As a new season approaches, the tough finish to Vancouver's outstanding 2010/11 season and playoff run will finally fade into the past. At least temporarily.
It's been a short summer, and already new questions and concerns are generating buzz around the city of Vancouver. However, the talk of the upcoming season surrounding the Canucks has filtered down to one pivotal question: What will the team do with their upcoming RFA, Cory Schneider?
The promising netminder is entering into his last year of an entry-level deal with the team, and now decisions must be made.
One of the many bright spots last season for the Vancouver Canucks organization was the development of the first-round prospect, as he served as Roberto Luongo's backup for his first full year with the big club.
Together, Luongo and Schneider combined to post the best goaltending numbers in the league, both earning them the Jennings trophy at the NHL awards.
Signed only until the end of the season, GM Mike Gillis has a tough task at hand now as he faces a deadline to either deal or sign the talented goaltender.
With speculation already mounting towards the possible outcome of the Schneider sweepstakes, the time has come to take an in-depth look at what Vancouver can get for their guy.
One of the summer's main discussions has surrounded the future of the Canucks' starting goaltender, franchise player Roberto Luongo. Some Vancouver fans are calling for Luongo to be shipped off, leaving Schneider in Vancouver as the new marquee goaltender.
I'll start by saying that this simply will not happen.
While the inconsistent play of Luongo against Boston was indeed frustrating to watch, a trip to game 7 of the finals will hardly compel the team's management to consider the option of sending him away.
Luongo's 12-year deal isn't over until the conclusion of the 2020/2021 season, with an annual cap of 5.3 million. His contract also includes a no-trade clause for the first half of its duration. In other words, unless Roberto wakes up one morning, looks out of his window and decides he's sick of the view, he could be here for over a decade.
Luongo's elite skill set and work-horse approach to goaltending are hard to find or replace. The fact that he's coming off the best statistical regular season performances of his career only solidifies his value to the Canucks as a team.
So, with Luongo a mainstay, and Schneider a moveable asset, you can count on a deal involving Cory happening sometime in the near future.
A different solution that Mike Gillis will certainly explore will be re-signing Schneider, which would be the ideal outcome to the problem.
However, this could be viewed an impractical option based solely on the reason that Schneider deserves the opportunity to play as a number one goaltender. The thought that he wouldn't want to re-sign for this very reason confirms the inevitable: Schneider will be gone by the trade deadline.
So, with Schneider now a trading chip on the table, it's time to look at the teams in need of a new option between the pipes.
While each team undoubtedly has prospects and future considerations in place for rebuilding in the crease, the opportunity to snag a young, talented goaltender will be the draw for those in need.
New Jersey Devils: The Devil's organization is in need of a replacement for future Hall of Fame goalie, Martin Brodeur. Coming off a year that saw his production slow, and injury problems creep in, it's plain to see that Brodeur's tenure in the league is winding down.
He's currently in the last year of his contract with the team, and he recently stated that while he'd consider an immediate offer to re-sign with the Devils, he won't make any decisions until after the year is done and he can ponder the direction he wants to go.
Basically, he's seriously considering retirement. With Brodeur gone, the Devils could use a goaltender like Schneider to build around.
St. Louis Blues: The Blues are in fairly good hands with Jaroslav Halak in goal, as he's an above average goalkeeper who's proven he can win in the playoffs. However, with his magnificent playoff run behind him, Halak's play slowed last season, though injuries played a role in his decline.
The chance to land a younger, promising goaltender that a young Blue's team could build around would surely be a tempting thought for management if the price was right.
New York Islanders: The Islanders are in need of a new, young goaltender to replace DiPietro. However, his contract size would be the major problem there.
With a young, talented team starting to show some good signs, adding a goaltender with similar billing just makes sense.
Edmonton Oilers: First of all, trading a potential star goaltender to a divisional rival would be a huge mistake. Still, that doesn't change the fact that the Oilers are desperate for a better option in goal than a split between Dubnyk and Khabibulin.
To be fair, there wasn't much else available in free agency when GM Dale Talon brought Theodore on board to his new-look team. Expect to see the Panthers looking elsewhere by Christmas for new goaltending options.
Phoenix Coyotes: Much like the Panthers, Phoenix was left at the alter when their number one left during free agency to pursue other options. They too were forced to sign a former backup to carry the work load, and pray that he elevated his game for an entire season to keep them competitive.
Mike Smith isn't the answer in the desert, or wherever they'll be after this season if they want to be in the playoffs.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Dwayne Roloson is still a great goaltender, but his age is his biggest weakness. Roloson will be 41 this season and the time for Steve Yzerman to start exploring other options is fast approaching.
Schneider would be a great fit.
The Vancouver Canucks are among the biggest spenders in the league.
Last season they were strapped right to the limit, and this season they're hovering around the ceiling once again with heir salary space just over 2.3 million dollars, which ideally isn't enough to land an impact player, at least not this year.
Next season, the Canucks have Aaron Rome (750k), Sami Salo (2 million), Marco Sturm (2.25 million), Mikael Samuelsson (2.5 million) and Mason Raymond (2.55 million) all coming to the end of their contracts, freeing up significant space.
In theory, if Mike Gillis flabbergasted the city and opted to resign none of the players mentioned above, the team would find themselves with just over 10 million dollars available in additional space (just enough to sign Matt Sundin).
While that's a ridiculous idea, there is a large chance that the majority of those players won't return.
Samuelsson and Sturm are both getting older, increasing their risk, while there's no guarantee that Raymond will ever recover from his back injury well enough to play hockey again. Salo could easily retire after this season, and the emergence of Chris Tanev has to put Aaron Rome's job in jeopardy.
If a trade was engineered that saw a talented forward come in with a large cap hit, the possibility of a player being traded to free up cap space is a very real possibility.
Either way, the 2011/12 season should see the team with a lot more breathing room under the NHL's Collective Bargaining Agreement, assuming no major changes occur during it's re-negotiation this summer.
Having a coveted, and expendable asset like Cory Schneider is a luxury for any team with a roster inside it's prime. The Canucks are built to win now, which is why the trade return for Schneider will be instrumental to their future success.
On defense, Vancouver has Bieksa, Hamhuis, Salo, Edler, and Ballard as key contributors, with Rome, Alberts and youngster, Chris Tanev vying for the final spot. The unexpected find in Chris Tanev last year ensures that the blue line will stay young and strong, so a defenseman isn't needed.
In goal, Luongo is the established number one, with cheap options on free agency, as well as the capable prospect, Eddie Lack available to step in if Cory is traded. This means that defensively the team is set and their vacancies will be up front.
The first line is filled out with the twins and Burrows, while Malhotra, Hansen, Hodgson, Lapierre, and an array of gritty forwards appear set to fight for spots on the 3rd and 4th lines. The real opening is beside all-star centre, Ryan Kesler.
Much of this past season, Kesler was left juggling different wingers on the 2nd line, like Higgins, Samuelsson, and Raymond, making consistency an issue.
While Kesler continued to produce, both Raymond and Samuelsson noticeably regressed, each struggling to find their touch.
If Gillis is smart, he'll target a blue chip, second line player that Kesler can play with for the next 5 years.
Both Phoenix and New York could use fresh blood in goal, but who would Vancouver receive in return?
It's often difficult finding two players that both teams can agree upon in a trade, and a deal with the Coyotes or Islanders wouldn't be easy.
However, if trade talks made it off the ground with either organization, Mikael Boedker (PHX) or Nino Niederreiter (NYI) are the two players that Gillis should target.
Both players are young, with tremendous offensive upside that could come in and contribute in the next year or two.
The fact that both are key in their respective team's futures and likely not up for trade discussion is besides the point.
If shipping Schneider to the desert or Long Island looks like a possibility, these would be the guys coming back.
Now onto the real trade options...
(I elected not to bother finding players on the Oilers or Panthers to trade for, since Florida has goaltender Jacob Markstrom a year away from making the NHL. Edmonton, on the other hand, are not only divisional rivals, but also have no one of value to Vancouver).
Drafted 6th overall in the 2010 draft, Brett Connolly is an important part of the Tampa Bay Lightning's future. He's been a member of Canada's World Junior squad for the past 3 years, as well as a 40-goal scorer last season in the WHL.
He plays on the right wing, which is in short supply in the Canuck system.
Most importantly though, he's had a year to mature with his junior team, and a move to the NHL could be conceivable in the next season or two.
Connolly can set up plays and score goals, which would be a nice fit playing on the same line as Ryan Kesler.
At 6'2, 181 lbs, Connolly can easily fill out into a big-league frame as well.
Obviously, Connolly is an important member of the Lightning's future plans, and trading for him wouldn't be easy. However, with Dwayne Roloson a dwindling option in net, Steve Yzerman needs to address his situation in goal.
With a top six that already includes Stamkos, St. Louis, Lecavalier and Malone, Connolly is expendable if Yzerman wanted to pull the trigger on the trade.
This is the only available option to Vancouver where a 1 for 1 trade would be possible. In fact, Gillis might be able to fish out a draft pick in return as well.
Last year, Colorado and St. Louis surprised everyone by pulling off a blockbuster trade weeks before the deadline.
The AVs shipped rookie, Kevin Shattenkirk and power forward, Chris Stewart to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for former first overall pick, Erik Johnson, and the Blues first-round pick in 2011, Duncan Seimens.
While St. Louis would likely want to hang onto Stewart, Vancouver would be wise to make a move for him before he's locked up long-term. Chris Stewart currently makes just over $2.8 million annually, and is in the final year of his contract before becoming a RFA.
Trading for the hulking forward would be tricky, however there is no better player in the league right now that suits Vancouver's immediate needs that isn't locked up long-term.
Chris Stewart is big. At 25 years of age, he's 6'2", 228 pounds.
In 62 games last year, he tallied 28 goals and 25 assists for a total of 53 points. He drives the net, has a good shot, hits and fights.
Envision him on a line with Ryan Kesler and it's easy to see that Chris Stewart would be great fit for the team. More importantly, he would fill the void that critics feel the team desperately lacks: offensive grit.
Simply put, this is the player the Canucks need.
For the price of Schneider, a good prospect, like Schroeder, and perhaps a pick, a deal could potentially be made to bring Stewart on board.
This is a dream trade, ("dream" being the operative word in that statement).
Zach Parise is a star for the devils, and their future.
He's an offensive force and a creative player, one that Ryan Kesler would play well beside.
Both had an opportunity to skate together at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, where they both notched goals in the gold medal game to help the US push the exciting contest into sudden death.
He's the right kind of player for the Canucks, and would bring a lot of offense to a team already laden with scoring talent.
What makes this trade even more tantalizing for Vancouver fans is the fact that he might actually be available. Parise and the Devils were heading for arbitration this summer before a last minute, 1-year deal was struck.
If Parise isn't happy with any long-term offer being made in New Jersey and opted to sign short-term deal, then there appears to be an opening for a third party to negotiate a deal to pull the winger out of New Jersey altogether.
This of course coincides with the fact that Brodeur is very close to retirement and that a good goaltender has to be found if the team wants to ensure they won't fall towards the league's basement.
Enter Cory Schneider.
Once again, the Devils would try and keep Parise at all costs, and any price tag on the winger would be astronomical. But if Gretzky can be traded, anyone can.
A rough estimate would see Cory Schneider, a healthy Mason Raymond, and a 1st round pick packaged into the deal, and that might not even be enough. But to get a player of Zach Parise calibre, a team quite often has to sell the farm.
In this case, if Vancouver's biggest assets sent over were Schneider and Raymond, they would be getting a great deal. A deal that would almost surely include a Stanley Cup in the immediate future as well.
The Canucks' options aren't strictly limited to the 7 teams identified to be in "goaltender crisis mode," and other deals could surely be swung.
Here are a few other players that the team could target for the second line, assuming of course they could convince the teams to take on another goaltender with an expiring contract.
Alexander Semin: Only because there are rumors that he's on the chopping block, and any time a sniper of that calibre is rumored to be available, you like to think that your team would take a look into bringing him on board.
Let's be honest though. The chances of Semin going anywhere are slim and moreover, any trade made to acquire Semin wouldn't likely involve a goaltender moving anywhere.
David Perron: Perron's offensive potential is high, and a concussion suffered last year kept him out of the line-up for most of the season. If Chris Stewart was off the table the Canucks could look to try and persuade St. Louis to part with their young forward, though the price tag might be a little high.
Jarome Iginla: Then of course there are ridiculous long shot trades that make sense only in writing, but wouldn't it be fun to see Iginla with the twins? It's not like Mikka Kiprusoff is getting any younger either....
The final scenario that might play out in Vancouver, will be if management decides to risk the open market when Schneider becomes a restricted free agent next summer. If a team comes along and signs him to a low offer sheet deemed affordable, the Canucks could match it and then solve their problem by retaining his services.
If the offer sheet proves costly, then they can accept the compensation (likely a first, and third round pick), and then pick up some young prospects for the future.
The risk involved in taking that kind of gamble is huge though, not to mention a draft pick would be a waste for a talent like Schneider.
Draft picks can be bust players that never even make it to the league, while Schneider's proven that he can compete at the NHL level.
To accept picks for young talent would be taking a step backwards, which for a team trying to win a cup in the next 5 years would be a mistake.
Regardless of what management decides to do with Schneider, it'll be a fun to follow the action.
Schneider's value will likely set the bar for other promising goaltenders as well, like Jonathan Bernier in Los Angeles.
Until something does happen, expect to see more of the young, talented goaltender in Vancouver continue to shine.