Posturing in the Roberto Luongo saga continued in full force on Sunday as both the Canucks and Maple Leafs opened up their respective training camps. In Vancouver, general manager Mike Gillis told reporters there has been “lots of discussion” surrounding his former No. 1 and that Luongo’s contract hasn’t been an issue in those discussions.
"There’s been a lot more interest in Roberto than people wanted to recognize because (they thought) the contract was onerous or difficult,” Gillis said. “That has never been mentioned to me by one team. I know some people like to make a big deal of that but it’s a very friendly contract for a lot of reasons.
"That’s one of the reasons why in the new collective agreement there are penalties and you can’t sign these types of contracts because they are favourable. So contract is not an issue.”
He went on to add, “I haven’t talked to anyone about keeping a portion of his contract. Is that off the table? No, I mean everything is on the table when you talk about those things. There are concepts you can discuss. But Roberto is an all-star goaltender and I don’t feel compelled or see any reason why we would go down that path with a player of this calibre.”
Meantime in Toronto, new Leafs GM Dave Nonis predictably backed the goaltenders he has in camp saying the Leafs didn’t have to make a trade to upgrade that position.
“No. We don’t need to make a move. No. We don’t. The one thing — you hear the buzz over the last 48 hours — is that there is going to be a change in goal. There’s only going to be a change in goal if we can upgrade at that position without severely hampering the ability to play in front of that goaltender, and without taking away very good young players from our reserve list. If we can add a veteran, if we can add a goaltender to help these guys along, we think that would be helpful. But if we can’t, then it’s up to our whole group to play in front of them and to put wins on the board.”
So what is to be made of all of this? Is Gillis bluffing? Does Nonis think anyone actually believes him when he says that he doesn’t need to bring in a better goalie to improve his club?
I say yes and no.
Obviously Gillis wants it out there that there is plenty of interest in Luongo. A lot of discussion doesn’t necessarily mean a lot of interest once Gillis expresses what he wants for Luongo. And of course the remaining term and dollars of Luongo’s contract have to be some sort of issue for whoever is thinking of acquiring him.
As for Nonis, I don’t doubt he doesn’t want to deal away good young prospects for an older netminder. But I don’t buy that he doesn’t want to improve that position before the season starts. I think Nonis knows he needs to get a goalie with more chops than James Reimer.
So what’s the solution?
Well, I wrote last week that I thought the Leafs and Canucks should make a deal if it was fair for both teams. Luongo can certainly help the Leafs try to make the playoffs and the Canucks do need to fill that gaping hole at centre left by the injured Ryan Kesler. And I still believe that makes sense.
But what we have to consider here is that the Leafs are looking at other options; options that may not cost as much as Luongo in the short term and long term.
What about Jaroslav Halak in St. Louis? He went 26-12-7 last season with a 1.97 GAA and .925 save percentage and still sits second on the depth chart behind Brian Elliott. Or what if Nonis and company felt like Jonathan Bernier was ready for prime time but never got the chance to show it behind Jonathan Quick.
Many have said that the firing of Brian Burke would grease the skids for Nonis to make the Luongo deal with Vancouver. Many argued Burke’s hatred of long-term, back-diving contracts and his dislike of Gillis would have gotten in the way of any potential deal for Luongo. And perhaps that’s true.
However, Nonis has bones to pick with the Canucks organization too. Remember it was Nonis that was fired by Vancouver’s current ownership group and replaced by Mike Gillis. You don’t think Nonis can hold a grudge? I do. I just think he hides such a grudge better than Burke.
If a deal for Luongo makes sense for the Leafs and doesn’t cost too much, then I don’t think Nonis will let anything personal get in the way of making his team better. But I also bet he’d love to make a deal for another solid goalie and give the Canucks one less suitor for Luongo.