Could the Vancouver Canucks Be Stuck with Roberto Luongo for Next Season?

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Could the Vancouver Canucks Be Stuck with Roberto Luongo for Next Season?
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The Vancouver Canucks are midway through their offseason. A few questions have been answered, but the big one still remains: How will things look in net when 2012-13 gets under way?

Here's what we know: Per CapGeek.com, Cory Schneider has been locked up for three years, at a cap hit of $4 million a year. With a $500,000 signing bonus, the total value of the contract is $12.5 million.

We also know that Roberto Luongo is prepared to leave Vancouver. In his radio interview with 99.3 the Fox last week, Luongo said, "At the end of the day, I think it's time to move on. And I'm OK with that. I had a great six years in Vancouver." Click here for the full 22 minute audio of the interview.

However, we also know that, for now, Luongo is still a Canuck. And there's a chance this might still be the case when the season opens in October (or after the lockout).

The media have been doing their best to trade Luongo ever since Schneider replaced him in net for Game 3 of the Canucks' first round series against the Kings. While GM Mike Gillis has acknowledged that such a trade would make sense, he has also insisted repeatedly that he won't rush into anything.

From Monte Stewart of the Canadian Press, in the aftermath of the Schneider signing:

"With respect to the possibility of trading Roberto, we're going to take our time," Gillis said Friday at Rogers Arena. "We're going to make sure we do the right thing for this organization."

In that same story, Gillis blithely dismisses any concerns about potentially tying up $9.3 million in cap space on two goaltenders, should the situation come to that.

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"When a player steps on the ice, the money doesn't matter," said Gillis. "I could care less about the money. I care about having the best team and the most competitive team. I think we've done pretty well with that approach."

Is this posturing to try to secure the greatest possible return in a trade? Or is Gillis truly comfortable with the prospect of starting next season with both Schneider and Luongo?

Probably a little bit of both.

In terms of on-ice performance, the Canucks could do a lot worse than their incumbent tandem. Luongo and Schneider shared the William Jennings Trophy in 2010-11 for the fewest team goals against, and in 2011-12, they finished a respectable fourth. Icing a team with both Schneider and Luongo in 2012-13 would once again give the Canucks a chance to win every night—not exactly a disastrous scenario.

While Schneider acknowledges that he's ready to play more games and be a No. 1 goalie, he's also saying the right things about Luongo's future. In a Jason Botchford story from The Province, Schneider says:

Who knows what's going to happen? It's a little premature to be writing his obituary in Vancouver while he’s still on the team...They haven't intimated to me what their plan is right now and what they are trying to do, but it's become pretty public I guess.

Luongo also admits there's a chance that he could still start next season in Vancouver. In the CFOX interview, he says, "I would never say never. You never know, but we all know what is going on and what has developed."

 

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

One thing's for sure—Gillis needs to choose his trading partner carefully. Luongo ranks second among active goaltenders (behind Martin Brodeur) in regular season wins and shutouts and fourth in regular season save percentage among goalies who have played more than 250 games.

For all the talk of his big contract and sometimes erratic play, he's the best goalie in Canucks franchise history, and Vancouver will have to play against him after he's dealt.

For that reason alone, a trade to an intense conference rival like Chicago should be ruled out. Gillis will almost certainly want to send Luongo to the Eastern Conference, where the Canucks would only face him once a year.

After all the heat that Canuck fans have dished onto Luongo over the years, the mood in Vancouver has lightened considerably since this goaltending situation started to play out. It might be a fitting swan song for Luongo to return for part of next season and allow the fans a chance to properly bid him adieu.

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