Of all the names being propelled through the National Hockey League's pre-draft rumour turbine, none was bigger Thursday than Vancouver Canuck goalie Roberto Luongo.
And he isn't going anywhere, except likely back to the Canucks for several more seasons. An ESPN.com reporter said Luongo and the Canucks had agreed on a contract extension that will be announced July 1.
The goaltender's agent, Gilles Lupien, offered an unequivocal denial.
"No, it's not true," Lupien told The Vancouver Sun. "I don't know where that started. It's amusing slightly. One guy says to someone: 'I think, I think, I think.' Next phone call it's a 10-year contract, then a 15-year contract. I've had no contact [with the Canucks]."
Lupien did everything but say "read my lips," which wouldn't have done much good since he was speaking on the phone from Montreal, where he, Luongo, and every rumour/report in the NHL resides this week. Lupien lives there year-round, Luongo for much of the off-season.
Told of the report, Canuck general manager Mike Gillis, also in Montreal for tonight's entry draft, quipped: "I didn't think ESPN covered hockey." But Gillis confirmed: "We've had preliminary discussions but can't conclude anything before July 1."
Somewhere between Lupien's denial and Gillis' non-denial is the truth, which appears to be excellent news for the Canucks even if it's bad news for the credibility of agents everywhere.
A long-term extension for Luongo not only guarantees the franchise retains its best player, it gives Gillis more cost certainty in a volatile economy and allows the Canucks to try maximizing in trade one of their best assets, minor-league goaltender Cory Schneider, without the worry they might soon need him in Vancouver.
A new deal for Luongo would also strengthen Gillis' bargaining position with impending unrestricted free agents Daniel and Henrik Sedin because it makes clearer how much the Canucks have left to spend and ends any possibility that Vancouver's leading scorers will leave as free agents next week, to be followed out the door a year from now by Luongo.
The Canuck captain has one season and $7.5 million remaining on his contract. Players can not sign an extension until July 1 the year before their contracts expire, but teams are allowed to negotiate ahead of that date.
Gillis and Luongo met last week in Las Vegas at the NHL awards ceremony.
Gillis made it clear after last season that he'd like to get his best player re-signed before the current contract slides into its final year. And Luongo, although widely criticized for not pledging permanent allegiance to the Canucks -- the 30-year-old said he wanted to play where chances were best to win a Stanley Cup -- acknowledged the Canucks' need to know his intentions this summer.
"Obviously, I understand that situation," Luongo said in May. "At the same time ... this is something that's going to have to be discussed this summer with my agent and my family and we'll see where it goes from there. As long as there is a chance here to win a Cup, then there will be some serious consideration."
Summer began four days ago.
As for winning a Stanley Cup, the Canucks are vastly better with the Sedins than without them. Luongo knows this. It's quite possible he would take less than market value to stay in exchange for the Canucks' promise to do everything possible to keep the twins.
Gillis has not budged on his five-year offer to the Sedins for slightly more than $5.5-million-US per season, although their individual value, based on salaries of comparable players around the NHL, appears to be closer to $7 million annually apiece.
If the Canucks can get their offer to $6 million a year, the Sedins might take it for the chance to keep playing together in a city they love.
If they leave as free agents, there are plenty of high-end, high-priced players being shopped by teams desperate to lower their payrolls. But some of these contracts are potentially crippling.
On Thursday, the Boston Bruins were fielding offers on 21-year-old sniper Phil Kessel, who probably won't fit under the team's salary cap after next season. The Florida
Panthers are holding an auction for the negotiating rights to Jay Bouwmeester, who becomes an unrestricted free agent on Canada Day.
Several teams have called the Canucks about Schneider, the 23-year-old former first-round pick who went 28-10-1 with a 2.04 goals-against average and .928 save rate this season before leading the Manitoba Moose to the American Hockey League final.
"There's a lot of players to be had," Canuck assistant general manager Laurence Gilman said of the buyers' market. "A lot of talk but not a lot of activity at this point. We've had a lot of discussions with teams about assets. It's been a busy day."
The Canucks pick 22nd in the tonight's opening round of the draft. Rounds 2-7 are Saturday.
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