Roberto Luongo sleeps easy. Canucks? Not exactly (with video)
Team seriously needs a proven centre, and their former marquee goaltender is their prime bargaining chip
Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo eyes fellow netminder Cory Schneider (right) during an informal practice of Canucks players on Friday, Jan. 11, 2013 at UBC.
Photograph by: Arlen Redekop, PNG
VANCOUVER — A few years ago when Dave Nonis traded for Roberto Luongo, a transaction that may soon have a Roman numeral added to it, the Vancouver Canucks general manager explained the goaltender’s sandman-like ability to make everyone around him sleep better.
Nonis cited the example of New Jersey Devils manager Lou Lamoriello, who went to bed worry-free because his goalie was Martin Brodeur and Lamoriello knew no matter what occurred the next day, his netminder would give the Devils a chance to win.
“I’d like to sleep at night,” Nonis said after stealing Luongo from the Florida Panthers on a summer evening in 2006. “Roberto Luongo will keep us in every game, and even on nights when we’re not as good as we’d like to be, he’ll get us points.”
Luongo won 224 games for the Canucks in six seasons, got them within a win of the Stanley Cup in 2011 and has been a Vezina Trophy finalist twice in Vancouver. A lot of people slept well, except when it was May in Chicago or June in Boston.
Nonis, suddenly a general manager again with the Toronto Maple Leafs, presumably still appreciates a peaceful sleep.
Another Nonis trade for Luongo seems likely because the needs and assets of the Maple Leafs and Canucks align beautifully. And Nonis is the guy who, when Luongo was still in Florida, said he would choose the goalie over anyone if building a team.
True, Luongo was just 26 then and early in his prime years, not 33 and nearing the end of them. And he didn’t carry a $64-million price tag. But Nonis is trying to construct another team and Luongo is good enough to get the Maple Leafs into the playoffs and make those around him rest easier.
Mostly, what Luongo did for the Canucks was make them credible, providing the team an identity and respect it had lacked.
“He solidified our position in hockey,” Vancouver winger Alex Burrows said Friday. “He got us back in the playoffs. People knew they were in for a challenge every night they played us, knowing they had to face Roberto in net. I know when I play against a team that has a goalie the stature of Roberto, you think about it twice.”
Ironically, the uneasiness now about Luongo in Vancouver is that he is still here, burning a $5.33-million salary-cap hole in general manager Mike Gillis’s pocket when the Canucks’ need for a proven NHL centre is somewhere between serious and critical.
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault confirmed Friday that journeyman Andrew Ebbett and underwhelming prospect Jordan Schroeder will compete for the Canucks’ vacant spot at centre.
To be clear: Vigneault was speaking about the second line, not the fourth.
Luongo and everyone else in the National Hockey League has been awaiting a trade since Gillis re-signed Cory Schneider for starting-goalie money (three years, $12 million) after the 26-year-old deposed his mentor last April.
Yet, there was Luongo on Friday, wearing the logo he never thought he’d wear again, practising with the Canucks at the University of B.C. as the team prepared to open training camp on Sunday.
And he said he’d be willing to spend the full season in Vancouver if Gillis fails to find a trading partner willing to pay heavily.
The NHL trade market opens Saturday when the players’ union officially ratifies the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. But just in case, maybe Vigneault should have Luongo practise faceoffs.
“I’m focused on being here until I hear otherwise,” Luongo told reporters. “You try to put (a trade) out of your mind. I came to the realization ... you’ve just got to let things play out and the chips fall where they may. Even though I have a no-trade clause, it doesn’t really mean much at this point.
“I told (Gillis) I was ready to go as long as it took. Whether that’s a couple of days, next week, two weeks or the end of the season, it’s totally fine with me.
“Given that it’s a short season and we’ll be playing a lot of hockey, I’m just kind of approaching it a bit like the Olympics. I’m going to show up, have fun and enjoy the game and whatever happens happens. I’m not going to stress myself out about the trade or how many games I’m going to play. I’m just going to enjoy it. Last time I did that, things worked out pretty well for me.”
Luongo entered the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver as Team Canada’s backup, but took the starting job from Brodeur and finished with a gold medal.
Maybe he’ll do the same with the Canucks. Oh, what a (side)show that would be. Even if it occurs, it’s temporary. Given ages, contracts and trajectories, we know how this ends: Luongo somewhere else. We don’t know when, but sooner is way better than later if Gillis can get assets that include a skater who helps now.
Luongo is funnier on Twitter than in real life, but the grace, humility and patience he continues to demonstrate is almost breathtaking. We once regarded Luongo as a diva; now he is just a good guy who lost his job to someone younger. Happens to everyone eventually.
“A lot of important moments in my life happened while I was here in Vancouver,” Luongo said. “I’ve learned a lot over the six years I’ve been here, dealing with a lot of issues. I think that I’ve grown and matured in that sense where I can handle adversity much better than I did. That’s why I think I’ve been really calm about this situation and been able to just enjoy it. Even though it’s not an easy situation to be in, I think the fact I’m so comfortable here makes it easier for me.”
He probably sleeps like a baby.
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