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Earlier this week, the New Jersey Devils sent Cory Schneider to the minors in a move that many viewed as the final act of Goalie Confidential. And maybe it was. Maybe we can finally close the books on the saga that consumed this market for two years. Maybe we should just let it go.
But what’s the fun in that?
While there’s a certain finality to Schneider’s demotion, this one act doesn’t quite account for all the intrigue and drama, the what-ifs and what-was that played out between Schneider, Roberto Luongo, the Canucks, the Toronto Maple Leafs and, finally, the Florida Panthers.
It speaks volumes, in fact, that six years after the Canucks traded Schneider to the Devils, it’s hard to write a defining conclusion to this story; and if you don’t believe me, here are three words to consider:
Cap frickin’ recapture.
So, yes, there’s a bottom line here and, yes, the Canucks did very well in the end. But that doesn’t quite tell the whole story, so let’s hop in the way-back machine and try to tell it.
For our purposes, the soap opera starts at the end of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, when Luongo first requested a trade. In that series, the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Canucks were ousted in five games by the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings. Luongo started the first two games of that series, dropping a pair of 4-2 decisions on home ice.
Schneider, who had impressed the previous two seasons in a backup role, started the final three games, losing Game 3 in L.A. 1-0, and winning Game 4 before losing the deciding Game 5 at home 2-1 in overtime. His line in that series: four goals against in three games and a .937 save percentage.
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Luongo, then 33, decided the Canucks had become Schneider’s team and requested a trade that off-season. There were just two problems. One, he had nine years and US$48 million left on his infamous contract and, two, he had a no-trade clause.
Note the wording of that second item. It will become important.
That off-season, then-Leafs general manager Brian Burke expressed a strong interest in the veteran goalie. One story out of Toronto reported then-Canucks GM Mike Gillis was looking for a package that included Tyler Bozak, Jake Gardiner, a first-rounder and, of course, Matt Frattin.
Burke, rightly, rejected that deal but continued negotiations with Bozak as the centrepiece of a potential trade. Just before training camp, talks had evolved to the point that Luongo was informed of the pending deal.
I have a no-trade clause, he said.
Fine, said the Canucks, but you don’t have a no-movement clause, and we can put you on waivers where Edmonton will have the first pick. Do you like that better?
The Canucks believed they could have leveraged Luongo into waiving his no-trade clause; but, wouldn’t you know it, that was about the time the NHL locked out the players and instituted a freeze on player moves. The deal died there, Burke was fired in January 2013 and Schneider took over as the No. 1 goalie in Vancouver, going 17-9-4 in the shortened season with a .927 save percentage.
At the deadline, the Leafs came calling again, this time with Dave Nonis, another former Canucks GM, in the big office. Again, the two sides were close and, again, a deal fell apart at the last minute when Nonis demanded the Canucks eat a portion of Luongo’s salary.
The Canucks, however, believed they were being played by Nonis, who was fired by the Aquilinis and replaced by Gillis, and didn’t have warm feelings toward either party. Whatever the motivation, the result was the same. Luongo went before the TV cameras, proclaimed his contract sucked, and remained with the Canucks.
By the time the draft rolled round that summer, there was considerable pressure from ownership on Gillis to resolve the situation. The Devils came calling for Schneider with the ninth overall pick, the deal was consummated and the Canucks took Bo Horvat.
And the story didn’t end there.
Luongo actually had a good season in 2013-14 but dropped five straight games before the Olympic break. Upon returning from Sochi, he discovered Eddie Lack had supplanted him as the Canucks’ No. 1 and the Canucks, seemingly, were right back where they started.
Except this time the Panthers rode to the rescue. Again, there was backroom drama and the Aquilinis had to be convinced it was a swell idea to eat US$800,000 a year of Luongo’s contract. But they eventually signed off on a deal that brought back Jacob Markstrom, Shawn Matthias and a third-rounder, even if they weren’t happy about it.
In a roundabout way, this brings us back to this week’s news about Schneider. The Canucks, after all this time, have Horvat and Markstrom (Cole Cassels was the third-rounder) which, considering their position, is a huge haul.
But the really fun part of this exercise is considering what might have been had things transpired differently. If the Bozak trade goes through with Toronto, does that extend the shelf life of the Canucks’ Presidents’ Trophy team? Does Burke keep his job in Toronto? What about Nonis?
Then there’s Gillis. You can easily make the case he lost the confidence of ownership with his handling of the Schneider-Luongo file. Where would the Canucks be if he stays? Do they still fall off the grid for four years or was all this necessary to bring them to the place they now occupy?
You have to admit. Those are weighty questions and yet it’s still not over, or it won’t be, as long as the Canucks are absorbing three-plus-million in Luongo’s cap recapture over the next three years.
The scribes who covered the Canucks at the time used to call Goalie Confidential the gift that keeps on giving. Six years later, it still gives.
That’s quite a gift.
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