For the past two years, Cory Schneider has made a dominant push for the No. 1 role in Vancouver. When Roberto Luongo has played poorly, Schneider plays well; when Luongo plays well, Schneider plays better.
When Canucks GM Mike Gillis decided to hold onto Cory Schneider at the trade deadline, it was unclear what the meaning behind it was. Was it insurance against a Roberto Luongo playoff meltdown? Was he holding out for a higher return on Schneider at the entry draft? Or was he letting one last playoff performance determine Vancouver's goaltender of the future? All three choices seem equally viable, but with the news coming out of Vancouver today, all signs are pointing at the latter.
Earlier today, it was announced that Schneider would get the start in game 4 as the Canucks attempt to avoid elimination.
On Sunday, Schneider was awarded the start after two strong performances by Roberto Luongo in Games 1 and 2 (both of which were 4-2 losses). While the result of Sunday's game was unfortunate, the important things to take away from the game are the same things we've seen all season: The Canucks played better in front of Schneider than in front of Luongo, and Schneider managed to out-perform Luongo despite Luongo's strong play.
With the announcement that Schneider would get the start for Game 4, certain things have become clear. Firstly, both Alain Vigneault and Gillis appear to agree with the claims I made in the previous paragraph. Secondly, it appears they have more trust in Schneider than Luongo.
There is no greater pressure an NHL goaltender can face than an elimination game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Luongo's track record in recent years has not been successful in this situation, and Schneider's has been non-existent. In putting the Canucks' fate in Schneider's hands, it's apparent that Vancouver management has more faith in Schneider's lack of experience than Luongo's experience.
In addition, Schneider's start likely means that we won't be seeing Luongo again in the playoffs. If Schneider loses, the season is over; if he wins, he will start again.
Provided Schneider doesn't get pulled or lose by a wide margin, he will have yet again proven that he can outplay Luongo.
If the fans and management can't trust Luongo enough to play him in an elimination game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, how can they trust him to be the go-to guy for the next 10 seasons?
Of course, trusting Schneider as the starting goaltender for the future and acting on that are two very different things. Luongo is less valuable than Schneider, has a troublesome contract and, most importantly, a no-trade clause.
While it is rare that a player with a no-trade clause actually says no if asked for a trade, the Mike Gillis could find himself in a situation where Luongo agrees to waive the clause for a certain few teams.
If this is the case, two teams that could be possibilities are Tampa Bay and Florida, as Luongo's family lives there. Given Florida and Tampa Bay's current goalie situation, we could very well see Roberto Luongo suiting up for one of those teams next fall.
Of course this speculation is contingent on not only Mike Gillis feeling the same way I do, but that Cory Schneider plays well tonight.
Either way, a goaltending question that has gone unanswered all year could finally be resolved by the end of tonight.