Unraveling the seeming contradictions in Luongo and Gillis’s post-deadline press conferences

Roberto Luongo’s press conference on Wednesday was fascinating, yielding the delightful, and sure to be misinterpreted, soundbite “My contract sucks.” But the more interesting aspect for me came later in the press conference, when he was asked whether he could have made it easier for the Canucks to trade him.

Luongo flatly denied that he was ever asked to waive his no trade clause and never vetoed any trades, contradicting rumours and reports that have been floating around since the 2012 draft that the Canucks had a deal in place with the Maple Leafs, only to have it scuttled by Luongo exercising his contractual right to scuttle it.

It also seemed to contradict what Mike Gillis had to say about 20 minutes later. A closer look at what the two of them actually said and in what context, however, should clear up the contradictions.

Luongo was clear about his side of the trade negotiations. During the presser, he was asked (by, I believe, the Sun’s own Iain MacIntyre), “You were very clear in the summer that you wanted to go to Florida and the team tried off and on for a while to make a deal happen but it never happened; do you wish that you had given them more options back then?”

Luongo considered the question before replying, “I was never approached with a trade somewhere else and I said no. If that would have happened, I would have said yes. There were some teams that were interested but nothing ever really materialized to that point where I had to give a decision whether I was going to waive or not.”

When Luongo says “somewhere else,” it’s clear from what he was asked that he means somewhere other than Florida, which was pretty clearly his preferred destination. It’s clear that there were some negotiations that came close, but never to the point that Luongo had to say yes or no.

Gillis, however, did say that Luongo’s no trade clause was an issue in getting a trade done: “He has a no trade clause, which creates complications like every player that has one. Roberto’s been part of this process. . .We know some of his desires and what he would like to have happen and we’re trying to accommodate them.”

When he was asked whether there was ever a trade on the table where Luongo might have had to exercise his no trade clause, Gillis replied, “There have been discussions in the past, yes.”

There’s a lot of wiggle room in both those quotes. Luongo doesn’t have much reason to lie about whether he exercised his no trade clause, but that’s really all he was denying. Gillis said that there were discussions, but he never went as far as to say that a trade was done and got vetoed by Luongo.

It’s pretty easy to picture how one of those discussions might have gone:

Gillis: Roberto, it looks like we might be able to get a deal done with Toronto.

Luongo: That’s great, Mike, but I would rather go to Florida, if that’s possible. Is there anything on the table with them?

Gillis: Nothing solid, yet, but I’ll see what I can do before pursuing this Toronto deal any further.

That seems plausible to me, particularly considering how Gillis said that he was trying to accommodate Luongo’s desires.  Luongo had a preferred destination and Gillis tried to get a trade done to that destination. That’s a complication, like Gillis said.

As for why Luongo would be so insistent on even having a preferred destination when getting any trade done at all has proven difficult, I suspect it’s because Luongo doesn’t actually think his contract sucks. Luongo has spent his entire life working to become one of the best goaltenders in the world and now has to deal with the ignominy of GMs around the league suggesting that he is not worth his contract and not worth spending assets to acquire. Luongo understandably has a lot of pride in his abilities and this whole debacle has certainly hurt that pride.

Luongo was clearly frustrated on Wednesday, but the frustration wasn’t that his contract is bad. It was that the perception of his contract is keeping him from playing the game he loves. When he said he would “scrap” his contract, it was in response to a question about whether he’d take less money on his contract to play more.

Above all else, Luongo wants to play hockey.

Gillis argued that Luongo’s contract wasn’t the issue either: “I’ve never been told there’s a stumbling block. The discussions we’ve had didn’t surround a stumbling block, they surrounded players, draft picks, [Luongo], places where he might go — those were bigger hurdles in this discussion than anything about his contract.”

When Gillis was asked about Luongo saying his contract sucks, he seemed confident that isn’t actually how Luongo feels: “I think that he was very emotional. I think these days are emotional for everybody. When you have a day like this where your whole life could be turned upside down and then you speak to [the media] right after, there’s an opportunity for things to be said that in the clear light of day might not be reflective of how he really feels.”

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4 comments

  1. Andre
    April 4, 2013

    I think Roberto believes, and I agree with him, that he is one of the top 5 goalies in the league. When other managers turned him down to grab Steve Mason or someone else, they indicated that they don’t agree with this assessment, which hurts a lot. Why else would they grab a lesser goalie if they aim to win the Cup?

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  2. Chinook
    April 4, 2013

    Oh…

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  3. jeremy
    April 4, 2013

    I get the feeling Luongo isn’t actually all that intimate with the mechanisms of his trade, and that his comments about his sucky contract were probably as driven by mainstream hockey media sensationalism and twitter misinformation as anyone else’s. (I can’t be sure, but I get the feeling Luongo has a look at twitter from time to time… just seems like a kind of savvy guy, y’know?)

    At the same time, Gillis is a very guarded human being and has a sometimes frustrating habit towards self-defence: it’s in his interest to present the NMC as a block. I don’t believe he’s dishonest, however, and if there’s one thing I’m sure of is that he values the long-term needs of his players almost as highly as he values the performance of his team. I don’t think he’d ever be happy selling Luongo to a market he couldn’t thrive in, and perhaps coloured his assumptions of what was going to happen based on that.

    I’m sure by today Luongo is feeling like he can happily stick around for the short-haul and the playoff run, as was his plan all along; and Gillis is probably starting to re-evaluate what he’ll search for through the Summer, and probably looking to chat with Luongo about what he’s ready to do.

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  4. LWB
    April 5, 2013

    That discussion Luongo had with Gillis is probably really similar with one Iginla had with Feaster.

    Feaster: Jerome, it looks like we have a deal with Boston.

    Iginla: That’s great, Jay, but I would rather go to Pittsburgh, if that’s possible. Is there anything on the table with them?

    Feaster: Nothing solid, yet, but I’ll see what I can do before pursuing this Boston deal any further.

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