NHL: Once Thought Untradeable, Canucks’ Luongo Now in Demand

Joe LaTengo | Updated Apr 30, 2012

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When he was signed to a 12-year, $64-million “deal” by the Vancouver Canucks, many thought the door was closed on goaltender Roberto Luongo. “No club will ever want to take on a contract with that kind of length or price,” they said. They are now discovering how the market works.

It’s simple: supply and demand. For all his faults, Luongo supplies what all teams demand and some actively seek: solid performance between the pipes. Canucks general manager Mike Gillis knows it, and so do other GMs in the league.

When Johnny Lunchbucket said, “Those guys will never be able to get rid of him,” it was said as though the Canucks somehow wanted to move him. The Canucks would likely be happy to keep him if it wasn’t for three important factors: his age, his cost, and his replacement(s).

Luongo is 33, and while he likely has several years of solid service remaining, he’s not getting any younger. Then there’s the salary cap and his own actual salary: according to CapGeek.com, Luongo will make $6.714 million per season until 2018, with a cap hit of $5.33 million each year. For that cost and that payroll impact, the club possesses less expensive options. Vancouver has Cory Schneider (seven years younger than Luongo, and with arguably better statistics) waiting to take center stage, and Chicago Wolves netminder Eddie Lack is also ready to step up to the big league as Schneider’s backup.

An example from Major League Baseball provides a useful comparison. The Toronto Blue Jays GM at the time, J.P. Ricciardi, signed outfielder Vernon Wells after the 2006 season to a seven-year, $126-million contract extension which was roasted by the media and by the fans. “No one else will ever want him,” the fans said. Most fans don’t own or run businesses, and they’re not familiar with how supply and demand works in the real world. They didn’t know that not only did other teams want him, one of them would actually make a trade to get him because of his past performance and their own particular needs.

On January 21, 2011, current Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos traded the once-thought-untradeable Wells to the L.A. Angels for catcher/1B Mike Napoli, outfielder/1B Juan Rivera and $5 million in cash. The Blue Jays traded Napoli four days later to Texas for reliever Frank Francisco, who is now the closer for the New York Mets; six months later, the Jays moved Rivera to the L.A. Dodgers for future considerations.

Last season, Wells hit 25 home runs, 66 RBI (tied for career low) and hit .218 (career low) in 131 games; the Angels still had to pay him $23 million. This season, L.A. owes Wells (who is four months older than Luongo) $21 million. Compared to that, Bobby Lu is getting paid peanuts and is playing much better.

(It’s notable that both Ricciardi and the L.A. GM who made the Wells trade, Tony Reagins, are not currently working as GMs in Major League Baseball.)

The Toronto Maple Leafs and the Tampa Bay Lightning are two teams with obvious goaltender issues; at least one media pundit is debating the merits of teams bringing Luongo onboard. Five clubs are rumored to be seriously interested in acquiring him … including the Canucks’ hated rivals, the Chicago Blackhawks.

Still, there are those who insist that Vancouver can’t expect much in return. Two other factors need to be noted here: one, the Canucks have already received six seasons of value from Luongo, so they don’t necessarily need much in return; and two, there is no one else currently available on the market with Luongo’s pedigree. If at least two clubs (and possibly as many as nine, including the Edmonton Oilers and the Columbus Blue Jackets) are after his services, and there isn’t anyone else who matches up with him, what is created? That’s right: demand.

To get Luongo, one team will have to supply the assets Gillis wants; given that there’s more than one GM out there interested in making the playoffs (or simply keeping his job), one of them will.

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