The unthinkable happened on Wednesday when Roberto Luongo flew back from Florida to Vancouver, proudly flying the Canucks colors at the team’s charity golf tournament.
It was a scenario even Luongo never saw coming. But with either a lockout or training camp fast approaching, things have changed, and listening to Luongo and his teammates talk, it sounds like the unthinkable may not be as untenable as most imagine.
Luongo may not have played his last game with the Canucks. He didn’t sound like the same guy who talked about waiving his no-trade clause a few days after the season ended with him on the bench watching Cory Schneider start the final three games of a first-round playoff loss to the eventual champion Los Angeles Kings. Or the guy who said, “it was time to move on” after Schneider signed a three-year, $12-million extension.
“Two months ago, after what had just happened and Schneids had just signed and I didn’t really see myself being here,” Luongo said in his first comments locally since the end of the season. “But I realized once we got into August that was a possibility and I was okay with that. Me and Schneids have a great relationship, whether it’s on the ice or off the ice, so I’m sure that’s not going to be an issue at all. I am going to do my job, whatever that is, if I am here, and I want to do it well and do it to my best and just be a good team guy.”
Luongo seemed determined to prove it Wednesday. Despite labeling Florida a preferred destination in a Sun-Sentinel report just a week earlier, he refused to talk about any team other than the Canucks. Talk of wanting to play for the Panthers is hardly a shock given he built a family home there shortly before being traded from Florida to Vancouver six years ago, and still returns every summer. But Luongo, who holds both franchise’s records for wins and shutouts, wasn’t indulging such talk with his current teammates around.
“I’ve never given a list of teams and as far as that side of the business I am going to leave it to [General Manager Mike Gillis] to do his thing, and I don’t really want to talk about any other teams right now,” Luongo said. “I’m here and I think it’s a bit disrespectful towards my teammates and the organization to be talking about other places.”
That’s not to say Luongo wants to stay in Vancouver long term. He will skate with his teammates Thursday and Friday, but if the NHL locks out players as expected on Saturday, he will fly back to Florida on Monday. Between the 10 years left on his $64-million deal – and the fact it gives the Canucks $9.33-million in goalies, and Luongo’s desire to be a No.1, it’s impossible to imagine his return as a long-term thing.
“I pretty much stand the same where I left off,” Luongo said. “I said I would be willing to lift my no-trade clause if asked and so far I haven’t been asked, so I’m here.”
He’s determined not to be a distraction if that is still the case when the season starts, saying his close friendship with Schneider and others wouldn’t allow that to happen.
“I’m still playing in the NHL and I’m still playing with a bunch of guys I love and respect, so there’s no reason for me to be frustrated,” he said. “[Schneider] has always been 100 per cent supportive of me and defended me a lot and I really respect that and appreciate that and it’s only fair I do the same. He’s a really class guy with a tremendous amount of talent. We push each other and don’t see it being any different.”
Gillis conceded he can’t trade Luongo during a lockout, adding uncertainty over the next CBA wasn’t helping the process. But he insisted there was interest in a goaltender with 339 wins, 60 shutouts, and three Vezina Trophy finalist nominations.
“We’ve had solid proposals, but they are not what we are trying to accomplish and we are going to go as far as we can to try and get what we want to accomplish out of this,” said Gillis, indicating any deal had to make the Canucks “different,” preferably with the addition of young talent. He bristled at suggestions Luongo’s contract, the possibility of a shrinking salary cup, or the Canucks’ current goaltending glut all make it a tough trade.
“We’re one of the wealthiest teams in the league so we don’t have fire sales,” he said.
As for the possibility Luongo uses his no-trade to force a trade to one place like Florida – and Luongo said that wasn’t the case – Gillis said he’s “entitled to try and be selective.”
“But at the end of the day you’re either going to play hockey or you’re not going to play hockey,” he added. “We’re going to do our best to make sure Roberto is taken care of, whether here or somewhere else. We’re going to look at his best interests, but also at ours.”
It’s hard to see how one won’t come at the expense of the other. Of course it was also hard to imagine Luongo coming back to Vancouver, but there he was Wednesday.
The question now is how long Luongo will stay a Canuck.