Roberto Luongo's No. 1 again as Canucks world turns
Roberto Luongo's No. 1 again as Vancouver Canucks world turns
NEWARK, N.J. - Bo knows. Mike Gillis didn’t.
The Vancouver Canucks brought their year-long goaltending serial drama, equal parts comedy and horror, to a stunning end Sunday when general manager Gillis made the best deal he could to end a problem he largely created.
After being wrong on goalie Roberto Luongo’s $64-million-US contract, the trade market for him and projections about where a new Collective Bargaining Agreement would take the National Hockey League, Gillis ended his series of miscalculations by trading the top goalie he had and returning to the Canucks’ crease the second-best one, who proved to be untradeable.
And even then, we must wait to see if Gillis erred again by surrendering 27-year-old rising star Cory Schneider to the New Jersey Devils for only a lone first-round draft pick in a trade that stunned everyone when it was announced on the draft floor here Sunday afternoon.
With that ninth pick, the Canucks drafted impressive London Knights’ centre Bo Horvat, who better be as good as Bo Jackson or at least Mike Richards, who is the 18-year-old’s favourite player.
Other than the rules, there is often little fair about how professional sports treats people.
It wasn’t fair that Schneider rightfully earned Luongo’s starting spot and was told repeatedly he was No. 1, now and for the future, only to be traded because his contract was portable.
It wasn’t fair that Luongo, understanding that his days as the starter in Vancouver were over, displayed remarkable grace and patience asked of him while awaiting a trade, only to find out he’s stuck as the second-choice starter on a Canuck team from which he’d already begun to disconnect emotionally.
In Gillis’ defence, it wasn’t fair that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman exacted his revenge upon the Canucks and other teams that had signed perfectly legal — if, in some cases, perfectly stupid — long-term contracts under the previous CBA by conjuring a “cap recapture” penalty so punitive that even an excellent goalie like Luongo became untouchable.
And, largely overlooked, it’s not fair that Bo Horvat must now become a star or else.
The two-way centre from little Rodney, Ont., was fully aware of the Canucks’ goaltending saga — who in hockey was not? — and knows the focus on him will be intense and unyielding. In a year or so, Schneider will succeed Devils’ starter Marty Brodeur, one of the best goalies in NHL history.
“I think it’s more exciting than anything,” Horvat said. “I’m just really happy to be part of the organization. I can’t wait to get there to show them that I can be that guy that they picked at (No. 9). It was all a shock to me. But anything can happen on draft day.”
Horvat appears to be equipped to survive the inferno he faces. He had 61 points in 67 games for the champion Knights, and was named the Ontario Hockey League’s playoff MVP for scoring 16 times in 23 games. He is supposed to be a big-game player.
Teammate Max Domi, drafted 12th by the Phoenix Coyotes, said the Knights call Horvat “Mr. Perfect” because he rarely makes a mistake.
“He does everything he’s asked to do,” Domi said. “He’s a guy who goes out and competes every shift; he’s a poster boy for that. He’s going to be a great hockey player. He’s a very intense guy. He’s very similar to Jonathan Toews. He does whatever it takes to win. He’s going to be a captain in the NHL one day; that’s just who he is.”
Another Captain Serious like Toews?
The Canucks were elated to get Horvat ninth. The Hockey News had him ranked 16th, although ESPN reported the Carolina Hurricanes came close to choosing Horvat with the fifth pick.
“Ever since I was little, even my parents say, I wanted to be a hockey player,” Horvat, 6-0 and 206 pounds, said. “I’m pretty much living the dream right now. I don’t feel any pressure, actually. To hear my name called is every kid’s dream and my dream came true today.”
Not so much for either Schneider or Luongo, who politely declined The Vancouver Sun’s interview request on Monday. Luongo may have been busy with Canuck owner Francesco Aquilini, who flew to South Florida to do damage control and convince the goalie he can again be a trusted starter in Vancouver.
It was clear that Luongo was blindsided and upset at the Canucks’ violent change of course, but the 34-year-old probably isn’t skating away from the $40 million he is owed over the next nine years. He knows he’s untradeable because his contract, as Luongo himself noted in April, “sucks.” It still sucks and the Canucks are stuck with it.
“He’s been a resilient guy,” Schneider said of his friend and mentor during a Sunday night conference call. “He’s been through a lot. He’s been counted out and he’s always gotten back up. I don’t know what his intentions are right now, but ... I just know he’s a great goalie. Whether that’s in Vancouver or anywhere else, I think he’s going to play his hardest and be his best.”
Schneider’s name surfaced in trade buzz Saturday after the Canucks staged a hockey-operations summit in New York and decided the only way to solve their goaltending/salary-cap crisis was to take offers on their starter.
Schneider displayed no animosity after the trade, although he said it would have been nice had the team warned him what was coming.
“It was a unique and difficult circumstance,” he understated. “The landscape of the game changed with the new CBA. Could it have been handled differently? I don’t know. I think that’s a question you have to ask them.”
It was asked of Gillis, who said he tried to get a roster player with the draft pick but couldn’t.
“I can’t look into a crystal ball,” he said. “Obviously, we had an established player with a no-trade (clause) who had to participate in a trade. We had a changing landscape with a lockout and new CBA. If I had a crystal ball, would we have done things quicker or earlier? I don’t know. Maybe. But I don’t have one. If you have one, let me know.”
Defiant until the end, Gillis even said at one point Sunday that the plan three years ago was to develop Schneider into a top-flight goalie, then trade him.
“And that’s what we ultimately did,” he said.
But making him the starter wasn’t part of the plan. Nor was embarrassing Luongo or creating a sideshow or, when a trade finally happened, dealing from a weak position because the Devils and everyone else knew the Canucks were in a bind.
“For the last year, we’ve explored every option that we could possibly have,” Gillis explained. “Things were heating up this week and we just felt we couldn’t wait any longer. We had to do something to get this situation resolved and this was the best opportunity we had.”
Or the least bad one.
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