If the Canucks can salvage some trade value out of Roberto Luongo, it may be the team's most impressive save of the season. With backup Cory Schneider outplaying him in Vancouver's first-round loss to the Kings, the team's star goalie has become expendable to a franchise that has won two straight Presidents' Trophies but has yet to win its first Stanley Cup. It wasn't supposed to end like this for Luongo, who may well go into the Hall of Fame someday.
Luongo's 339 wins and 60 shutouts are second only to the Devils' Martin Brodeur among active goalies. Yet his penchant for giving up soft or bad-angle goals has made him a piñata for pundits and fans alike in Vancouver. Witness the cheapie he allowed on April 11 in a 4--2 first-round loss to L.A.: Kings center Mike Richards, pinned near the end line on Luongo's left side, threw a puck at the goalie's skates that would have slid harmlessly through the crease had it not banked off Luongo and into the net. The gaffe detracted from his 35 saves and made it easier for coach Alain Vigneault to bench Luongo in favor of Schneider (right) after the Canucks fell into a 2--0 series hole.
Luongo, who turned 33 last month, signed a front-loaded 12-year extension in 2009 worth $64 million. The 26-year-old Schneider made $900,000 this season and will become a restricted free agent on July 1 if he does not re-sign with Vancouver. His numbers this year (1.96 GAA, .937 save percentage) were better than Luongo's (2.41, .919), though he has never had the scrutiny, either from fans or opposing scouts, of being a No. 1 goalie. General manager Mike Gillis has said that nobody is rushing to a decision, but Luongo did tell reporters he would waive his no-trade clause if asked. "I don't want to be one of those guys who is going to stand in the way of anything," he said on April 24, two days after the Canucks were eliminated.
The Maple Leafs are said to be a front-runner for Luongo's services. François Allaire, his old goalie coach, now works with Toronto, which will be well under the cap ceiling next season. But if Luongo has amassed ample detractors in Vancouver, he could get deep-fried quickly in Toronto; the Leafs haven't won a Cup since 1967 and haven't been to the playoffs since 2004. The Blackhawks may be interested. New Jersey too, if Brodeur retires. But the Lightning would be the best fit. Tampa Bay goalie Dwayne Roloson is 42, and his future with the club is uncertain. Luongo's wife, Gina, is a Florida native and, as important, the hockey spotlight is much smaller. It's time for a fresh start.