Toronto Maple Leafs Should Not Pursue Roberto Luongo Before NHL Trade Deadline
Speculation involving Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo and the Toronto Maple Leafs is sure to be a hot topic leading up the April 3 NHL trade deadline, but making a move for the 34-year-old veteran doesn't make sense for Toronto because its goaltending situation is no longer a concern.
The impressive performance of starter James Reimer and backup Ben Scrivens, who are 25 and 26 years old, respectively, has quieted the talk of the Leafs having to make a major goaltending upgrade before the trade deadline to ensure that the team's seven-year playoff drought would end in 2013.
The Leafs' approach leading up to the deadline should be, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." Reimer and Scrivens have proven to be quality NHL players, especially Reimer, whose stats compare very favorably to Luongo's this season.
Reimer is already two wins away from matching his total for the 2011-12 season even though he's played in 13 less games thus far, but his biggest improvement in 2013 has been seen in his GAA and save-percentage numbers.
Reimer has developed nicely this season, and since goalies normally take longer to reach their full potential than forwards and defensemen, there's no reason for the Leafs to give up on their current No. 1 netminder when he's starting to prove that he can be a reliable player on a consistent basis.
Toronto's patience with Reimer is really paying off this season, and with several talented young defenseman already at the NHL level (Jake Gardiner) and ready to come up in the near future, (Morgan Rielly and Matt Finn), the Leafs are finally starting to build a team from the net out, which is how most championship teams are constructed.
Even if the Canucks are not looking for much value in return for Luongo and view any potential deal as more of a salary dump than an actual hockey trade, there's no reason for the Leafs to entertain the possibility of acquiring him.
If the Leafs could acquire Luongo without giving up much, should they make the move?
The only reason for the Leafs to trade for Luongo before the season was to guarantee a trip to the postseason, but since they currently have a 97.6 percent chance of making the playoffs this season (via Sports Club Stats), Luongo is not needed in Toronto.
His contract has nine more years remaining and carries a $5.33 million salary cap hit. With the salary cap ceiling dropping to $64.3 million for the 2013-14 season, adding a contract of this size isn't a smart idea for any team unless it is near the salary cap floor.
Toronto currently has $18,785,833 in cap space next season (per Cap Geek), which will be among the most of any playoff contender.
This cap figure does not include any potential buyout candidates, and in the likely event that veteran defenseman Mike Komisarek is bought out and becomes an unrestricted free agent, the Leafs would have an additional $4.5 million of space to work with.
This kind of flexibility would allow general manager Dave Nonis to re-sign important players this summer, such as Tyler Bozak (UFA), Nazem Kadri (RFA) and Cody Franson (RFA), while also looking in the free-agent and trade markets to make improvements to his lineup.
As an upcoming free agent and a center capable of playing in a top-six role, Bozak would likely have to be involved in any Luongo trade involving the Leafs because the Canucks desperately need to upgrade their second- and third-line center spots.
Giving up Bozak would be the wrong move for the Leafs unless they get another top-six center in return, which Vancouver doesn't have to offer.
Rising star Nazem Kadri leads the Leafs with 35 points in 35 games as a third-line center, but he's not ready to step into a top-six center role five weeks before the playoffs if Bozak is traded, especially when he has a team-worst 43.2 faceoff percentage.
The building blocks are in place for a bright future in Toronto, and it would be incredibly foolish of Nonis to part with valuable assets for an aging goaltender who has repeatedly failed in the playoffs and whose contract negatively impacts his team's salary cap flexibility.
Luongo would not make the Leafs significantly better, so there should be no motivation from the Leafs to acquire him.
The Leafs just need to stay the course and go into the playoffs with the goaltending duo that they have now, and depending on who they play in the first round, Toronto could certainly reach the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Nonis has done a brilliant job managing his roster since he took over as GM in January, and it's hard to imagine him making a bold and risky move for Luongo when the Leafs have played so well without him this season.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. He was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs in Boston. All salary information courtesy of Cap Geek.
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