Coming into the 2013 NHL season, many fans and media members though that the Vancouver Canucks would trade star goaltender Roberto Luongo to move his burdensome contract and allow Cory Schneider to take over the starting job.
But with Luongo playing very well to start the season and Schneider unable to distinguish himself as the No. 1 guy, could the 26-year-old be the goalie that general manager Mike Gillis looks to deal before the April 3rd trade deadline?
Who should the Canucks trade?
The Canucks have about $60 million committed to 14 players next year (via Capgeek), which is when the salary cap goes down to $64.3 million.
Between Schneider and Luongo, Vancouver has $9.33 million tied up in two goaltenders, which is too much for this position because no team should have a backup goaltender making $4 million or more.
One of these players should be moved before the trade deadline because that's when they will have the most value since several teams will need goaltending help before this year's playoffs.
Luongo has been magnificent this season, and after dominating in net against the Chicago Blackhawks in a 2-1 shootout win on Friday night, he will once again start for the Canucks on Monday against the Edmonton Oilers (via NHL.com's Dan Rosen). Schneider hasn't started a game since January 27 when he allowed four goals in a loss to the San Jose Sharks.
Giving Luongo a demotion to start the season by making him the backup seems to have motivated him to show everyone that he's still an elite goaltender and is not ready to give up the starting role.
When you take away a star's job he's going to respond in one of two ways: He will either use it as motivation and retake his job while playing as good or better than before, or he will crumble and never be the same kind of player.
Thus far, the 33-year-old veteran has raised his game with his job on the line, and it's clear that the Canucks' best chance to win against the top teams in the league is having Luongo in net.
Luongo looks more confident and focused than he has in previous seasons, and it appears that he's really enjoying himself and not worrying about the pressure to perform.
Schneider had not faced a lot of pressure or adversity in his career before this season. He was never the No. 1 goalie, and he didn't have an expensive contract or the responsibility of carrying the team.
Through eight games this season, the young netminder has struggled to take the starting job and make Luongo expendable, and the stats don't lie.
The Canucks have two options to consider when determining the future of the team's goaltending situation.
They can trade Luongo and get rid of the 10 years left on his gigantic contract, while not getting a great package of players and/or picks in return, or Gillis can move Schneider and get a lot more value back.
Vancouver has a number of needs to address before the trade deadline. Head coach Alain Vigneault needs another top-six center, a reliable goal scorer and more truculence for his lineup.
To acquire a young impact player who can help the Canucks make another Stanley Cup run, Schneider would probably have to be traded. As a young goalie with incredible talent and a proven track record of success at the NHL level, Schneider likely has a ton of value on the trade market.
Luongo doesn't have enough value, unless a team becomes desperate for goaltending, to help the Canucks acquire a talented young star that could help the team win now and into the future as a top-six forward.
If Schneider was ever made available, the list of teams that would likely show interest could be quite long. That doesn't appear to be the case with Luongo due to the money and terms left on his deal, plus the fact he's already 33 years old. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers are the only logical destinations for Luongo.
The Philadelphia Flyers have many young forwards who would give the Canucks the added scoring depth and toughness needed to compete in the Western Conference, and they also need a young goaltender for the future.
The Flyers are at the bottom of the Atlantic Division and might be willing to make a major trade to avoid missing the playoffs.
The move that makes the most sense for the Canucks is to trade Schneider to give the roster a major upgrade and try to win now. Vancouver is an aging team that doesn't have the time to wait for Schneider to be comfortable and consistent as the No. 1 goalie.
Taking a chance that Schneider would be able to lead the Canucks to the Stanley Cup when he's never been the No. 1 goalie heading into the playoffs would not be a smart move. Luongo has struggled in the playoffs a few times in his career, but he is also capable of dominating a playoff series.
If Gillis traded Schneider and Luongo's performances started to decline over the next few years, top prospect Eddie Lack could become the starter at some point.
Who gives Vancouver the best chance to win the Stanley Cup in 2013?
The Sedin twins (both 32 years of age) aren't getting any younger and the team's blue line is not a young group. The Canucks' championship window is closing, and trading Schneider could help Gillis acquire the players who can fix the team's weaknesses before the playoffs.
If Luongo continues to play well and win games, the Canucks have to seriously consider trading Schneider in order to give the team a strong chance to win a championship in the short-term.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.