PITTSBURGH – There were a lot of big names being thrown around in trade rumours here Thursday night, but the biggest name associated with the Toronto Maple Leafs continues to be goaltender Roberto Luongo.
In fact, many feel it is only a matter of time before the Vancouver Canucks ship the 34-year-old stopper with the lifetime contract east to Toronto.
"The Leafs want him and Canucks want to move him; you do the math," said one NHL general manager.
The Canucks are wisely keeping all options open and assistant GM Laurence Gilman even suggested the organization might retain Luongo and have him split time in the crease with Cory Schneider next season. He said the team could even trade Schneider who took over as the team’s No. 1 goalie in the playoffs this past season.
"(GM) Mike Gillis has entertained calls on both our goaltenders," Gilman said. "It falls into the category of problems you don’t mind having in the sense it’s better to have too many than not enough. At this point we’re not doing anything fast."
"No way," said the NHL GM to the notion of Vancouver keeping Luongo. "You can’t bring a guy back with his contract who has asked to be traded. The fans will never put up with it. It would be a bad, bad situation."
Then there is the notion that if the Canucks do indeed trade Luongo, they expect something significant in return. Some executives who spoke with sportsnet.ca Thursday said the Canucks have been painted into a corner and they have to move him at any price.
"The Canucks are acting like he is the only goalie available," said an NHL team executive. "He might be the best goalie available, but he’s not the only one out there."
The biggest stumbling block for a team wanting Luongo would seem to be the 10 years remaining on his contract. He is still owed $45 million and has an annual cap hit of $5.33 million. Of course with a new collective bargaining agreement in the works, that concern could be mute come September…or October…or November. Who is to say the NHL and NHL Players Association don’t agree on a way to allow teams to sweep big, bad contracts under the carpet with no penalty?
Besides, Luongo’s contract is front-end loaded and is designed to allow him to retire early which would take the rest of his deal off his team’s books. He signed it before he was 35 years old so his team is not liable for the entire length of the contract if he retires early.
There was a suggestion that if Burke wanted to take on a contract the size of Luongo’s he would first have to get permission from the board. What board? Earlier this week the NHL approved the transfer of the Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan Board’s shares in the team to Rogers Communications Inc. and BCE Inc. subject to agreement on satisfactory terms of League consent.
Regardless, a member of the Maple Leafs management team told sportsnet.ca that was absolutely false and Burke can make any deal he wants if he thinks will help the organization.
Burke told the Sportsnet’s Hockey Central panel that he is not under the gun to acquire an experienced goaltender at the draft. He said he has all summer to make it happen. He also indicated he likes his two returning goalies, James Reimer and Ben Scrivens.
It has been suggested Burke may also be in the Rick Nash Sweepstakes, but that too was complicated by the fact the Anaheim Ducks have once again put scoring winger Bobby Ryan on the market. Burke, who managed the Anaheim Ducks before departing for Toronto, has an association with Ryan who is three years younger than Nash.
Ryan, 25, scored 31 goals and 57 points in 82 games for the Ducks last season while Nash, 28, had 30 goals and 59 points for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Meanwhile Nash has four years and $31.2 million left on his contract while Ryan has three years and $16.69 million left on his.
Truth be told neither player answers the Leafs desperate need for a No. 1 centre.
As for the draft itself, Burke said as of early evening Thursday, it was looking like he would not make a deal to move up from the fifth overall pick. He said in the past there were players he targeted (namely the Sedin twins and Chris Pronger) that could help his team, but he doesn’t see that type of player in this year’s draft.
A member of the Leafs management team said he didn’t have a feeling much would happen in terns of trades by any of the NHL’s 30 teams Thursday night.
"There’s a lot of talk, but I don’t get a sense anything is going to happen soon," he said. "But once one deal is made don’t be surprised if a lot of deals follow."