Spector on NHL: Canucks have more flexibility

The NHL trade deadline is here, Roberto Luongo is still in Vancouver and Canucks GM Mike Gillis has mere hours to turn a complicated asset into something more valuable than a backup goaltender. (CP/Darryl Dyck)

It has been 11 months since Roberto Luongo said publicly that his time in Vancouver was over. Then, as is his right, Luongo restricted the market so much that he hasn’t moved anywhere.

So nearly a year has passed, and here we are: The National Hockey League trade deadline is here, Luongo is still in Vancouver and Canucks general manager Mike Gillis has mere hours to turn a complicated asset into something more valuable than a backup goaltender.

Eleven months have passed. Hours remain. And when the Canucks GM tells us he has four teams who are interested in Luongo, he begins to sound just a little bit like Gary Bettman, the NHL commissioner who always has some very “interested parties” lined up to buy the Phoenix Coyotes.

In acquiring centre Derek Roy, Gillis told the media on Tuesday, his requirements for a Luongo trade now shift.

“(We will be) more flexible in the next 24 hours,” Gillis told Vancouver media on Tuesday. “It gives us more flexibility. Instead of being really focused on that one piece (a centre), we can now look at other areas that we’d like to strengthen. We can look at other possibilities and maybe three-way deals. Something along those lines.”

Historically, No. 1 goalies are very seldom moved at the deadline, let alone ones with nine years remaining on their deals and requiring a “three-way deal” to be traded. But cashing in that asset – and getting some “right now” value in return – could mean the difference between a Vancouver team that wins, or one that watches the window close as a good team that never became great.

“We’re still trying a few other things,” Canucks assistant GM Laurence Gilman assured the Vancouver Province. “We’re not done. We’re trying to win the Cup. Our time is now.”

A 1,000 kilometers east, the Alberta teams have simply swapped roles this past week. Now it is Calgary that’s selling off anything and everything at the deadline, bringing in nothing but prospects and draft picks and girding for a final, hopeless 14 games.

Watching the Flames players after a 4-1 loss at Edmonton, they looked like they’d just walked out of a fire at an orphaned puppy factory. “It is what it is,” was the quote du jour, as those Flames who remained took the ice a few days after Jarome Iginla’s exit, a few hours after the Jay Bouwmeester trade, and with a goalie in Miikka Kiprusoff who had one skate in Toronto’s crease.

It was a heinous decision by the Flames organization to start Kiprusoff in Edmonton on Monday, just hours after the Maple Leafs had been given permission to talk to his agent Larry Kelly about lifting his no trace clause for a move to Toronto.

If Kiprusoff moves by the deadline, that’s Calgary’s captain and best forward, their best defenceman and franchise goalie gone inside a week. Those Flames who remain can forget about the playoffs for a long, long time, as the long awaited rebuild starts in Southern Alberta.

“It’s been difficult on me,” Alex Tanguay said of Iginla’s departure. “It’s been difficult for the last two or three weeks knowing this was coming. This was what the franchise wanted to do, and it’s certainly frustrating for all of us because we came here thinking and hoping that we were going to be a team that could contend.

“It’s a result of us not getting it done on the ice. It’s a knock on them, but it’s part of the business.”

In Edmonton, our prediction is that, for the first time in a long time, the Oilers will be dormant at the deadline. To the extent that they are willing to let defenceman Ryan Whitney walk away for nothing as a UFA this summer, because Edmonton is in a playoff chase and he is too important right now to trade for draft picks.

The Oilers roster still needs depth, a fact of which the organization is well aware. They need more size and toughness – both on defence and among their Top 9 – who can make a play under pressure.

There is enough in Edmonton today, however, that the Oilers are in the playoff conversation for the first time in years. As such, the Oilers are unlikely to tinker with their lineup on Deadline Day.

“This is where we wanted to be at this point in the season. Playing meaningful games. Games that mean a lot,” said president of hockey operations, Kevin Lowe. “When you go into Vancouver on Thursday, that’s going to be a lion’s den. We’re going to see what we’re made of in there.

“Either we’ll be successful and we’ll get into the playoffs, or we’ll get some scars on the young guys. You need to be battle worthy to move on.”