players’ Association and are seen to be resolvable.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN's other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.