Edmonton - August 23, 2013 - Back on June 8th, 2012, I wrote a piece in this very spot on why the Vancouver Canucks would have to ultimately settle on trading netminder Cory Schneider instead of Roberto Luongo.
At the time, few were willing to accept the situation for what it was and unfortunately for the Canucks, it cost them in the long run.
While London Knights forward Bo Horvat could be headed towards having a solid NHL career, the lack of an impact player coming back for the here and now, will probably cost this group a shot at becoming the first Canucks team to win a Stanley Cup Championship.
Granted, there was no guarantee of that actually happening but as things currently sit, they have next to no chance of hoisting Lord Stanley’s mug.
People will point fingers as to who is to blame for the mess Vancouver now find themselves in but the answer is obvious.
General manager Mike Gillis created the problem by signing Schneider to an extension and anointing him as the club’s starting goalie. He then decided to complicate matters further by being pigheaded enough to actually believe he could move Luongo’s contract and get some sort of return that would have helped the present day version of the Vancouver Canucks.
The 2013 campaign should have been a year in which the Nucks took a real run at the Cup. Instead it turned into a season in which they inexplicably struggled to even maintain a playoff spot for the first half of the season. Yes they had their fair share of injuries to deal with but so did nearly every other team in the National Hockey League.
They righted the ship in time to win another Northwest Division crown but were than blown out of the water by the San Jose Sharks in the first round of the playoffs. The same Sharks squad that is everyone’s favourite whipping boy come post-season time. It was wasted year on many fronts for the Canucks but the eventual dip in Schneider’s trade value made it even worse.
After finally realizing they would be unable to move Luongo in any sort of deal that would benefit the organization, Gillis pulled the trigger on the deal with the New Jersey Devils at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. Again, regardless of the type of player Horvat eventually becomes, this roster is no better today than it was last year and the GM no longer has his ace in the hole to play.
Not surprisingly, Luongo was taken aback by the move, after being told repeatedly he would be moved out of town. That said, the thirty-four year old has made it abundantly clear, that all he wants is an opportunity to play. He will get that chance in Vancouver and Canucks fans should expect to see the seven-time thirty game winner at his very best.
For some reason, many seem to think the former fourth overall pick of the New York Islanders is washed up. Luongo is still capable of carrying a heavy workload and coming off a year in which he saw action in just twenty regular season contests, expect new bench boss John Tortorella to give him somewhere in the neighbourhood of sixty starts in 2013-14.
While there is no question the focus will be on the guy standing in the Canucks crease come October 3rd, it should really be on whether or not this team will be able to score some goals. By their standards, the Sedins are coming off sub-par seasons but the fact Vancouver’s third leading scorer last was Jannik Hansen with twenty-seven points, says all you need to know.
After having one of the league’s most potent power plays over the previous three seasons, the Canucks slipped all the way down to 22nd and where actually near the bottom of the barrel for much of the year. Their offensive struggles continued into the playoffs, just as they had the previous year and during the last half of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. Yet the focus was on the guy in the net and this time around, it was Luongo who was by far and away the better of two during crunch time.
In my mind, Roberto Luongo will come into this season with a rather large chip on his shoulder and rightfully so. In all likelihood, he feels as though he has been thrown under the bus by far too many people and would like nothing better than to put them in their place. In all honesty, I would be absolutely stunned to not see him bounce back with a monster campaign.
While typically a slow starter, look for Luongo to get off to a solid start and take a run at securing the starting spot for Team Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Being the guy who was between the pipes for Canada’s Gold Medal victory in 2010 and no clear cut front runner for the starter’s job, Steve Yzerman and company would take a hard long look at the Canucks #1 man, should he be at the top his game.
One would think Vancouver will get more from the two Alex’s in Burrows and Edler, as well as bounce back performances from the likes of Kevin Bieksa, Jason Garrison and Ryan Kesler. They should battle with the Los Angeles Kings for top spot in the newly formed Pacific Division and Luongo will play a key role in them doing so. Just imagine how good they could have potentially looked with an additional piece coming from the Schneider deal?
If only Mr.Gillis could turn back the clock and make the move when it should have been made. His lack of foresight will ultimately be his undoing and leave a legacy that Canucks fans will have to endure for years to come.