Roberto Luongo: Why He Could Land the Vancouver Canucks a Star Player in a Trade

Adam Graham@@adam_grahamAnalyst IIApril 30, 2012

TORONTO, CANADA - DECEMBER 17: Roberto Luongo #1 of the Vancouver Canucks prepares for action against the Toronto Maple Leafs at The Air Canada Centre December 17, 2011 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
Abelimages/Getty Images

Ever since the Vancouver Canucks were eliminated from the 2012 NHL Playoffs, the trade rumours have been swirling around Roberto Luongo faster than you can say “goaltending controversy.”

As good as Luongo has been and as much as he’s meant to the Canucks organization over the last six years, when there are two stars that play the same position most sports franchises will elect to go with the younger and cheaper option for the future.

If it happened in Indianapolis when the Colts let Peyton Manning walk away to make room for Andrew Luck, it can certainly happen in Vancouver where Cory Schneider has already established himself as an elite professional athlete and took over as the Canucks starting goaltender midway through the first round of the playoffs.

Whether or not Luongo has submitted a list of teams to the Canucks that he’d waive his no-trade clause to play for remains a mystery. Sportsnet hockey analyst Nick Kypreos tweeted that Luongo has already asked for a trade, even though Canucks General Manager Mike Gillis vehemently denied those rumours during a radio interview on Friday.

Regardless, the odds are that Luongo’s tenure in Vancouver will come to an end at some point this summer, which has lead to an extremely wide range of speculation as to what he’ll fetch on the trade market.

It’s no secret that Luongo has plenty of detractors amongst the fans and media all across North America who feel that he’s an overpaid underachiever.

Underachiever? Hardly.

While Luongo has suffered from a couple of untimely meltdowns, he has stepped up with huge performances in huge games more often than not over the years. He took a transitioning Canucks team without a lot of talent in front of him and helped turn them into a major Stanley Cup contender in just a few seasons.

In other words, he has the ability to turn a mediocre team into a very good team, which will be very tempting for certain general managers who are trying to turn their teams into contenders in a hurry.

Overpaid? Perhaps when he’s 40 years old and still has three years remaining on a contract with an annual salary cap hit of $5.33 million, but presently his contract isn’t much of a burden at all. In fact, Luongo’s cap hit may actually be a bargain when you consider that he’ll only be the eighth highest-paid NHL goaltender next season when you compare cap hits.

The length of his contract is what may scare some general managers and owners away, though. After all, who wants to be handcuffed by a player that, at the age of 43, will still have the same cap hit as he did when he was in his prime?

This is why the best solution for both the Canucks and their potential trading partner may be to swap Luongo’s long-term contract for another star player with a long-term contract of his own. It would make for a trade that wouldn’t put the recipient of Luongo up against the salary cap ceiling and it would also prevent the Canucks from being forced to accept a trade for a prospect or draft pick when the team is clearly in a position where they need to win now and not in the future.

Thankfully for the Canucks, there are elite players on some of the teams that could be vying for Luongo’s services that have similar contracts to his.

For example, Ilya Kovalchuk of the New Jersey Devils is currently in the second year of a 15-year-deal that won’t expire until 2025 when Kovalchuk is 42 years old.

Some say Kovalchuk is a floater that is too streaky and inconsistent to deserve his huge contract, and while he may have underachieved in his first season as a Devil, he racked up 83 points and nearly got back to the 40-goal mark this season. He’s also lethal on the power play, which is an asset the Canucks could certainly use given how poorly their power play performed down the stretch.

Besides, doesn’t the streaky nature of Kovalchuk sound a lot like the very player he may be traded for?

The one problem for the Canucks is that Kovalchuk’s annual cap hit is $1.33 million more than Luongo’s, which might make them shy away from such a deal.

Conversely, the Devils may not want to make such a trade, given how well things are going for Kovalchuk and the rest of the organization at the moment. Kovalchuk may also not want to waive his no-movement clause under any circumstances, and if Martin Brodeur decides that he wants to return for another season in goal, then this all becomes a moot point.

But how about a team that will certainly be exploring the goaltending market no matter what this summer, such as the Chicago Blackhawks?

The Blackhawks just happen to have an elite winger with a nearly identical contract to Luongo’s on their roster, in Marian Hossa.

If these two teams were to swap contracts, the Blackhawks would have their solution in goal and would then be able to potentially trade Corey Crawford for a serviceable winger to offset the loss of Hossa. As for the Canucks, they’d get the winger they need to play alongside Ryan Kesler and create a second deadly scoring line.

The biggest stumbling block for this deal to get done, though, is the enormous rivalry between the Canucks and the Blackhawks. Deals of this magnitude almost never happen between two rivals in the same conference, especially when you consider that some of Luongo’s bigger letdowns in recent memory have come against the same Blackhawks team that would have to be willing to give up a 77-point forward in return for him.

Another option from the potential Luongo suitors is Ryan Malone in Tampa Bay, who has a $4.5 million cap hit and would probably need to come along with a high draft pick in order for the deal to be fair, but only has three years left on his contract and wouldn’t place a long-term burden on the Canucks.

Martin Havlat in San Jose is earning an average of $5 million annually over the next three seasons and might be a good fit in Vancouver as well. However, the Sharks are another Western Conference rival of the Canucks and, by trading for Luongo, would essentially be admitting that their four-year, $15 million investment in Antti Niemi was a failure only a year into the deal.

Of course, each team that may be interested in Luongo will have it’s own unique set of circumstances that may help or hinder a possible trade. The point is that there are options out there for the Canucks that go beyond the simple solution of a draft pick or a prospect, which is all that many of the Luongo naysayers think that the 33-year-old is worth.

It may be a gamble for a team to take on such a long-term contract, but if a similar contract goes the other way, why not make a trade that makes sense from both a fiscal and hockey perspective?



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