Via Sportsnet 590 radio and as transcribed in a Toronto Sun article earlier this month, Cherry argued that such a trade would set up Luongo for more of the same unpleasantness he has recently endured with the Vancouver Canucks.
Cherry’s point is spot-on in general, considering the fact that Toronto is arguably the most demanding media market in the NHL and also caters to the league’s most starved fanbase. But it is even more glaringly true when one considers Luongo’s recent history with the Bruins, one of the Leafs’ Northeast Division cohabitants.
Granted, if the NHL lockout ends, the passage of time will have naturally swept more of the shards from the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals to the side. But the often pressure-averse Luongo has yet to verify that he is over those three shellackings he brooked at the TD Garden 17 months ago when he had a chance to impose a stranglehold in the series or close it out altogether.
Recall that, in Game 3, he let in eight goals and let a 2-0 series advantage whittle down to 2-1. Two nights later, he was yanked at the 3:17 mark of the third period after whiffing on four of the Bruins’ 20 registered stabs.
After posting a shutout back home in Game 5, Luongo had another short night in Game 6, authorizing three goals on eight shots in only 8:35 of play. His team never recovered, and he has not seen a millisecond of game action in Boston since.
Things can certainly change over time, but Luongo did not get an opportunity to exorcise his demons when the Canucks returned to the Garden this past January. Head coach Alain Vigneault elected to start Cory Schneider, who backstopped a hard-earned 4-3 victory.
In turn, the question mark as to whether Luongo can handle a historically hostile rival audience like that of Boston remains inevitably intact.
For Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke, the almost rhetorical question is thus: Do you want both a veteran goalie and a leading scorer who each have a history of being egregiously thrown of their game when they visit the Garden?
Already, for the past three seasons, Toronto has had a former Bruin in Phil Kessel, who has not cultivated many shining moments in his first nine return trips to Boston. He has been held scoreless in six of those nine visits and accrued a minus-11 rating.
Kessel brooked an identical minus-11 over the course of last year’s six-game season series against Boston. If not for that, he would have had a positive rating as well as a production average exceeding a point per game for the 2011-12 campaign.
With Kessel, there is solace in the fact that he has also mustered three two-point games for Toronto at the Garden as well as the fact that he is still 25 years of age.
If they were to import the 33-year-old Luongo, the Leafs could at least, if need be, capitalize on the fact that Luongo does play an every-night position. When visiting Boston, they could either roll the dice on him or simply bank on James Reimer or Ben Scrivens the same way Vigneault banked on Schneider last January.
But whether Luongo and company confront or circumvent the issue, the local crowd would most likely still find a way to pack a one-two punch of Kessel and Luongo jokes three nights per season.
Furthermore, any approach would still mean a monsoon of media inquiries for both the netminders and the coaching staff leading up to each of their six regular season meetings with the Bruins.
Perhaps, after about a year, that trend would naturally die down the same way it has with the Kessel saga (even if the Boston fans choose not to relent).
But can the Maple Leafs really afford to bring on that potential tempest for any period of time? After all, they are not only seven-plus seasons removed from their last playoff run, but also coming off a clean six-game season series sweep at the hands of the Bruins.
Improving their head-to-head results with divisional rivals should be one priority as they try to splash their playoff drought. Luongo might not be so trustworthy with his presence in that cause.
It may not matter, anyway. For what it’s worth, one of Burke’s latest addresses had him attempting to ground the persistent Luongo rumors.
Anything is still possible, but the Toronto faithful can only hope their GM stays true to that word. Bruins buffs, on the other hand, are free to dream, but probably should not invest too much hope in what would likely be a gift from fate.
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