Rumours have swarmed the Maple Leafs media ever since Luongo was given the hook so early in a third straight failed campaign. Alain Vigneault received his contract extension as head coach of the Canucks, and made it clear that Corey Schneider is the goaltender moving forward in Vancouver. Now what for Roberto?
In this audio clip, TSN Insider Bob MacKenzie expresses his lack of optimism about Luongo’s free agency market. He says Toronto, as of now, is not interested..
However, the feel around the Toronto area seems to be ‘high risk, high reward’ when it comes to the hot topic of Luongo. Many fans feel that the Leafs need to make an effort to bring in a top tier goaltender. Though this notion may be justifiable, it is not simply a matter of acquiring a top goalie.. enter: the ungodly contract.
At age 33, Roberto Luongo carries a 10 year deal which has an annual cap hit of $5.33 million. This will make him difficult to move anywhere, let alone Toronto. Having said that, Luongo’s ideal destination would be a team that is on the verge of contending for a Cup. That team is not Toronto.
Especially given the high volume of media scrutiny and pressure to perform by the fan base in Toronto, which he seemed to have fallen victim to 3 consecutive years in Vancouver, the Toronto scene doesn’t appear to suit Luongo. However, there are a few teams that could use his talent and ability. Teams like: Chicago, Tampa Bay, and New Jersey are all potentially looking for an experienced goaltender like Luongo, but most cannot afford his contract. Yet, Zach Parise in New Jersey is expected to be the most sought after forward this summer in free agency.. this could open a door for Luongo. New Jersey is a good hockey town that is a competitor, virtually, every year. The pressure is there to win, but far less attention and pressure would follow compared to any Canadian market.
But let’s be fair, Luongo is a top tier goaltender. In fact, he came in relief of the legend Martin Brodeur and salvaged our dreams of Olympic Gold in 2010. Luongo also boasts some of the most off-the-chart regular season statistics. Other than his début in Long Island, he’s never finished with a goals against average of higher than 3 and never has he finished with a save percentage of less than .900.
Vancouver suffered a team collapse in the last three years, most notably in Game 7 of the Cup Final last year, and Luongo is to blame just as much as the team is.. especially with the amount money he is paid. Any time you agree to terms that double most of your teammates’, you automatically assume that much of an increase in accountability to your team. Win or lose, you have to expect to be held responsible for what happens. Having said that, the situation in Vancouver was less of Luongo’s ability, and more of the rising star in Schneider.
Corey Schneider is at the point in his career where Vancouver feels he is ready to be a starter at the professional level. They have also learned that an overbearingly long and massive contract may not be the best way to approach a goaltender. The way goaltenders are rising up nowadays is stunning. From the rise of Jonathan Quick in LA, to Mike Smith coming out of nowhere in Phoenix.. the league is seeing a rise in prolific goaltenders like never before. This may not be a fair assessment to goaltenders, but it’s reality. Vancouver witnessed first hand that a franchise goalie may come along every half a decade. Furthermore, smaller contracts keep the players in check, as they have reason to be concerned about earning their next deal. I’ve never been a fan of long contracts. They give the players a chance to say “Ahhh.. this is the life” and kind of sit back and enjoy life itself. Sorry guys, but professional athletes absolutely cannot have that mentality. They make enough money to retire early and do that in their 40s. If I was a GM, I would never hand out a contract longer than 3 years. I understand the idea of locking up certain players, but it burns more teams than it benefits.. notably Toronto.
I mean let’s review Toronto’s situation. We are paying Komisarek $4.5 million to either play in the minors or take countless stupid penalties, paying Tim Connolly (as much as I love his talent) 4.75 million to play on the 3rd line (bad coaching), paying Matt Lombardi to play along side Connolly and never escape the 3rd line, and of course paying Dion Phaneuf $6.5 million to be an average defensemen. The Leafs are bound and tangled with these monster deals, making these players nearly impossible to move. We are approaching the cap ceiling, and as a result, may not be able to do much at all this offseason.. unless some of these players are moved. This makes us dependent on other teams trading for some of these players.. and contracts. However, above and beyond the numbers, is the no-trade clause. What a terrible idea for a contract. They are the ultimate handcuffs to any franchise, yet they are handed out like candy at Halloween. It truly is mind boggling to see how many players, average players at that, acquire this veto power.
Moral of the story? Big contracts are crippling to any franchise. It is the result of ridiculous contracts that we will see a limited market for Roberto Luongo this summer and the same reason we won’t see him in Toronto. Like him or not, Roberto is a world class goaltender that has been thrown under the bus via his contract. The big bucks and assurance may been comforting not so long ago, but those terms are the very reason he will be scrambling for employment next season.
Toronto needs a goaltender in the UFA market.. an experienced goaltender with whom they are able to negotiate a short term deal with. I propose Tomas Vokoun. Here is a man who brought Nashville out of the basement and into an annual playoff team. A very similar situation in Toronto. Also note that Ben Scrivens is 25. He is approaching 100 games in the AHL and very instrumental in the Calder Cup campaign with the Marlies. I believe him to be the long term solution in Toronto. A guy like Vokoun would be ideal for leading the young goalies in Toronto and even lead the Leafs in a playoff run as soon as next year.