The Vancouver Canucks know better than anyone that having two quality goaltenders in the salary cap era is not an enviable situation.
Veteran Roberto Luongo and 27-year-old Cory Schneider have backstopped the Canucks in net for the last three seasons, and the team has explored every possible way to trade one of them, receive maximum value in return and get rid of the goalie controversy that has been created as a result of both goalies playing well enough to earn the starting job.
The final decision made by general manager Mike Gillis was to move Schneider, who has a manageable contract and more value on the trade market than Luongo.
Trading Luongo proved to be too difficult because of his enormous contract that has nine years left on it with a $5.33 million salary cap hit. If he was traded and decided to retire before the contract ended, the team that acquired him would still be stuck with the cap hit until the deal expired.
All of this created a situation where the most logical decision was to trade Schneider and give the starting goaltender job back to Luongo. The Canucks are an aging team with several holes to fill on their roster (most notably second-line center), and the former Boston College standout was Gillis' best trade asset to strengthen his roster and extend Vancouver's closing championship window.
But instead of maximizing his return for Schneider, Gillis completed a horrible deal on Sunday that netted the Canucks the ninth overall pick in the draft (used to select Bo Horvat) from the New Jersey Devils in exchange for a star goaltender at the beginning of his prime.
Cam Cole of the Vancouver Sun shared a popular opinion on the deal via Twitter on Sunday:
Gillis needed to acquire an established NHL player in a deal involving Schneider, someone who could address a weakness (second-line center, top-four defenseman) and help the team win right now.
Vancouver has just $4,047,222 of cap space with only 16 players signed for next season, per Capgeek. This means that significantly improving the team in free agency isn't going to work, forcing Gillis to make sure he got great value in return for Schneider.
It's hard to imagine that Gillis would have been unable to acquire a young NHL forward, preferably a center, in exchange for Schneider. The Philadelphia Flyers have an impressive amount of young forwards and a strong need for an established goalie. They would have been a better trade partner for the Canucks than the Devils.
As Damien Cox of the Toronto Sun pointed out in March, Gillis had an impressive offer from the Toronto Maple Leafs for Luongo's services at the 2012 draft, but he wanted more. Shockingly, he made an equally foolish decision by accepting New Jersey's laughable offer for Schneider.
Horvat is a quality prospect with the potential to be a Selke-caliber center, but by the time he makes an impact as a top-six NHL forward (if he ever reaches his full potential), the current core of the Canucks will be old and past the point of contending for a Stanley Cup.
For Horvat to develop properly, he should not be in the NHL this season. In the event that he impresses during training camp and does make the team, asking him to play an important role on a squad with championship aspirations would be a giant mistake.
Depending on Luongo to lead the team to a championship didn't work out in the first seven years of his Canucks career, so why would the results be any different when the current roster is less deep and not as talented as many of the previous editions during his tenure?
During the shortened 2013 season, Luongo had his worst save percentage (.907) since 2000 and his worst GAA (2.56) since 2006. He's still a quality player, but not a Vezina Trophy-caliber goaltender.
Luongo has gone through multiple playoff meltdowns throughout his career, most notably the three games played in Boston during the 2011 Cup final where he allowed 14 goals. He hasn't posted a save percentage better than .915 or a GAA below 2.50 in the postseason since 2006-07.
Another concern for the Canucks is Luongo's desire to stay with the team despite the fact that he's the No. 1 goalie again. The deal was a shock to many fans, and Luongo shared a similar feeling when speaking to TSN's James Duthie:
In May, TSN's Darren Dreger talked about Luongo's situation during an appearance on TSN 1050 radio:
You can't have Luongo and Schneider back together - I don't think Roberto will report. Honestly, I don't. I think (Luongo's) done in Vancouver and whatever situation is put in front of him, he's going to accept."
These comments were made before the Schneider trade, but repairing the situation between Luongo and the Canucks won't be easy, and the first step in the process to heal the relationship has already begun, according to Fox Sports Florida's Paul Kennedy:
During the draft, Gillis admitted that "he did not speak with Luongo before agreeing to Schneider trade," according to Dreger. This is one of many mistakes that Gillis has made over the last year when figuring out how to solve his goaltending dilemma.
Gillis' next challenge of proving to Luongo that he's the goalie of the team's present and future may be his most difficult one yet. Gillis must hope that his goalie wants to remain in Vancouver, because if he doesn't, the Canucks will be in a lot of trouble.
If Luongo doesn't report to the team in the fall, he would likely be suspended without pay, much like Tim Thomas when he decided to take the 2013 season off instead of playing the final year of his contract with the Boston Bruins.
The conclusion of the Luongo/Schneider fiasco has resulted in the Canucks' championship window completely closing because the trade failed to bring back the necessary value to address the weaknesses of the team.
Vancouver hasn't won a playoff series since the 2011 Western Conference Final, and since the team lost in the Cup final that year to the Boston Bruins, it has lost eight of the last nine postseason games.
With an aging roster, a lack of depth at center, a new coach and a goaltender who has already proven that he's unable to win meaningful playoff games, the recent era of the Canucks being legitimate Stanley Cup contenders is over.
The biggest question that remains is if Gillis should be the general manager to oversee and lead the team's retooling over the next few years.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He was also a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final.
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