Roberto Luongo started Games 1 and 2 for the Canucks in their first round series against Los Angeles, but played backup to Cory Schneider the rest of the way. (Getty Images)
The Roberto Luongo trade rumor saga took an interesting turn Wednesday evening when TSN's James Duthie reported via Twitter that the Canucks goaltender would not only submit a short list of preferred trade destinations to management, but that the Toronto Maple Leafs will be on it.
GM Mike Gillis was quick to deny the story Thursday, saying he and the goalie wished to take a few days to discuss things and not make any hasty decisions. Gillis has said in the past he would not ask a player to waive his no-trade clause.
Even prior to Duthie's report, the Leafs were rumored among the potential suitors for Luongo's services. A couple of factors make Toronto an attractive destination for him.
Former Canucks GM Dave Nonis is now the right hand man of Leafs GM Brian Burke. It was Nonis who acquired Luongo from the Florida Panthers in 2006. And Leafs goalie coach Francois Allaire has a long history with Luongo and continues to work with him in the off-season.
Toronto wasn't the only club rumored to be on Luongo's supposed wish list. The Tampa Bay Lightning and his former club, the Florida Panthers, were also cited as possibilities.
Luongo would be the best available goaltender this summer and would certainly be a boon for teams, like the Leafs and Lightning, desperately in need of an established starting goalie. Still, there are several factors that will influence where he plays next season.
Burke has been a long-time opponent of heavily front-loaded, long-term contracts like Luongo's, which still has another 10 years left at a cap hit of $5.3 million per season. The Leafs GM would look hypocritical if he took on that contract.
That said, he's facing considerable public criticism for the Leafs’ inability to make the playoffs under his watch. Job security may influence him to make an exception in Luongo's case.
Cap space will also be an issue. The Leafs currently have more than $56 million invested in 17 players, while the Lightning have more than $47 million tied up in 15 players.
The Lightning have more space, provided they're willing to spend to the cap ceiling, but they also have more than $25 million invested in Vincent Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos, Martin St-Louis and Ryan Malone. Adding Luongo without losing one would tie up more than $30 million in just five players.
The obvious solution for either Toronto or Tampa would be to free up cap space by moving an expensive player to Vancouver, but Gillis won't be keen to swap bad contracts. He’ll likely prefer a return of affordable young talent, like a top-six winger or a replacement for pending UFA blueliner Sami Salo.
Gillis must also re-sign Luongo's heir apparent, Cory Schneider, to a long-term extension and can't risk tying up too much cap space.
As for the Panthers, they have roughly $41 million in cap committed to 16 players, so there is flexibility to add Luongo's contract and GM Dale Tallon has a recent trade history with Gillis.
Tallon, however, has Jose Theodore signed through next season and with blue-chip prospect Jacob Markstrom waiting in the wings, Luongo doesn’t seem to be a good fit into the Panthers plans.
The length of Luongo's contract will also be a stumbling block.
Luongo will make $6.7 million per season for the next six years, after which his salary drops to $3.4 million for 2018-19, $1.6 million in 2019-20, then to $1 million per over the final two years.
Some observers consider that a selling point, but Luongo's cap hit remains the same, even in the final four years of his contract.
It's also been suggested that because Luongo has a no-trade rather than a no-movement clause, he could be buried in the minors to free up cap space if his performance declines late in his career.
While that loophole is allowable under this CBA, it's expected to disappear in the next one, leaving either buyout or retirement as the only options to clear those remaining years off the books.
Even a buyout in the back end of the contract, as the Globe and Mail's James Mirtle points out, isn't such a palatable option to save some cap space, as there would be three seasons where that hit would be more than $4 million.
Despite the risks and limited potential destinations for Luongo, his value as an elite goaltender increases the likelihood a team on his wish list will become desperate enough to deal for him.
Elsewhere in ye olde rumor mill:
• Steve Rosenbloom of the Chicago Tribune suggested the Blackhawks should consider trade options for center Patrick Kane to bolster their depth elsewhere in the roster.
That likely won’t happen, as Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman sees Kane as his second line center.
• Luongo is not the only Canuck who could be on the move this summer.
Ben Kuzma of the Vancouver Province suggested center Manny Malhotra and left winger Mason Raymond may be on their way out.
Though both were hampered in the regular season by injuries suffered in last spring's playoffs, they struggled to regain their form and finished this year on the fourth line.
Malhotra has one more season at $2.5 million on his contract, while Raymond is a restricted free agent.
The Canucks could attempt to trade both or they could explore other options, such as buying out Malhotra and/or not qualifying Raymond, which would allow him to become an unrestricted free agent.
Rumor Roundup appears Monday-Friday only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and Kukla's Korner.
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