With the NHL's trade deadline set for February 27th, the Vancouver Canucks have once again put themselves in a position to compete for the Stanley Cup. Most fans would agree that the trade deadline gives the Canucks a great opportunity to improve the club's chances heading into the playoffs. Those same fans would also agree that the team's biggest piece of trade bait is rising star goaltender, Cory Schneider. For a number of reasons, however, the Canucks would be making a monumental mistake if they were to trade Schneider.
I understand the rationale for trading Schneider. The Canucks are ready to win a Cup now, and Schneider, as good as he is, is a backup goalie. His time on the ice is limited in the regular season, and if things go well in the playoffs for Roberto Luongo, Schneider's time in the playoffs will be nil. It follows then that the Canucks should trade Schneider for a player or players who can make a more immediate impact.
The return on any trade involving Schneider would be tremendous. The Canucks could easily acquire a top-six forward and a top-four defenceman in exchange for Schneider. In addition, if the Canucks are concerned about losing their backup for this season, the team looks to have a capable backup in Eddie Lack, the current starter for the Canucks' AHL affiliate, Chicago Wolves.
Schneider's contract status also makes a trade seem reasonable at first blush. Schneider will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, and there is a risk that the Canucks could lose him in the summer. Teams such as the Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets come immediately to mind as potential suitors for Schneider, but they are far from the only teams that could make an offer for the rising star. It is rare that a team has a chance to acquire a franchise goalie through the free agent market and Schneider's availability may just be seen as presenting that opportunity.
But that is where the reasons for trading Schneider end. His role as the league's best backup is too important to simply gloss over. He's the Canucks' insurance policy for Luongo should the Canucks' starter falter or get injured down the stretch or in the playoffs. Both those scenarios are real possibilities, and Schneider, not the inexperienced Eddie Lack, is the player the Canucks want replacing Luongo.
The Canucks don't need another second line forward or top four defenceman. The team has the depth up front and on the blue line to win the Cup. They proved as much last year. Despite all the talk about team toughness, the Canucks lost the Stanley Cup last season not due to a lack of grit, but due to a few poor goaltending performances by Luongo. Schneider gives the Canucks an option should Luongo deliver more of those same performances in this year's playoffs.
The risk of losing Schneider in the offseason is overblown. It is rare that teams make offers for other teams' restricted free agents. There are some general managers, most notably Brian Burke, that feel the practice is underhanded. Others feel that the compensation paid to sign a restricted free agent is simply too costly.
If an offer were made for Schneider in the offseason, the Canucks would still have the option to retain him by matching that offer. It's true that a team could make a high-ball offer that would effectively pin the Canucks against the salary cap and prevent them from keeping Schneider. But if that were the case, the Canucks would receive compensation in the form of draft picks. Given the type of offers that Schneider warrants, those picks would be in the neighborhood of a first and a third-round pick. While the draft picks themselves might not help the Canucks' immediate chances to win a Stanley Cup, there is always the possibility that those picks could be used to acquire players that could help the team win in the short term.
There is also the possibility that the team could trade Luongo in the offseason and keep the younger and less expensive Schneider. Luongo's age and contract might make him difficult to trade, but a deal involving Luongo is not improbable.
Trading Schneider would undoubtedly make the Canucks worse off in the long run. If the right trade came along, it might make the team better in the short run, but that scenario seems unlikely. (And no, Schneider and Cody Hodgson for Rick Nash is not the right trade for this team.) Schneider's role on the team is too important and his potential too high for the Canucks to trade him. When all is said and done, it just might be Cory Schneider, not Roberto Luongo, that backstops the Canucks to their first Stanley Cup.