Vancouver Canucks: Why They Must Make a Goaltender Decision Before the Playoffs

Joel Prosser@@JoelProsserCorrespondent IMarch 4, 2013

BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 07:  Roberto Luongo #1 congratulates Cory Schneider #35 of the Vancouver Canucks after the win over the Boston Bruins on January 7, 2012 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The Vancouver Canucks defeated the Boston Bruins 4-3.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

Everyone knows about the Vancouver Canucks' saga in net with Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider, and now it is coming down to crunch time for Canucks general manager Mike Gillis. He needs to make a decision on his goaltending in relatively short order, with the trade deadline looming on April 3. 

So far this season, both goalies have been pretty good, albeit with ups and downs. Luongo has two shutouts, and Schneider has one. Both have also been lit up in blowouts as well, Luongo against Detroit recently, and Schneider against Anaheim on opening night.

Schneider has gone 6-4-1 with a 0.910 save percentage. 

Luongo has gone 5-1-3 with a 0.916 save percentage.

Essentially Luongo has been better, but Schneider hasn’t been outplayed to a huge degree.

Gillis essentially has three options:

First, trade Luongo. This has its own inherent problems with Luongo’s contract having nine more years after this season, albeit at a cap friendly hit of $5,333,333 per year. 

Between the contract itself limiting the pool of possible trade partners, and Luongo’s own say with a no-trade clause, it will be much harder to pull off a trade.

Second, trade Schneider. Schneider has a more trade friendly contract with two more years at $4,000,000 per year, and is the younger goalie to boot. 

His age and contract open up the pool of potential trade partners greatly, and could conceivably net a bigger return if there is a bidding war.

Third, keep both goalies and deal with the logjam in net at the draft. This is the safe option, and it is possible because both goalies are friends and are willing to put up with this unusual situation in a shortened season.

All three options have positives and negatives.

The two trade options would leave the Canucks without a proven backup, and that would be a disaster if there was an injury or the starter faltered in the playoffs. 

For the balance of the season after the trade deadline, the lack of a proven backup shouldn’t be an issue, since the Canucks should handily win the Northwest Division no matter who is in net.

And in the playoffs, no one alternates goalies. Once you get into the playoffs, you ride the hot goalie until you win the Stanley Cup or go golfing. Gillis has been unconventional as a general manager, but no one seriously thinks this is an option.

The positive of the trade option is that Gillis would be bringing in player(s) to upgrade the roster. The Canucks definitely have deficiencies at forward that need to be addressed. 

Specifically, a good faceoff man is a crucial need, with Ryan Kesler being out (again) with an injury and Manny Malhotra shut down for the season. Right now the Canucks have only three natural centers on the active roster, and one of those is a rookie in Jordan Schroeder.

An impact winger for the top six would be nice as well to take pressure off the Sedins and Kesler, but if Mason Raymond can continue to produce, or David Booth works his way back into form after his groin injury, that isn’t necessarily a pressing need. 

If Gillis goes for the third option, that is playing it safe. It provides a hedge in case one of the goalie’s fumbles in the playoffs or is injured.

But the downside is that allocating valuable cap space to a goalie who will ride the pine all playoffs barring an emergency isn’t a good use of resources when you could acquire a skater who would play 15-20 minutes a night.

Also, if both goalies are alternating starts down the stretch, it isn’t allowing them to get into a rhythm. And if he does gives the majority of starts to one goalie, then he might as well have traded the other anyways.

My personal preference is for Gillis to trade Schneider is possible prior to the trade deadline. 

In the short term, Luongo is outperforming Schneider this season, and is a proven commodity in the playoffs.

In the medium term, over the next three or four years while the Sedins will still be capable top liners, Luongo should still be in his prime. 

In the long term, four years or longer from now, Schneider should be the better goalie as Luongo declines in his late 30’s.

But by that time the Canucks are looking at turning over the roster as the Sedins, Alex Burrows and the veteran defencemen all start to hit retirement age or at least slow down with age.

So the Canucks will most likely be looking at a rebuilding year or two as there is a changing of the guard, and then having Schneider in his prime isn’t likely to be a huge help 

Also, I feel that Schneider would net a bigger return on the trade market than Luongo. His age and contract status are factors, but he also doesn’t carry the untrue reputation of being a playoff choker that Luongo does. More teams would be interested, and a wider pool of trade partners should help Gillis to get a better deal.

Ultimately though, Gillis needs to make a decision before April 3, and the play of Luongo and Schneider here in March might be the deciding factor. 

Preferably the decision would be a trade to clear up the situation, assuming there is a good trade to be had. 

But even if the decision is to keep both until the draft, then he needs to announce it publicly so the first question asked of any Canucks player in an interview isn’t about the goalie situation.


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