Roberto Luongo mulling over possible trade destinations

After a surprisingly early playoff exit at the hands of the eighth seed Los Angeles Kings, the Vancouver Canucks know they have some changes to make in the offseason, and after losing his starting job to backup netminder Cory Schneider mid-way through the first round, goaltender Roberto Luongo won’t stand in the way if Canucks management decides that he is not part of the solution moving forward.

Once thought to be one of the premier goaltenders in the NHL, Luongo has fallen out of favor with Vancouver fans in recent years thanks to shaky play in the postseason. Whether justified or not, Luongo’s play in last year’s Stanley Cup Finals was widely cited as one of the main reasons why the Canucks failed to win the Stanley Cup in Game 7 against the Boston Bruins last season. And Luongo knows his days in Vancouver may be numbered.

“It’s going to be what’s best for the team,” Luong said when asked by reporters about waiving his no-trade clause. “Whatever scenario that is, I’m okay with it – whether that involves me being here or not is okay. We’ve got a lot of potential in this locker room, there’s a great core of guys, and the chance to do something special.”

Further adding fuel to the fire is the emergence of backup netminder Cory Schneider, who took over for Luongo in Game 3 of the opening round of the playoffs against the LA Kings and was awarded every subsequent start thereafter. The 26-year-old goalie played in 33 regular season games for the Canucks this season, winning 20, and posted 1.96 goals against average along with a .937 save percentage. Luongo, meanwhile, won 31 games and sported a 2.41 goals against average and a .919 save percentage.

The real pressing issue, however, concerns Schneider’s free agent status this summer. Come July 1, Schneider will become a restricted free agent. Any team would love to have him, but in order to obtain him they would either need to serve Vancouver with an offer sheet or offer up a trade.

Vancouver can also choose to resign Schneider, or take him to arbitration. While the team will want to try to avoid the latter, Schneider will likely be looking for an increase in pay over his current $900,000 salary – and probably a guarantee for more time between the pipes. That will be a difficult request to fulfill for the Canucks when they have virtually two number one goalies. Something’s gotta give, and it looks like Luongo may be the odd man out.

“They’ve got a guy [Schneider] here that is going to be a superstar in this league for the next 10, 12, 15 years,” said Luongo. “It is a business and that’s the way it goes. I loved being here the last six years. I think my career has really taken off and we did some incredible things. If I’m here in the future, then great. If I’m not, that’s good also.”

It was reported on TSN yesterday afternoon that Luongo was preparing a short list of teams for which he would waive his no-trade clause, and the Toronto Maple Leafs were reportedly on that short list. However, Canucks GM Mike Gillis came out and refuted those claims, saying that nothing has been decided yet.

“We’ve met, but we’ve decided that we’re just going to take our time and meet in a few days or talk in a few days on the phone,” Gillis said. “So, I’m not quite sure why something like that would be out there.”

While the truth may lie somewhere in between, it certainly seems as if Luongo may be preparing himself to suite up elsewhere next season. In addition to Toronto, you can bet that the Tampa Bay Lightning hope they are on that short list as well. GM Steve Yzerman will likely make finding a suitable number one goalie his biggest priority this offseason, and he would love to have someone like Luongo in net.

The biggest challenge, however, is finding a team that can absorb Luongo’s huge salary. He is signed through 2020-21 at a $5.33 million cap hit. The Lightning could find a way to manage Luongo’s salary, especially if goalie Dwayne Roloson and his $3.5 million salary depart in the offseason. The Lightning are projected to have more than $16 million in available cap space moving into next season with a handful of third and fourth line players needing to be signed. The team also has several spots they will need to fill on defense as well.

The Islanders, Blackhawks and Blue Jackets may also look to get in on Luongo, although it’s uncertain if he would be willing to waive his no-trade clause for any of those teams. As it stands now, the future seems quite uncertain for Luongo, but if reports are true that he’s preparing a short list of possible trade destinations, then Luongo knows his days in Vancouver may be numbered.

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