Vancouver Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault made the bold move to start Cory Schneider over Roberto Luongo prior to Game 3 of their first-round series against Los Angeles. Vigneault never looked back, starting Schneider for the rest of the series.
Schneider proved all year that he is ready to be a starter in this league. By giving up just four goals in three games against the Kings, he further proved it in the playoffs. Schneider should be starting in the NHL next season, and it should be with the Canucks.
Schneider, 26 years old, has bided his time; he’s been patient and a good pro while backing up Luongo over the last two years. With Schneider becoming a restricted free agent this summer, Canucks GM Mike Gillis has a tricky decision to make.
Gillis can either keep Luongo and trade Schneider’s rights, which would be highly sought after, for a solid package in return, or re-sign Schneider and subsequently deal Luongo. It’s tough to envision both goaltenders manning the Canucks’ crease next season.
Luongo’s contract, which ends in 2022 and includes a no-trade clause, is the biggest obstacle in Gillis’ decision here. If Luongo, 33, didn’t have as many years left on his contract he’d be much easier to trade. The contract is the bigger issue than the no-trade clause; if Luongo knows he’s no longer wanted on a team in a market where he will never win over the fans, why stay?
There are only a select number of goalie-seeking teams that may be willing to add Luongo and his contract. (Tampa Bay? Columbus? San Jose?) The Canucks wouldn’t be able to get the same kind of package via trade for Luongo than they would for Schneider. However, Schneider is the one to keep if Gillis finds another GM to take on Luongo.
Schneider is seven years younger than Luongo and has put up better numbers than him over the last two seasons:
|Composite stats: 2010-11 and 2011-12|
In limited postseason action, Schneider has been a cool customer between the pipes. In the just-completed series against the Kings, he came up big in a Game 4 victory. With the Canucks leading 2-1 in the third period, he stoned Dustin Brown on a penalty shot. Moments later the Canucks went up 3-1 and lived to see another day. Despite only collecting one win, Schneider posted a .960 save percentage in three playoff games this spring. Not bad.
It’s only a small sample size, so it’s hard to compare against Luongo’s vast playoff experience. But one thing we do know is Luongo has been shaky when it comes to the playoffs. Every time you think he has turned a corner, he lays an egg like he did last June in Boston. He deserves more credit for the 15 playoff games he did win a year ago, but that doesn’t overshadow the fact that he is more vulnerable come playoff time.
If Gillis decides to keep Luongo over Schneider, the Canucks GM better hope Schneider doesn’t become a superstar goaltender (which is very possible); Gillis wouldn’t hear the end of it in Vancouver.
It almost seems best just to cut the losses and rid the Luongo contract by dealing him for another bad contract and draft picks. Cap space isn’t the number one issue here; it’s needing to decide on one goaltender.
Schneider has proven he’s a quality NHL goaltender and is just scratching the surface when it comes to the kind of success he can have for the next decade. If the Canucks hold on to Luongo, Schneider may ask for a trade or not re-sign. Why would he want to continue to sit on the bench behind Luongo?
When Schneider started Games 3, 4 and 5, it felt like a passing of the torch in the Canucks’ crease. Luongo, who is on the verge of exiting his prime, has had his chance in Vancouver, where the expectations to win a Cup are unbearable. The fan base has also turned against him to a point where even winning a Cup may not repair his reputation in that city.
There’s no denying Luongo’s talents; he owns a gold medal and is a four-time Vezina Trophy finalist. He’s had a successful stint with the Canucks, leading them to the playoffs in five of his six seasons with the team.
But the Luongo era has essentially ended in Vancouver. It’s Schneider’s time.
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