No is not the only thing that means no. Waiving Tim Connolly means no. Trading Matthew Lombardi means no. Toronto Maple Leaf general manager Dave Nonis could scarcely be any clearer.
When he took over for Brian Burke last week, Nonis found sitting on the corner of the general manager’s desk, gathering dust, a standing trade proposal from the Vancouver Canucks: Roberto Luongo to the Maple Leafs for Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri and a second-round draft pick.
It appears Nonis promptly swept it into the garbage bin.
It’s difficult to say whether it was unacceptable that he part with Bozak or Kadri, but it’s possible it was both.
Kadri was having a point-a-game season in the American Hockey League before – for what’s worth – lighting it up in training camp this week. The 22-year-old centre was the seventh player drafted in 2009 and Nonis made it clear in an interview Thursday he won’t trade his best young players.
“I’m not going to give up youth for older players,” Nonis told ESPN. “We would trade a young player for a young player. But we’re not going to trade a bunch of young players or first-round picks for short-term gain. You can’t build a club that way.”
Bozak is 26 and after 2½ years in the National Hockey League is still trending upwards. He had 47 points last season and led Toronto centres with an average ice time of 18:50. Bozak’s value to Nonis can be measured on the transaction wire this week: the GM traded Maple Leaf centre Lombardi and waived the overpaid, overrated Connolly.
Between them, Connolly and Lombardi combined for more than 30 minutes of average ice time last season. So if Nonis is packaging Bozak for the Canucks, he’d better get Vancouver centre Henrik Sedin as well as Luongo.
The possible move of the goalie to Toronto appears to be dead – at least in the framework of the Bozak-Kadri trade that was reported last fall as a “done deal.”
And since the 48-game regular season starts Saturday, and teams have been filling their rosters and salary-cap space this week, it is likely that Luongo will start the season as the most expensive backup goalie in Canuck history.
A prominent player agent said before training camps began that this week represented a major pressure point that helped the Canucks. But if no deal was cut before the season, the pressure would dissipate and it could be a while before the trade market was as favorable again.
Canuck general manager Mike Gillis has insisted all along that he is comfortable keeping both Luongo and new starter Cory Schneider, even with Luongo’s $6.7-million salary and $5.33-million charge against the salary cap.
He’s also comfortable with the idea of making the playoffs and, once there, challenging for a Stanley Cup. But to do that, the Canucks probably need to spend that money more efficiently than paying it to the doorman at the players’ bench and as insurance against an injury to Schneider.
Second-line centre Ryan Kesler is out indefinitely after off-season surgeries and even if he were healthy, there would be questions about the qualifications of Max Lapierre as the third-line centre.
No wonder Vancouver is keen on Bozak, who played junior hockey in Victoria and chose the Maple Leafs over the Canucks, among other teams, as a free agent out of college.
“If this plays out and we don’t trade Luongo this season, next summer there will be other pressure points, different pressure points, higher pressure points for some teams,” Gillis said Thursday. “It’s a fluid marketplace; things are changing all the time.
“I’m not worried about it at all. I think the pressure (on teams to acquire a starting goalie) will increase elsewhere. The unpredictability of a short season like this, you can’t put enough emphasis on it. There will be things that happen that no one would have predicted.”
No one predicted Luongo would start another regular season with the Canucks.
It has been 278 days since Schneider deposed Luongo during the Canucks’ playoff loss to the Los Angeles Kings. It has been 202 days since Gillis re-signed Schneider to starting goalie money: $12 million over three years.
Granted, there was a 119-day lockout that got in the way of trade talks. But Gillis and his management team have had months to move Luongo, and he’s still here.
If it’s true that the market – for hockey players are anything else in business – is whatever someone is willing to pay, then clearly the asking price for Luongo has been too high. Not just for the Maple Leafs, but everyone.
“We would upgrade our goaltending by the weekend if we could do it without taking away significant pieces,” Nonis said Thursday. “It’s not that we wouldn’t upgrade. But for what’s out there right now, we would set our team back, especially in the long term.”
When the Canucks’ camp opened on Sunday, Gillis told reporters: “I think there’s going to be multiple opportunities to do something with Roberto if we choose to do it. I certainly don’t believe you give away all-star players because of some idea you’re under pressure because it’s an untenable situation. He’s too good a player for that.
“The contract’s not an issue. There’s been a lot of interest. We’re at a point with this team where we want specific types of players coming back to us who can help us today and down the road. I think that’s a reasonable request and we’re going to stick to it.”
It is a fair expectation. Luongo is 33 but still one of the best goalies in the league, a proven starter who makes a good team better and a mediocre one like Toronto a playoff team. But there is only one Luongo available, and so far demand hasn’t met supply.
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