NEWARK — If the Vancouver Canucks’ plan was to quell the surge of negativity that began to surround Roberto Luongo after 2011, and somehow redirect public opinion squarely back into his corner, then the events of Sunday afternoon were the final, remarkable moments in one of the most brilliantly orchestrated long cons in the history of the game.
When the Canucks’ goaltending disaster finally saw its coup de grace and it turned out to be not Luongo on the way out but Cory Schneider getting an Amtrak ticket to Newark, nearly everyone in Vancouver saw Luongo as the pitiable victim of a raw deal.
That he completely is. And considering the last two years have been a raw deal borne of another raw deal — his contract — this thing is three raw deals deep. That’s a raw deal with a capital R, like The Score’s broadcast contract with the WWE.
It’s nigh impossible to remain unsympathetic to Roberto Luongo. When he swallows his rage and reports to Vancouver this fall (because that’s the only way he receives the most unsucky part of his sucky contract, the money), he’ll be welcomed back with arms wide open. You couldn’t have planned a better act of chicanery.
Of course, the Cory Schneider trade was not the prestige of a great magic trick, although it was slightly reminiscent of The Prestige, in the sense that the film’s big reveal — that Hugh Jackman’s been drowning clones of himself for years — made me feel the same disappointment in his desperation and shamelessness I felt for Mike Gillis on Sunday.
The worst part was when Gillis even tried to suggest that this was some sort of plan come to fruition, albeit by way of a course correction.
“Our plan three years ago was to develop Cory and move him for a high pick, and that’s what we ultimately did.”
In Gillis’s defence, that last sentence isn’t as embarrassing as it sounded in context. Three years ago that was the plan, ”Then Cory became a great young goaltender,” he said.
But even though he wasn’t claiming the Schneider deal was the plan all along, he was still trying to salvage some illusion of control, and let’s be honest: there was next to none here. The Canucks were over a barrel. They waited too long to trade Luongo and when the new CBA turned Funny Bob’s contract into a Gordian knot — a petty act from the NHL designed to make those that made them look foolish for the loophole look even more foolish for exploiting it — they were done for, and Luongo wound up hard done by.
“I’m shocked,” he told James Duthie, doing his superfriend a solid and giving him a quote even though he was clearly in no mood to talk to anyone. ”I have to let this sink in and figure out what I’m going to do.”
Later, he took to Twitter, knowing the people were waiting on him, and hammered out a quickie:
— Strombone (@strombone1) July 1, 2013
The joke, of course, is that he didn’t know it wasn’t his clause to exercise. It was funny, as was, in retrospect, his tweet from the day before:
Do you guys need me to announce any picks at the podium tomorrow @VanCanucks ?
— Strombone (@strombone1) June 30, 2013
If the Canucks were a little gutsier with their social media, they’d let Derek Jory respond to this right now with “Sorry, how about next year?” Taking control of the people laughing at them would be the smartest move they could make today.
Yes, people are laughing at the Canucks. They should be. Gillis and company botched this entire thing, and in Newark, they looked like they knew it. It didn’t help that the GM with whom they made the deal, Lou Lamoriello, could have been elected mayor of Newark yesterday, after spending the whole day flaunting the fabulous situation in his crease to the hometown crowd at the Prudential Center.
There was a cake version of Martin Brodeur in the concourse; Lamoriello acquired Schneider to be the Elisha to Brodeur’s Elijah, just in time for the chariot of fire; and at the day’s end, Lamoriello traded for the 208th overall pick then allowed Brodeur to use it to select his own son, Anthony. A sweet move at the end of a sweet day.
Lamoriello looked like a king. Gillis looked like his fool.
All that said, while Gillis deserves your mockery for directing this disaster that was saved in no way by its twist ending — he is, without a doubt, the M. Night Shyamalan of hockey — there is a glimmer of vindication here.
In terms of his return, I actually don’t think he made out too badly. Some have used the fact that the mediocre Semyon Varlamov was traded for the 11th overall pick in 2007 as evidence that the Canucks got fleeced, but using that one as a market standard is silly. It’s like saying Brendan Shanahan set a new standard for what was suspendable when he let Shea Weber off with a finger-wag for turnbuckling Henrik Zetterberg. Acts of stupidity should never become the template for future decisions.
As Tyler Dellow points out, the Canucks may have actually done quite well for themselves with the 9th pick, which they used to select centre Bo Horvat. From MC79 Hockey:
When you look at the calibre of player it takes to acquire a pick in this range, it seems generally to be pretty high to me. There’s the odd screwup – Toskala, Varlamov, Penner and Jokinen, although in three of those cases, you can argue that the team giving up the pick probably (foolishly) didn’t expect that the pick would be so high. Jeff Carter, Phil Kessel, Kevin Shattenkirk, Chris Stewart and Jordan Staal can all play. You could build a Cup contender around those players.
The players acquired with those picks have, generally speaking, turned out to be really good players to great players too. This is where I think that the people complaining about the return are kind of missing the point. The thing about a pick in the top ten is that you’re talking about a player who has a non-marginal chance of being an honest to god star in the NHL. That potential, which may or may not be realized, has real value.
In other words, there’s a good chance that Horvat turns into the sort of player you’re supposed to get inside the top-10, especially in a draft this deep. Considering people have been looking at the Canucks’ centre depth in recent years and seeing the aging Henrik Sedin, then Ryan Kesler, then bleakness, this is a big move.
The trade may not help the Canucks to “win now”, but the win now crowd has mainly been insisting that the team must do it soon because their cupboard is bare. If Horvat and Brendan Gaunce become the players they’ve been projected to become, a depth chart that consists of Kesler and the two of them, say, especially in a league where you’re only as good as your centres, could prolong the Canucks’ competitiveness.
So at the very least, Gillis was able to turn this clustercuss into a slightly brighter future. If Horvat can overcome the fact that his name is Bo Horvat, a name that just sounds like a bust if I’ve ever heard one, we might look back on this trade with fondness one day.
Furthermore, if Cory Schneider plays well for the Devils, the cap hit on his next extension, due in two years, will very likely exceed Luongo’s. And if he plays poorly and it doesn’t, we’ll be happy the Canucks kept Luongo.
And if Luongo can win a Stanley Cup with the Canucks — not outside the realm of possibility, since soulmates have been met and babies have been made in prison — that goes double. Let’s not forget that Luongo is still a very good goalie, and a proven winner with a lot left.
There are worse players to be stuck with. Players that aren’t perpetual team MVP candidates, for instance.
Still, the Canucks look bad today, and they look even worse if the rumours that they turned down a better offer from the Edmonton Oilers are true (although if the Oilers’ offer involved salary on top of their pick, one can see why the Canucks might have thought more was less).
They’ll look worse still if Luongo is allowed to speak before he’s had a moment to swallow his frustration, as on trade deadline day. And they’ll look downright terrible if Luongo finally snaps from all this and lets the front-office have it, or if he refuses to report and leaves the Canucks without a quality starter. That would probably be out of character for him, though. He’ll be back and if he plays with a chip on his shoulder, then Funny Bob’s your uncle.
I don’t think all this is grounds for Mike Gillis’s removal (although at this point, it would probably be the easiest way to mend fences with Luongo, no?). Still, he blew it, and the best I can say about the way this entire mess finally ended is that, at least, in a sense, it finally ended.
Roll credits.Tags: Cory Schneider, Mike Gillis, Roberto Luongo