If ever there were extenuating circumstances worthy of mention, the rise and fall of the Vancouver Canucks goaltending situation is indeed a story of many chapters. The contract, the captaincy, the arrival of Cory Schneider to challenge Roberto Luongo, a pair of unexpected trades…
But alas, when a team goes from having likely the best goaltending tandem in the National Hockey League to the unproven, inexperienced duo of Eddie Lack and Jacob Markstrom, there is a certain reality. Where once the Canucks were strong, they are now average at best.
And there is simply no room on that scorecard for a story.
“To have two of the top 10 goalies in the league, and you turn around 12 months later and you don’t have one of them?” Martin Brodeur asked aloud, in conversation with the Vancouver Province on Friday. “That is a little strange.”
Brodeur, Godfather of the NHL’s goaltenders’ union, is simply putting on the record the question that everyone across the game has been asking since Luongo was traded to the Florida Panthers on March 4. As the Canucks take the ice in Sunrise to take on Luongo and his Panthers Sunday afternoon, the hockey world still wonders: How did the Canucks go from that, to this?
“This is not something anyone foresaw a couple of years ago,” Schneider, now in New Jersey of course, told the Province prior to taking a 5-3 loss to Luongo and the Panthers on Friday. “It’s happened. I’m sure (Luongo) is at peace with it and has moved on.
“So have I.”
It must have been surreal for a Canucks fan to see a hockey game played on Friday in Sunrise involving both Schneider and Luongo — with the Canucks more than 1,600 km away on the ice in Washington D.C. Two fine, proven goalies are gone, leaving behind a tandem with 75 career games between them.
“It must be tough for (Canucks fans),” said Schneider, whose own game has struggled of late. “I know it was a pretty divisive issue when him and I were there amongst the fans. They are passionate fans. They are loyal. They are really involved with the team. I’m sure no one really saw this coming. I’m sure it must have come as a shock to them.
“Obviously (the Canucks), have a plan where they’re trying to retool and make some changes. You have to understand that and be patient.”
“The Plan,” or “The Retool” is what Canucks fans are being asked to believe in. The problem is, as we’ve mulled over in this space before, whatever you want to call it, this process will surely require some savvy trading by Canucks general manager Mike Gillis. The problem is, his trading record does not suggest the kind of return a Canucks fan would hope for.
Making matters worse, in dealing Schneider at the 2013 draft, then Luongo on March 4, Gillis can be accused in the short term of having dealt away the best player in both trades. Usually — not always, but usually — history shows the team that trades away the best player loses that trade.
Now, will Bo Horvat, the junior forward chosen with the first-round pick reaped for Schneider, become the best player in that deal one day? Perhaps. Will Shawn Matthias, projected to be a third-line centre, or Markstrom one day combine to become a more valuable commodity than Luongo? Maybe.
The point is, trading away known commodities for young talent is always a gamble. Depleting your organization at the most important position in return for a load of potential is even more dangerous, and that is exactly what Gillis has done.
“When you think about it in retrospect, it is kind of weird,” Luongo told the Province after the Devils game. “I don’t think a lot of people saw this scenario. But it’s done now. We’ve both moved on.”
“We have a young team here,” Luongo said. “The boys are working hard.
“The guys don’t quit. There’s some fresh, young legs and they skate hard.”
On Sunday Luongo will stare down his old team, and they him. And through their television screens, Canucks fans will get a look at what so many others used to see when their favorite squad met the Vancouver Canucks.
One team has solid, veteran goaltending. The other, not so much.