The credits finally rolled on the 22 month-long soap opera involving goaltender Roberto Luongo when the Vancouver Canucks traded him to the Florida Panthers Mar.4.
The entire drama was an example of poor player management. Canucks General Manager Mike Gillis had two starting goalies, and by the end, was left with next to nothing to show for it.
The albatross contract
As a separate episode, the trade itself might not have been so bad. Luongo, along with minor league forward Steve Anthony, was traded for centre Shawn Matthias and goaltender Jacob Markstrom. But looking at the Canucks’ entire picture reveals an organization that’s fading to black.
Luongo was the best player involved in the deal. Typically, the recipient of the best player in a trade wins the trade. The Canucks were forced into trading him due to Luongo’s contract.
The contract, worth an average annual value of $5.33 million, does not expire until 2022, when the goaltender will be 43 years old.
“My contract sucks,” Luongo said last year following the 2013 NHL trade deadline, during which he was not traded. “I’d scrap it right now if I could.”
Luongo’s trade was also influenced by the entrance of a stronger leading man.
Luongo’s backup, Cory Schneider, proved himself capable of being a starting goalie in the NHL. Canucks management elected to put their faith in Schneider, despite Lunong’s being just as good a goalie, and one already signed to a long contract.
Foreshadowing the inevitable trade occurred in the first round of the 2012 playoffs, when then-Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault, on the brink of playoff elimination, started Schneider over Luongo.
The move did not pay off as the Los Angeles Kings defeated the Canucks in five games, but the statement was loud and clear: Schneider is our guy.
But Schneider’s audition for the main role didn’t last long. He was gone a little over a year later, a year Luongo spent waiting in the wings, playing backup and waiting for a trade that did not come.
The final curtain
— Vancouver Canucks (@VanCanucks) March 2, 2014
Luongo: “I’ve always wanted to play in an outdoor game.”
— Jason Botchford (@botchford) March 1, 2014
When then-backup goaltender Eddie Lack got the nod for the Canucks’ Heritage Classic game on Mar. 2, 2014, the wheels were set in motion for Luongo’s trade.
The Canucks finally seemed to realize that they could not continue doing this – certainly not for another eight years – and traded him to his old team, the Florida Panthers. Exit stage left.
Quite a day with Luongo on move to FLA. Convinced this more related to fallout from non-start in Heritage than reason for the non-start.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) March 4, 2014
— Eddie Lack (@eddielack) March 4, 2014
This could have been avoided
The Canucks generated their own goalie controversy. With two starting-quality goalies, all they had to do was pick one and and trade the other. Gillis picked the wrong goalie and ended up getting the worst of a bad trade.
Schneider, Luongo’s junior by seven years, was an attractive trade target. A young starting goalie will bring back more than an older starting goalie signed to a lengthy contract.
Had the Canucks stuck with Luongo, and simply traded Schneider without ever making him the starter, they likely would have gotten a good return and have remained on good terms with the best goalie in franchise history.
Instead, in a desperate move to avoid losing in the first round of the playoffs, the Canucks chose Schneider, and doomed themselves.
And it gets worse
When the Canucks traded Schneider ahead of Luongo, it was for the ninth overall pick of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. They selected Bo Horvat of the London Knights. In his draft-plus-one season, Horvat has 70 points in 50 games in the OHL.
The 10th overall pick? Valeri Nichushkin, a player the same age as Horvat. Nichushkin has 29 points in 59 games in the NHL, and projects to be the better player.
The trade return
Revisiting the eventual Luongo trade, the Canucks got a forward and a young goalie. Shawn Matthias is 26 years old and has 16 points in 59 games this season. At best, he’s a bottom six centre, and he’s unlikely to improve.
Jacob Markstrom, meanwhile, is 24 years old, which is still young for a goalie. However, for the Florida Panthers this season, he had a .874 save percentage in 12 games. His age means there’s still room for improvement, but those are horrid stats.
Breaking it down
The Canucks were fading out anyway. Their best players were getting older, and other teams were catching up to them. But they needlessly hastened their decline with the way they handled Roberto Luongo.
The math is as follows:
Cory Schneider + Roberto Luongo + Steve Anthony = Bo Horvat + Shawn Matthias + Jacob Markstrom
Or, to put it another way:
Starting goalie + starting goalie + minor league forward = top six forward prospect + bottom six forward + young, struggling goalie
No matter how you look at it, it’s a bad return. It’s inexcusably bad, and the entire ordeal may have set the Canucks back for years to come.
For a city that has never won, and has a poor reputation when it comes to goalies, the Roberto Luongo soap opera concluded with one of the worst possible outcomes for Vancouver.