Firstly, if the club is convinced that Schneider is an elite goaltender, they could immediately sign him to a long-term deal and eliminate the risk of unrestricted free agency. Schneider would be granted a starting position and become the centerpiece of the team’s back-end.
Conversely, if the club is unconvinced that Schneider’s short-term numbers indicate long-term success (see Steve Mason, Andrew Raycroft and Jim Carey), they could take Schneider to arbitration, sign him to a reasonable one-year contract, monitor his performance as a starter, determine his true value over the course of the season, and then negotiate a long-term deal before July 1, 2013. The flexibility afforded by this option should mitigate any risks or doubts pertaining to Schneider.
By comparison, Luongo is 33. His consistency, at times, has been questioned. While his cap hit of $5.3M is not unreasonable, it extends for ten more seasons. Very few teams would be willing to take on that contract. Even fewer teams would be willing to surrender significant assets for it.
Luongo’s deal was tailor made for this incarnation of the Canucks. It enabled them to have an elite goaltender at a reasonable cap rate during their limited Stanley Cup window. It should come as no surprise that Luongo earned a Vezina nomination and went to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals in the first year of the deal. In short, the contract made sense for the Canucks. It may not for another team.
In terms of salary cap relief, moving Luongo would actually do very little. In 2011-2012, Luongo and Schneider combined for a $6.2M cap hit. Moving Luongo means a long-term deal for Schneider, likely in the range of $4M-$4.5M annually. Add $900K for Eddie Lack and your relief is $800K to $1.3M. Not exactly a shake-up.
Perhaps most importantly, Tim Thomas and Mikka Kiprusoff may also be available this summer. While Thomas is 37, he’s one year removed from the Vezina and Conn Smythe Trophies. He’s entering the last year of his deal at a cap hit of $5M. Conversely, Kiprusoff is 35 and has two years remaining at a cap hit of $5.8M. In other words, neither player comes with significant financial risk. Moreover, in 2011-2012, both Thomas (59 GP, 2.36 GAA, .920 SV%) and Kiprusoff (70 GP, 2.35 GAA, .921 SV%) played more games and had better numbers than Luongo (55 GP, 2.41 GAA, .919 SV%). Though all three goaltenders offer the prospect of immediate success, their contracts suggest that Luongo is the least attractive of the bunch.
Ultimately, Vancouver’s problems are not in net. The team scored four goals in Cory Schneider’s three playoff starts. They’ve scored 16 goals in their last 12 playoff games. Ironically or not, goaltending is the organization’s greatest strength.
And that’s why moving a goaltender makes sense. But it only makes sense if it addresses the team’s offensive woes. Moving Luongo for a bag of pucks or a bad contract does not take the team from Game 5 of the opening round to Game 7 of the finals. It actually sets them back. And if this team is not getting closer to the Cup, they’re moving further away.
If the team was building for the future, Schneider would be the guy. No question. But the Canucks are not building. The pieces are already in place. And that’s why moving Schneider for a young forward is the only logical course of action. It’s the only ace that this team has left to play.
Because really, if this team can’t win with Roberto Luongo in net, they have far bigger problems.