Just like last spring, Roberto Luongo’s time in Vancouver appears at an end.
You say you’ve heard that before?
“I think it’s unlikely,” said Canucks’ general manager Mike Gillis, when asked during a press conference Thursday at Rogers Arena if he expected Luongo to be back with the team next season.
Two days ago, the Vancouver Canucks were swept out of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs following a 4-3 overtime loss to the San Jose Sharks.
There was Luongo, in what could be his last final minutes in a Canucks uniform, wearing a team hat and sitting on the bench.
Cory Schneider, who went 13 days between games due to a tweaked groin suffered during the third period against the Chicago Blackhawks on April 22, got the start in the final two games of the series.
For the better part of the last year, Canucks’ general manager Mike Gillis tried to deal Luongo, who is about to complete the third year of a 12-year, $64 million contract.
“I think that if the lockout didn’t occur we were well on our to making a deal, but it did,” said Gillis.
“I think the landscape is going to be very different this summer. There’s very little supply of players out there. We have players under contract. I think there’s going to be greater opportunities as we move through the summer.”
As a result of not being traded, Luongo, at the age of 34, spent the majority of the regular season on the bench.
Asked if he felt this was a wasted season for him, Luongo was blunt: “Yes. Yes, it does.
“Obviously I didn’t get a chance to play as much as I would but I knew that coming into the season and I was going to be patient and let the cards play out.
“When you want to play, it’s tough to be sitting.”
If this is to be Luongo’s final few days in the Canucks organization, it’s important to recognize his body of work since he was traded to Vancouver in June of 2006.
He’s the franchise leader in wins with 233 and shutouts with 35. He helped take this team to Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and, while this is separate from the Canucks, he won a gold medal for Canada at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
Despite this list of accomplishments, the franchise shifted its starting netminder from Luongo to Schneider last post-season.
If there was one constant about the Canucks in 2013, it was the goaltending controversy that seemed to follow them everywhere. The drama hit its climactic point at the trade deadline on April 3.
Luongo left the ice in the final minutes of practice and was whisked into Gillis’ office with the deadline about to pass, however no trade was ever consummated.
Luongo remained a Canuck for the time being, counted upon to be the back-up.
“I think once the season started, I knew what the circumstances were and what was happening,” said Luongo.
“Apart from maybe a trade deadline week or so, I was 100 per cent committed and focused to being here and helping the team whether I was playing or not.
“Now that the season’s over, obviously I’m sure my mind’s going to start shifting to what’s going to happen to me.”
Conducting his availability with reporters just down the hall, Schneider lamented the events that led to this latest premature playoff exit.
Schneider, 27, started Game 3. He was shelled for five goals, including three in the span of two minutes and 27 seconds at the start of the third period, and pulled for Luongo.
Schneider was called upon again in Game 4. He was much better, making 43 saves, but a win eluded him. In the grand scheme, goaltending was not the reason the Canucks lost the series.
“The team believed in me,” said Schneider.
“There are nights where you’re not going to be your best, there’s nights where you’re going to be fighting it, there’s nights where you gotta find a way to push through it and I think that’s part of being a starting goalie.”
The lockout-shortened 2013 campaign provided a number of challenges for Schneider.
He was the starting goalie for the home opener, but was pulled in the second period in front of an increasing impatient crowd.
For the next two months, he struggled to maintain the starting role amid a run of inconsistent play, before he finally settled into a groove in the middle of March and took control of the No. 1 job.
“I’m not a guy that gets impatient. You try to limit your frustration,” he said.
“You have to play well. You have to earn your spot. Nothing’s given to you. I didn’t assume that I was going to be given the net because they told me ‘you’re the guy.’”
The decision to start Schneider over Luongo in these playoffs was a source of criticism, and the end result opened it up to second guessing.
“I think that hindsight, you’re always 100 per cent correct,” said Gillis. “Cory was our most valuable player during the season.
“It’s playoff hockey and when you reflect on things after the fact, it’s easy to think you might’ve done something differently.
“The coaches coach the team. They’re empowered to make those decisions and they make them based on what they feel and what they think is right for the team.”