Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What's going on behind the scenes on Luongo, Schneider trade rumours?

The rumour mill is going wild trying to process the Roberto Luongo situation. With so little coming out of the Canucks' official outlets, the leading source of news seems to be a high school student's twitter account (!/samjam99). Leaving aside the question of how someone that age has so much inside information, let's examine why Canucks management has been so guarded about it, and how information might be getting out.

1. The Canucks have probably been listening to offers on both Luongo and Schneider
It's pretty clear that trading Luongo makes more sense for the team - his relationship with the team has probably been weakened by their choice to switch to Schneider mid-way through the first round of the playoffs.

Many keepers play just fine through their mid-30s and later (look at Thomas, Brodeur, Nabokov, Hasek, among others). In fact, recent history has shown that elite goalies have been able to sustain their skills into their late 30s more often than not. Aside from Marty Turco, there haven't been many sudden collapses for aging keepers recently. You could point to the fact that elite goalies have to be extremely flexible and fit to be elite; these guys will be less susceptible to injury and take better care of themselves. They don't suffer the same physical toll that skaters do; they don't take bodychecks or get into bare-knuckle fights. They're really playing a different sport than skaters and shouldn't be expected to follow the same aging pattern. I'd compare them to NFL kickers in a lot of ways: the position is less about power and speed than about technique and confidence. Experience can add value as strength and agility fade. Look at, say, Adam Vinatieri, who is still one of the NFL's better kickers at age 39.

For that reason, the Canucks probably realize that Luongo, even at age 33, has a lot of life in him - possibly another 3-5 seasons as an above-average NHL starter. They should be willing to hold on to him if the offers for Schneider are significantly better.

If the team has been weighing offers for both players, they'll be reluctant to let any of that get out and risk unsettling the guy that stays.

2. We all know about Luongo's contract situation; Schneider's is a big mystery
We have heard rumblings that Schneider and his agent are waiting to discuss contract at least until a trade is made. If Luongo is traded, the Canucks will have committed to Schneider and will have no choice but to pay up on a multi-year contract. It's not clear whether Schneider would draw an offer sheet, but even if he doesn't, the Canucks are looking at a 1-year arbitration award of, say, $4 million, followed by UFA status for Schneider, who could then demand a big contract or decide to pack up and move home to Boston. He has all the leverage, and could easily demand a 5-year (or longer contract) at $5-6 million per year. At that price, he doesn't provide any cap savings over Luongo, and lacks the track record. While his numbers so far have been elite, it's a small sample size and it's hard to know whether Schneider will be an elite 0.925 save % goalie or a more pedestrian 0.910-0915 one.

Schneider's contract situation may also make him harder to trade. Teams such as the Blue Jackets would probably only be willing to deal for him if they could have a chance to talk contract with him first to make sure they could lock him up; if his demands are high, his trade value collapses.

3. It's not clear who the potential trading partners are
While we know several teams could use a goaltending upgrade, it's always hard to tell which teams are really in the market. Toronto is presumed to be one, despite Burke's occasional rumblings that he'd be comfortable with his current group. Tampa Bay has to be looking for someone, and Columbus needs help too. Then there are Edmonton, Chicago, New Jersey and others who might be in the market. Also unsure is who might want an elite guy and who would be satisfied to roll the dice on a Johan Hedberg or Chris Mason.

This week's news that Tim Thomas is taking a year off and that Tomas Vokoun has signed with Pittsburgh is excellent news for the Canucks as it takes two key goalies off the market without taking any buyers with them. Now, the Canucks are dealing from a position of strength, and the phone has probably been ringing in Gillis' office. While it was previously suggested that Luongo might get flipped for another big contract on an aging star (recall the Lecavalier rumour), that's not likely in the cards anymore. Schneider's new contract would eat up a lot of Luongo's cap hit, and the team likely wants to upgrade other parts of the lineup. At this point, Gillis should be looking for big prospects, picks, or young stars with affordable contracts.

4. It's possible there's other dominoes set to fall
What if Toronto acquires Luongo? Burke may be trying to acquire another asset for Reimer. What if, for example, we saw something like:

To Toronto:

To Vancouver:
Brett Connolly + 19th overall pick (DET via TB)

To Tampa Bay:
Reimer + Luke Schenn

Obviously, that's just a hypothetical, but it may be that the team that most wants Luongo or Schneider doesn't have the asset(s) the Canucks want. But for all that to happen, a lot more conversations have to occur, and you can bet Burke would want to make sure everything is kept quiet while it happens. Both Burke and Gillis are known to be secretive on these sorts of dealings, and it may be that silence on the Luongo/Schneider rumours is the best indication that something is in the works.

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