NHL: The Roberto Luongo Trade Saga

GONE BABY GONE: Roberto Luongo’s tenure with the Canucks seems to be over, but where will his final destination be?

BY JEFF ANGUS

I managed to make it through the entire lockout without penning/typing a single Roberto Luongo trade rumour post. But hold your applause, because that changes right now. It looks like the Luongo trade will occur at some point between the ratification of the new CBA and the start of the 2013 season. We have constantly heard how Luongo to Toronto was a “done deal” for much of the lockout, with names like Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak, and Cody Franson rumoured to be on their way back to Vancouver.

And with the news breaking that Toronto has fired GM Brian Burke, does the Luongo trade change at all?

According to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, there is nothing concrete on the Luongo front right now. I also don’t believe Toronto is the only team in the mix, either.

Luongo, to his credit, is not going to make a difficult situation any more complicated.

“I gave [Gillis] the green light to do whatever he needs to do that’s best for the team. So whatever that is, how much time that will be, I don’t know.

“All I know is, I’m going to be a good teammate, whatever the circumstances.”

Luongo is also aware of the Toronto rumours.

“I have a lot of respect for Toronto, Brian Burke and the Leafs. You know, they are obviously part of the equation, there is no denying that.”

THE LUONGO RULE
Unfortunately for the Canucks, the new CBA contains what has been unofficially termed as the “Luongo rule” to punitively punish teams who signed back-diving contracts under the last CBA (if this sounds incredibly petty to you, you are most definitely not alone). Gary Bettman (and some owners) is upset that smart general managers like Lou Lamoriello (with the Ilya Kovalchuk deal) and Gillis found a loophole his the old CBA, and he have decided to punish those teams, because, well, he can.

The gist of the rule, from Jason Botchford of the Province:

“The clause will penalize teams that Luongo plays for during his current contract, a deal with a sliding salary scale set up under the old rules to legally take advantage of a cap-circumventing loophole.

When, as expected, Luongo retires before his 12-year deal is up, teams will essentially have to pay back the cap benefits they got when he was playing.

It is a wrinkle, but it’s hard to imagine it’s deep enough to be a deal breaker.”

And more on the Luongo Rule, this time from the Vancouver Sun:

“Once Luongo takes his early retirement — and he’d be 40 years old after completing the ninth year of his deal — the Canucks must pay the piper. That $6,049,334 cap benefit they enjoyed in the first two years of his deal is now divided by the number of years Luongo had left on his deal before retiring. So in this example you’d divide $6,049,334 by three and come up with $2,016,444. That’s the salary cap hit the Canucks would be forced to take for each of the 2019-20, 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons.”

As Botchford notes in the first quote, the new wrinkle hurts the Canucks, but it isn’t enough to prevent a deal from getting done. The new CBA also allows teams to keep salary in trades (benefitting profitable teams like Vancouver and Toronto), and it will be interesting to see if the Leafs demand some financial support from the Canucks in this trade (not that they need it, though).

And the cap penalty won’t hit the Canucks for almost another decade – likely long after Gillis and company have moved on (and the same goes for Burke in Toronto).

WHY TORONTO?
The reasons why Toronto keeps coming up in the Luongo trade rumours are as follows:

1) It is Toronto – the centre of the known universe.

2) Toronto desperately needs a goalie and a playoff appearance.

The Canucks probably won’t fetch a future superstar in any Luongo trade (his contract is too complicated and lengthy), but Luongo’s impact on a team like Toronto would be significant. He turns Leafs from playoff outsiders to a sure bet to be in the mix for the postseason in the East. Luongo has been one of the most consistent NHL goaltenders over the past 10 years for Florida and Vancouver. He plays a lot of hockey, and the majority of it at an elite level (save for the odd playoff meltdown).

He was never “run out of town” by Vancouver’s fans or media, he was simply replaced by a very talented (and much younger) goaltender in Cory Schneider. That is important to note. If Schneider wasn’t around right now, Luongo would remain Vancouver’s starter for the foreseeable future.

Assuming Toronto is the target, the Canucks would be best off maximizing their return in terms of asset value. They don’t have a huge “need” for any particular position (outside of center, but that is more of a short term issue). Bozak has been mentioned, and this has stumped a few Canucks bloggers – Bozak doesn’t fit the mold of an Alain Vigneault-approved third line center, and his time on the second line would be short-lived until Kesler returns.

Kadri is an interesting name – he is a very skilled prospect and his overall game has improved significantly over the past year and a half. He can play both the wing and center, but likely ends up on the wing at the NHL level. He is a great playmaker and could be a nice fit alongside Kesler and David Booth in a few months. He is also a player that opposing players hate to play against, a trait very noticeable throughout the Vancouver lineup.

After those two, the Leafs have some other young forwards who may be of interest to the Canucks, including Matt Frattin, Jerry D’Amigo, and the underperforming Joe Colborne. Defenseman Cody Franson, the former Vancouver Giant, may be in the mix as well. He has struggled to hold down a regular roster spot in the NHL for the past few seasons, though.

OTHER CONTENDERS
For family reasons, Luongo would love to return to Florida. However, it doesn’t sound like the Panthers have the same level of affection for him. The Canucks reportedly asked for blue-chip prospect Nick Bjugstad at the draft last year, and the Panthers smartly denied that request (Bjugstad, a 6-6 forward at Minnesota, is one of the best prospects in hockey).

Chicago has also been in the mix (so says the rumour mill), too, and the thought of Luongo returning to the Madhouse on Madison makes for pretty spectacular theater. There is a need for him there too, as he would upgrade the goaltending position significantly. However, it would be difficult to foresee Chicago and Vancouver come to terms on a deal that involves moving so much talent in either direction.

One team to keep an eye on – Edmonton. The Oilers quietly entered the Luongo sweepstakes at the 11th hour before the lockout began last fall. They have the assets to get the Canucks on the phone, and they have an exciting team with a bright future, which would interest Luongo (depending on how many playing years he thinks he has left). The Canucks may not want to move Luongo within the division, but the two teams may not be in the same division much longer, if, as expected, realignment goes into effect for the 2013-14 season.

MY TAKE
Luongo is traded to Toronto (all the signs seem to be pointing this way) for Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri. According to Botchford, Burke hasn’t been the point-man on the Luongo trade talks (likely his right-hand man Dave Nonis, who now may walk into another GM position after Burke is fired from the post).

And if Luongo does end up in Toronto, that means we get to see a lot more of this (Jim Hughson is now the Maple Leafs play-by-play guy):