NHL Trade Scenarios: 5 Teams That Could Fit Roberto Luongo into Their Plans

Carol SchramFeatured ColumnistMay 15, 2012

NHL Trade Scenarios: 5 Teams That Could Fit Roberto Luongo into Their Plans

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    A few weeks have now passed since the Los Angeles Kings bounced the Vancouver Canucks from the playoffs.

    LA is still rolling in the Western Conference Final. And the hockey world is still assuming that Canucks' goaltender Roberto Luongo will be traded this summer.

    Let's review the nuts and bolts of Luongo's 12-year, $64 million contract.

    According to CapGeek.com, the 33-year-old Luongo has been already been paid $16,716,000 over the first two years of the deal. He has six more years at $6.7 million before his salary will start to decline. His cap hit is $5.3 million for the next ten years.

    The NHL landscape remains uncertain, with the current CBA expiring on September 15. Assuming a deal gets hammered out and that there are no massive changes to how the league's pay structure works, here's a look at five teams who could fit Luongo into their plans for next season.

Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman must be kicking himself for letting go of Mike Smith.

    Now starring for the Phoenix Coyotes, Smith spent four seasons in the Lightning organization before finally being demoted to the AHL Norfolk Admirals, then released as a free agent.

    Smith has thrived in Phoenix under the tutelage of Sean Burke, while the Lightning missed the playoffs this year, mostly due to a disastrous year in net from Mathieu Garon and Dwayne Roloson.

    It's widely believed that the Florida teams are on Luongo's wish list, since his wife Gina hails from South Florida. Tampa's a lot closer than Vancouver.

    The names that surface most often as possibilities to come the other way are Ryan Malone or Vincent Lecavalier. As a physical winger, Malone could be a good hockey fit for the Canucks, and carries a relatively reasonable $4.5 million cap hit until 2015. But he has a no-trade clause and may not want to come to the West Coast.

    A trade for Lecavalier was considered outlandish—what would the Canucks do with another top center? But now Ryan Kesler is out for six months after serious shoulder surgery. A deal like this shouldn't be looking to plug short-term holes, but suddenly Lecavalier's skill looks a little more appealing to Canucks fans.

    His salary, on the other hand? Not so much. Lecavalier is scheduled to make $10 million for each of the next four years, and his cap hit of $7.7 million runs until 2020.

    Malone and Lecavalier are both 32, which also doesn't help a veteran Canucks' forward corps get any younger. Yzerman and Gillis would have to get creative to make this deal fly.

Florida Panthers

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    Sticking with the Sunshine State for a moment, what could be more poetic than for the Canucks to return Luongo to the Panthers?

    After Florida's strong season, it's not out of the question.

    For a team that was actively acquiring salaries at the beginning of the season to reach the cap floor, Florida's band of misfits surprised everyone by claiming the Southeast Division title, then pushing New Jersey to double-overtime of Game 7 in their first round playoff matchup.

    The Panther's goaltending was relatively strong, but only Jose Theodore is under contract for next year, and he had injury issues towards the end of the season, including the playoffs.

    If the Canucks would prefer Luongo's trade to be structured as more of a salary dump, or picks-and-prospects, Florida could be a good fit. The Panthers have the cap space to absorb Luongo's salary without having to send a big ticket back in return.

    If the Panthers did trade a player, the most entertaining possibility would be Ed Jovanovski. He's been traded from Florida to Vancouver before—as the Panthers' centerpiece in the Pavel Bure deal back in 1999. But, like Luongo, Jovo also loves the lifestyle in Florida and it sounds like he plans to collect the remaining $12.375 million owed to him over the next three years from right where he is.

    Luongo could don Panther red once again, but if he does, the Canucks would most likely channel the cap relief in other directions.

Chicago Blackhawks

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    Can you imagine?

    Blackhawks fans hate Luongo with a passion. But after a second-straight first-round fizzle, it's understood that Corey Crawford's not getting the job done. Chicago needs an upgrade in goal.

    The Hawks are also dealing with a PR nightmare thanks to Patrick Kane's most recent extracurricular activities on Cinco de Mayo, and their local media is suggesting that a trade might be necessary.

    Kane has three years to go on a deal with a cap hit of $6.3 million a season.

    Salary-wise, it makes sense. Chicago had to shed several players after their 2010 Cup win due to cap limitations, so they'd have to make room financially if they wanted to acquire a player like Luongo.

    Would the Canucks take Kane? From a hockey perspective, Kane can play right wing or center, and, over the long run, he might be the elusive linemate that Ryan Kesler's been searching for. But will he ever grow up? Chicago fans want him gone because he's tarnished the image of their franchise one time too many.

    In the past, Alain Vigneault has had a short fuse with players who like to party—see Shane O'Brien. Assuming Vigneault returns, Kane would probably be hard to sell to him. If the Canucks do change direction behind the bench next season, it could happen.

    I wonder if the Hawks would throw in the rights to "Chelsea Dagger" as the goal song with the deal?

Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Trading Luongo to the Leafs carries the possibility of high drama.

    Nowhere does the spotlight shine brighter than under the magnifying glass of the Toronto media. Luongo has wilted at times from all the attention he receives in Vancouver, but perhaps a different level of expectations could work to his advantage?

    The Leafs have struggled for so long. To keep the faithful interested, management is virtually required to bring in a new face from time to time, guaranteed to change their fortunes.

    Dion Phaneuf, Phil Kessel, and Randy Carlyle provided glimmers of hope last season, while young James Reimer had his moments. Many were good, but some were bad, and it's not certain that he has the tools to be a long-term solution in net if a better option might be available.

    Leafs' Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations Dave Nonis brought Luongo to Vancouver when he was the Canucks' GM back in 2006, so he and Brian Burke could be interested in another go around.

    The Leafs are tight to the cap, with 17 players signed for nearly $57 million for next season. They'd need to move a player or two to make room for Luongo's salary. The Canucks probably wouldn't be interested in taking on Mikael Grabovski's $5.5 million a year for the next five years.

    If he'd waive his no-trade clause, Tim Connolly could be a decent fit —a third-line center who could help pick up some of the slack while Kesler's out, and has just one year remaining on his deal, at $4.75 million.

    Toronto fans have seen Luongo play some of his best games at the Air Canada Centre while he's been with the Canucks. Could he continue that trend if he were backstopping the blue-and-white?

Vancouver Canucks

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    During the weeks since Vancouver was eliminated by Los Angeles in Round 1, the mood around Vancouver has shifted to one of forgiveness.

    At first, there was plenty of blame thrown around, and calls for big changes from top to bottom. But cooler heads seem to be prevailing, and now that Mike Gillis has been re-upped as General Manager, fans have been reminded that the past few years have been the most successful stretch in franchise history.

    People seem to want Alain Vigneault to stay on as coach, and they've eased up on Luongo to a degree that hasn't been seen since his first couple of years in Vancouver.

    For all his deficiencies, Luongo is the all-around best goalie to ever play for the Canucks. Fans have lived and died with him for the past six years and in the end, they may not be so eager to run him out of town.

    The Canucks may have a difficult negotiation ahead with Cory Schneider, who could be looking for Luongo-like dollars to replace him. Schneider may also have a higher trade value because he's younger, with more possible upside. Schneider is also eligible for arbitration, so the Canucks can still stop-gap this situation and keep both backstoppers for the time being.

    Schneider has said he's ready to be a full-fledged number one, but with the CBA in flux, it might make more sense for the Canucks to qualify him, go to arbitration, then see how the new deal shakes down before they make their big move.

    Many seem to believe that Luongo's time in Vancouver is already finished. There may yet be another act to this story.