Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - To trade or not to trade, that is the
question facing Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis.
When Cory Schneider took over for No. 1 starter Roberto Luongo in last
season's playoffs, it opened up the possibility that Luongo's time in
Vancouver was coming to a close. That became a foregone conclusion when the
26-year-old Schneider signed a new three-year contract with the Canucks in
But Gillis was not in a rush to deal Luongo below value and then was forced to
sit on the situation due to the lockout. That led to the Canucks opening the
season with both goaltenders still on the roster, but it was Schneider who got
the start on opening night.
If it was supposed to be the passing of the torch to the young Schneider, then
the Massachusetts-born netminder fumbled the handoff worse than Liam Neeson's
fictional attempt at improv comedy. He was drilled for five goals on just 14
shots and exited the 7-3 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Jan. 19 during the
second period, replaced by Luongo.
Schneider sat the following night in favor of his elder teammate, a shootout
loss to the Edmonton Oilers, before ripping off wins in consecutive starts,
including a 30-save revenge shutout of the Ducks on Jan. 25.
However, his third straight start did not go as well as he yielded four goals
on 27 shots in a setback to the San Jose Sharks. He hasn't started since that
Jan. 27 appearance, giving him a 2-2-0 record, 3.13 goals against average and
.897 save percentage in his four outings.
Luongo, who it should be noted is in the third season of a 12-year contract,
has made the last two starts and is slated to get a third in a row on Friday
night versus the Chicago Blackhawks. The 33-year-old goes into that outing
fresh off a 24-save shutout of the Colorado Avalanche and with a season record
of 1-0-2 with a 1.61 GAA and .938 save percentage.
So what is the plan going forward for the Canucks? Is Gillis and head coach
Alain Vigneault content to ride Luongo as long as he stays hot before finally
trading him, or is management reconsidering dealing its aging and former No.
The smart play by Gillis would be to hold on for Luongo for the rest of this
48-game season, continue to split time between his netminders, and readdress
trading his current "backup" this upcoming offseason. Luongo will surly be
motivated to play his best to entice another team to make him their starter,
while Schneider may find his footing knowing that he can use this unusual
season as a transition phase into the undisputed No. 1 role next season.
And, by showing a willingness to hold onto Luongo for the foreseeable future,
Gillis also will assure a maximum return as he signals to other clubs he is
not desperate to move his high-priced goalie.
That, of course, will put pressure on Vigneault to balance the playing time as
he has done to date.
The Canucks bench boss isn't tipping what strategy he is using to decide who
starts. Pressed for details on Thursday after saying he didn't want to go into
the reasons why Luongo would get another start, he took a coin out of his
pocket, flipped it and said "Louie" with a smile.
"We've got two great goaltenders. Both of them want to play. Both of them are
professionals and great individuals. And (Friday) night, (Luongo) is playing,"
Vigneault, though, will have to keep an eye on the mental condition of each
netminder should the duo share the starting role. Luongo admitted after his
shutout on Wednesday that there are benefits to playing often, having posted
his first win of the season two days after a shootout loss to the Los Angeles
Kings in which he gave up just two goals on 28 shots.
"I think I was able to build off of Monday," he said after the win. "Obviously
the more you play, the more comfortable you feel. That goes without saying,
but at the same time I think most of the work needs to be done in practice to
be able to perform in a game."
And so it goes for a Canucks team facing the pressure. Vancouver still fancies
itself a Cup contender despite a first-round exit last season following a
seven-game loss in the Stanley Cup Finals to the Boston Bruins in 2011.
On the bright side, both Luongo and Schneider, as Vigneault pointed out, have
been professionals about the whole ordeal. Schneider told the Vancouver Sun on
Thursday that he knew losing the starting role was still a possibility when he
signed his new contract.
"I don't feel bad for myself, I don't think anyone else does," he told the
newspaper. "If you're going to sit there and pout about not playing, it's a
little selfish. And I understand that you have to have the desire to play --
and I do, I want to play -- but at the same time, you can't put yourself ahead
of 20 other guys trying to do the job."
And it's Gillis' job to sort this mess out, but smart money says that Luongo
and Schneider stay in this thing together for the rest of the season.
The Sports Network