For the football fans out there, I'm sure you've heard the saying, if you got two starting quarterbacks, you really don't have any. The Vancouver Canucks are proving that principle true thus far early in the NHL season and it is developing into a real problem. You don't want to look too much into it only a couple games in, but the reigning Presidents' Trophy winners have looked very average thus far.
After last year's first round exit, most hockey fans know and understand the position the Canucks are in. They have an all-star caliber starting goaltender in Roberto Luongo, a guy who took them to game seven of the Stanley Cup finals, was given a massive contract and anointed the "guy" in Vancouver. When the contract was first signed, the question was, what is the trade value for a talented but unproven back-up; Cory Schneider.
Fast forward to that same Stanley Cup finals season for the Canucks. It's the first round of the playoffs and the Canucks have taken a 3-0 series lead on the eighth seeded Chicago Blackhawks and looked poised for a long break to get ready for their next opponent. The next two games didn't go to plan however, with Luongo allowing 12 goals and being pulled in each game. Schneider stepped in and played reasonably well in relief and it had some people at least open to the idea that maybe they could roll with Schneider in game 6 and take it from there. Coach Alain Vigneault was quick to say Luongo would be his starter in game 6, but come game time, it was Schneider and not Luongo between the pipes. It appears Vigneault figured he'd go with Schneider and if they lose, he could go right back to Luongo for the final and deciding game. However, during game six, Schneider went on to hurt himself on a Blackhawks penalty shot. Luongo relieved him obviously, and they lost that game in overtime. Luongo then proceeded to play a very solid game 7, the Canucks won, and play very good hockey for the remainder of the playoffs, minus a couple games in Boston.
Fast forward again, this time to the middle of the 2011/12 season. Cory Schneider is more than simply an unproven commodity at this point and it's become pretty clear he can be a starting goaltender in the NHL. Vancouver recognizes this and they explore a couple different options with what they could do with two quality goaltenders. Ultimately, they decided to keep Schneider and he backs up Luongo for the entire regular season. They give Luongo only 54 starts, the lowest total of his career as a starter, and why would they not, with a more than capable backup behind him. They can keep their all-star goalie fresh after a long season the year before and they give Schneider his first real chance to consistently show what he's got. After another successful regular season however, came playoff failure. Luongo started the first two games of that series and did not play particularly well. Schneider started the last three and played much better. His numbers were far and away better and he just appeared to be more comfortable. The Canucks lose three straight to the eighth seeded Los Angeles Kings to start the series, and ultimately fall in a short five games.
This leads into this past off-season, with the general consensus that Schneider and not Luongo would be the starting goaltender in Vancouver for the upcoming season. There was plenty of speculation throughout the off-season, but ultimately the lockout came and went and both goalies were still on the roster. This put them in the position of heading into the season with the highly paid Luongo starting on the bench. They appeared willing to do that and Luongo let it be known, he doesn't have a big problem with it either. He let it be known that he's not comfortable with this scenario long term, but he can do a shortened season and see where they are at, when the season is over. Their season started with a game in Anaheim and Schneider's run as the guy in Vancouver began. He played a brutal thirty minutes, allowing 5 goals on 16 shots and was pulled for Luongo who looked better in relief of Schneider.
This brings us to the present and the Canucks have put themselves in a tricky situation. There are a lot of people who believe, not trading Luongo before the season, doomed Schneider. It-s hard enough replacing a guy of his pedigree and talents, never mind having to worry about him taking your job. I'm not sure that I buy that. Luongo has given the Canucks the luxury of letting Schneider grow and develop properly and I believe he has done just that. A couple years of solid play cannot be undone by a bad 30 minutes of hockey. So, what is next for the Vancouver Canucks? Here are a couple of the popular ideas, fans have as to solving the issue.
"You need to get rid of Luongo immediately. I don't care who you are, constantly looking over your shoulder is good for no goaltender and Schneider needs to know this is his team and they believe in him. Teams will always need goalies and finding a team who's interested in Luongo won't be hard, even if Luongo's contract makes the return not quite as appealing as he's worth"
This seems to be the most popular mind-set and for good reason. It can't be easy for Schneider knowing a gold medal winning goaltender is sitting behind him should things go even a little south. Also, pulling Schneider every time something goes wrong, probably isn't for the best either. If he's going to grow into the elite starting goaltender his potential dictates, he needs to go through these growing pains. The question is, what can you get for Luongo right now? You have no team in desperate need for a goalie at this point in the season and the return certainly wouldn't equal what the Canucks would be giving up. That shouldn't matter at this point. Luongo knows he is expendable and seems OK with it, so there is no need to drag this out. This is Schneider's team and its time they tell him that.
"I'm pretty sure Schneider can handle it and Luongo is definitely expendable, but let's wait a bit. There's no need to rush things. This team is good enough to stay in the race in a relatively weak division while everyone gets healthy, what?'s the rush? Come trade deadline time, there will be more teams in more desperate situations who could be a goaltender away from being a true contender to make a playoff push (Philadelphia, Washington, Toronto) and that's where we can get optimal value for Luongo."
Everything that people are saying about the negative effects of having two starting goaltenders is true. Your starter needs to know he's the man if you plan on being an elite team in the NHL. But what's the hurry? It's no secret this team is battling injuries and not having top six forwards, Ryan Kesler and David Booth for an extended period of time is a problem. However, you're not getting yourself top value for a goaltender of Luongo's caliber by trading him now. This team can tread water and stay in the hunt while getting healthy. They have proved how good a regular season team they can be the last two seasons (105-41-18), so there is no need to panic. Let things play out and wait for teams who come deadline time realize that they are a goaltender away from contending. Luongo can still play at a high level as long as you trust him to continue to do that in his remaining time in Vancouver. This is a plan that can work out perfectly for this Canucks team.
"Keep both. It's a short season and a fresh goaltender come playoff time will be extremely important. You have two high quality NHL starters, when some teams are looking for one. Let him ride out the season and see where they are and trade him at the end of the season if Schneider proves he can handle it."
This is probably the group that I find myself in. Personally, I think this is a great problem to have and a problem that Leafs fans everywhere would kill for. As I said before, I don't buy that Schneider is doomed to fail just because he's got to look over his shoulder at Luongo. He is mature and confident enough to trust his talent and knows how good he is. He goes out and plays his game and he's this team's starter; he knows that and so does everyone else. If he can't do his job because he's worried about losing it, maybe he's the one they need to be trade. It's a shortened season and you're going to want to keep both goalies fresh and that is a luxury this team can afford, when you lose nothing starting one over the other. Let them both play in the regular season and start whichever goalie goes into the playoffs as the team's number one. Even then, if he doesn't play well you have a proven guy right behind him. Don't forget Schneider has never been a number one in the NHL and stranger things have happened then a guy just not panning out as a starter after a hot start as a back-up (see: Budaj, Peter). If all goes to plan, and Schneider is the starting goalie this team thinks he is, the Canucks can move Luongo in the off-season to fill a hole that you otherwise would have had to fill in free agency.
This is a storyline that has dominated headlines to start the season and has everyone wondering what GM Mike Gillis is going to do. There have been reports a deal has been reached with an unnamed team who just needs to move some money around, but until anything is finalized you never know. Personally (and as a Canucks fan) I think Luongo was never really given a fair shake in Vancouver and was treated unfairly. You mix the best 30 goaltenders in the NHL and your favorite team comes up with Luongo, are you upset? I definitely wouldn't be and he gave the Canucks some great years and a Stanley Cup run. I see why people would be worried his presence could mess with Schneider's psyche because Schneider's presence probably messed with Luongo. For if and when he does go, I'm very happy with the deal that got us an elite goaltender and one magical and exciting spring, even if it did come up short.
Tell us what do you think, which train of thought do you fall under if any of the ones above. Any other solutions? Let us know in the comments.
Written by Jordan Adduono
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