Luongo, Canucks mired in lose-lose situation
Vancouver Canucks fail to move goalie at trade deadline
“My contract sucks,” Roberto Luongo told reporters, his anguish evident, his fall complete.
Photograph by: Darryl Dyck, THE CANADIAN PRESS
VANCOUVER — It wasn’t Roberto Luongo’s contract last summer that undermined the Vancouver Canucks’ attempt to trade him, but his singular focus on going to the Florida Panthers.
When the Toronto Maple Leafs, run back then by Brian Burke, were ready to negotiate a trade, Luongo reiterated his desire to play only in South Florida.
Wednesday, with the goaltender desperate to go somewhere he can start, the Maple Leafs reportedly rejected Canuck trade offers three times in the final hour before the National Hockey League dealing deadline.
At least new Toronto general manager Dave Nonis answered the phone.
It would make a delicious storyline if Nonis, who always felt Canuck general manager Mike Gillis stuck a shiv in him five years ago, exacted revenge by leaving his successor stuck with Luongo.
But it was likely the goalie’s $64-million contract that scared the Maple Leafs as it certainly has other teams.
Luongo would probably like a do-over on last summer.
A lot of this is his fault.
But there’s no sport in battering someone who’s down, and Luongo was never lower than on Wednesday when he was whisked from the ice to management offices at Rogers Arena and informed the Canucks could find no taker for him.
In the emotional 12 months since he was deposed in goal by Cory Schneider, Luongo has felt many things. But unwanted was probably not one of them until Wednesday.
Luongo looked beaten.
“My contract sucks,” the 34-year-old told reporters, his anguish evident, his fall complete. “That’s what the problem is. Unfortunately, it’s a big factor in trading me and it’s probably why I’m still here.
“I’d scrap it if I could right now.”
Luongo has nine seasons and more than $40-million left on his 12-year deal. He would give that up for a chance to be a starter again in a city of his choosing?
“I think he was very emotional,” Gillis said. “These days are emotional for everybody. Where you have a day like this, where your whole life could be turned upside down ... I think there’s an opportunity for things to be said that in the clear light of day might not be reflecting how you really feel.
“I think he said that in a highly emotional state. I think that as Roberto settles down and we get through decompressing ... we’ll have a discussion about the future with him again.”
It’s hard to see how the market gets better for Luongo.
The National Hockey League economy – at least as it relates to players – shrinks after this season when the salary cap dives to $64.3 million from $70.2 million. Luongo’s albatross of a contract isn’t going to be any more appealing in the summer.
The consequences for the Canucks are more immediate. While trying to win a Stanley Cup this spring, they have $5.33 million of payroll invested in a guy sitting on the bench when that money could have significantly upgraded the team at other positions.
This is a lose-lose for player and team.
“At the time it was done, it was very favourable for this organization and it was very favourable for Roberto,” Gillis said of the contract negotiated in 2009. “The top teams in the league that were competing for Stanley Cups did contracts like this for franchise players.
“Since that occurred, there have been a number of changes (in NHL dynamics). It’s a fluid industry; things do change. There have been a lot of shifting sands and we’re going to have to deal with it as we move down the road.
“I do feel obligated to trade Roberto and get him into a position where he’s happy and competing the way he likes to and at the level he’s accustomed to. The need of our team also plays a role and trying to balance them are a difficult thing.”
If Luongo is serious about escaping his contract, he can withhold services, which would allow the Canucks to terminate the deal. But the team would first have to place him on waivers, meaning Luongo would have no input on where he plays and could be claimed for a fee of $125.
It was hard not to feel sorry for him on Wednesday. He has been humbled and embarrassed, a totem chopped to the ground.
“I think it’s more, honestly, a hit on your pride that teams aren’t willing to give up much,” he said of his feelings. “I don’t think disappointment is the right word. It’s been an emotional ride, the last year. I think it’s more the unknown that has gotten to me more than anything else. I’m human and sometimes it gets to you.”
Luongo has never seemed more human than during the last year, when he has maintained dignity, his sense of humour and loyalty to Schneider and the Canucks when the goaltending situation could have become toxic enough to choke the entire team.
“I’m going to gather myself for the rest of the day,” he said, “and make sure when I come to work tomorrow, I’m going to be 100 per cent dedicated to this team the rest of the year, no matter what that capacity is.”
How would he write his saga?
“TBD – to be determined.”
Today is Luongo’s birthday. Bet he has never felt older.
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