The Vancouver Canucks have a major decision to make this off-season.
With Cory Schneider set to become a restricted free agent and 10 years remaining on Roberto Luongo’s mega-contract, it is difficult to imagine the Canucks being able to keep both goaltenders on the roster next season.
At Tuesday’s season-ending press conference, Canucks general manager Mike Gillis said that both goalies could co-exist next season, but Luongo fuelled speculation when he told reporters that he would waive his no-trade clause in the off-season if Gillis asks him to.
Some have pointed out the Canucks may be better off moving Schneider, where they could land a greater package of assets in a trade. But, this scenario doesn’t seem very realistic as Schneider has a much greater upside than the 33-year-old Luongo and was the starting goalie for the final three games during their first-round loss to the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
With that in mind, here are four possible fits for Luongo:
Leafs GM Brian Burke has made it clear that he does not support the type of long-term contract that Luongo signed with the Canucks. But if this season proved anything, it is the value of goaltenders, and Burke would be foolish not to explore this avenue. Especially considering Burke’s right-hand man, Dave Nonis, was the man who brought Luongo to Vancouver in the first place.
The lack of consistency at the goaltending position was one of the contributing factors to the Leafs’ demise this season. Jonas Gustavsson will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and isn’t expected to be back. James Reimer, despite displaying potential, is yet to prove he can be a stable No. 1 goaltender.
Burke is feeling the heat in Toronto and adding an all-star goaltender could be exactly what the Leafs need. The contract is far from ideal, especially considering all the questionable contracts Burke has on his payroll, but Luongo could help transform the Leafs into a playoff team very quickly.
After losing Mike Smith to the Phoenix Coyotes in free agency, the Lightning have a gaping hole at the goaltender position. Dwayne Roloson was a major disappointment this season after a rock-solid playoff run in 2010-11. The 42-year-old doesn’t have enough left in the tank to be a No. 1 tender at this point in his career.
The Bolts have a few long-term contracts that could appeal to the Canucks in a trade such as Vincent Lecavalier or Martin St. Louis. Also, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman — as part of his role as Team Canada’s executive director — worked with Luongo at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
The Blue Jackets were the worst team in the National Hockey League this season and a lot of it could be correlated to their performance at the goaltending position. Steve Mason has not been the same since his rookie season when then-head coach Ken Hitchcock’s defensive system was in place.
The Blue Jackets cannot move forward with Mason as the No. 1 goalie so they could be interested in a reliable veteran with the pedigree of Luongo. The team has a couple of blue chip assets that could be movable including the second-overall pick or captain Rick Nash, who would like to be traded to a contending team.
Despite the fact the Canucks and Oilers play in the same division, Edmonton has a significant amount of prospects that could appeal to Gillis. The Oilers have loaded up on young forwards but have a massive need at the goaltender position. They do not have a player in their system that is ready to fill the void.
Nikolai Khabibulin is set to become a free agent after the 2012-13 season and has not lived up to expectations since joining the Oilers. Luongo would provide Edmonton the stabilizing presence they need between the pipes, especially with a weak unit on defence. Luongo played his best hockey in Florida when he faced a barrage of shots so it could be a similar situation.