NEW YORK — It was supposed to be about No. 24. It's now about No. 1 and No. 35.
Whoever the Vancouver Canucks were supposed to select with the 24th pick in the NHL draft on Sunday has already been overshadowed by what becomes of those who wear No. 1 (Roberto Luongo) and No. 35 (Cory Schneider). The never-ending Luongo trade watch went off in another direction Saturday morning with reports that general manager Mike Gillis was considering dealing Schneider because of failed attempts to move Luongo's mammoth contract. It was never the plan to trade Schneider, but it could become reality.
The Edmonton Oilers would have obvious interest because Devan Dubnyk has one year left on his contract at $3.5 million US and Nikolai Khabibulin is an unrestricted free agent. The possible return of a first-round draft choice — the Oilers pick seventh Sunday — and a prospect are more than the Canucks would get for Luongo. At the trade deadline, they asked the Toronto Maple Leafs for two second-round picks and goalie Ben Scrivens.
"It all depends on the team and the pick," Gillis said Saturday afternoon. "Things are really busy and I'm getting lots of calls and discussions. You have to listen to what the proposals may be and act accordingly. We'll never say never. Cory is a very good young player and teams are after them all the time."
Two years ago, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets had more than just passing interest in Schneider before settling their situations. And the added intrigue of this draft day is that five teams above the Canucks in the selection process have unsettled goaltending situations. Calgary, Edmonton, Philadelphia, Phoenix and the Islanders pick sixth, seventh, 11th, 12th and 18th respectively, so the Canucks could have two first-round picks Sunday and a prospect in a possible trade.
The crease conundrum is simple math. The Canucks can't tie up $9.3 million in cap space between two stoppers with the ceiling falling to $64.3 million and they're already at that figure with 17 roster players signed for next season. The nine years and $40.5 million remaining on Luongo's 12-year contract — it pays $6.7 million the next five seasons and has a salary cap hit of $5.3 million — is a tough fit for any club.
Then again, Luongo is 34 and not 44 and can handle a heavy workload and will play for many years. Schneider has a bright future as a 27-year-old under contract for two more seasons at $4 million, but it remains to be seen whether he can handle the bulk of an 82-game schedule. Splitting the slate with Dubnyk makes sense and taking over as the starter the following season would be a satisfying scenario in Edmonton.
If Schneider is moved, the Canucks would be more confident in Eddie Lack and Joacim Eriksson competing for the back-up position because Luongo logged 68 games in 2009-10. Schneider played a career-high 33 in 2011-12 which could forced the Canucks to find a veteran presence next season if he stays because Lack is coming off hip surgery and Eriksson is untested against NHL competition. Joe Cannata is the other goaltender under contract and the Canucks may consider adding to their depth Sunday.
Schneider went 17-9-4 in the lockout-shortened season before sustaining a groin strain April 22 in a 3-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. However, when Luongo lost the first two games of the Western Conference quarterfinal series against the San Jose Sharks, it was somewhat surprising that Schneider got the call because his injury was kept quiet. He was yanked in Game 3 after allowing five goals on 28 shots but did respond with a 43-save performance in Game 4 as the Canucks lost in overtime to be swept aside. Even so, there was some surprise with Luongo not starting the season finale because it wouldn't be a stretch to suggest that Schneider wasn't 100 per cent healthy.
Schneider's strong regular season is another reason for heightened interest. He was eighth in goals-against average (2.11) and fourth in saves percentage (.927) to prove he has the potential to handle more starts. Luongo was 2.56 in GAA (25th) and .907 in saves percentage (31st). And as much as the past season created a strange situation, trying to come up with a workable Luongo trade scenario has been just as strange. One even had the swapping of big contracts to raise some eyebrows.
With the Islanders expecting Evgeni Nabokov to flee to unrestricted free agency, Luongo could return to a team that drafted him and be the big draw in Brooklyn. The trade has been broached in theory and could work under the right circumstances. The Islanders could get the bonafide starter in exchange for the Canucks acquiring Rick DiPietro's huge contract and then buying it out — If the Islanders also send at least a roster player their way. But buying out DiPietro's at $1.5 million over 16 years and Keith Ballard at $2.6 million over two years may be tough for the owner to swallow. The compliance buyout window closes July 4 and Gillis said Saturday he wasn't sure if he was going to go that route with Ballard.
"We've got a lot of balls in the air and we have to sort through some different proposals," summed up Gillis.
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