After playing 55 games for Vancouver last season, Roberto Luongo has been the team's backup, playing in 18 games this season. (Getty Images)
It's widely acknowledged Roberto Luongo's hefty contract (with nine years remaining at a cap hit of $5.33 million per season) is the reason the Vancouver Canucks have been unable to trade him.
Even Luongo believes it. After the trade deadline he said if he could rip up the contract to facilitate a trade, he'd do it.
NHL contracts cannot be “ripped up” or renegotiated, leaving GM Mike Gillis trying to find a trade partner for Luongo this summer.
Vancouver Province columnist Tony Gallagher took umbrage over a Sportsnet commentator's claim Luongo's contract was “the most unmoveable in the league.”
Gallagher believes the contracts of NY Rangers center Brad Richards, New Jersey Devils winger Ilya Kovalchuk, Edmonton Oilers center Shawn Horcoff or Toronto Maple Leafs blueliner Mike Komisarek are tougher to trade than Luongo's.
That may be, but it doesn't change the fact nobody wanted to take the full remaining value.
The Canucks were reportedly working on a deal on trade deadline day to ship Luongo to the Maple Leafs, but balked over having to absorb a portion of his contract.
With the Canucks pressed for cap space next season (more than $62.9 million invested in 15 players), Gillis isn't dealing from a position of strength. Trading Luongo could require either picking up part of his salary or accepting another expensive contract in return.
Toronto Maple Leafs center Tyler Bozak was frequently linked to Luongo in trade rumors throughout last summer and the NHL lockout.
GM Dave Nonis resisted the temptation to move Bozak, who has terrific chemistry with high-scoring linemate Phil Kessel, but his unrestricted free agent status has generated speculation over his future.
If Bozak tests the market, the Globe & Mail's James Mirtle believes the lack of quality free agent centers would make the 27-year-old an attractive commodity.
Mirtle suggests Bozak would seek a deal comparable to the four-year, $19-million contract of Carolina's Tuomo Ruutu, but TSN's Darren Dreger claimed he would command better than $5 million per season.
The Leafs currently have about $45.1 million invested in 12 players next season. In addition to Bozak, Nonis must either re-sign or replace unrestricted free agents Clarke MacArthur, Colton Orr, Ryan O'Byrne and Mike Kostka, as well as restricted free agents Nazem Kadri, Cody Franson, Carl Gunnarson and Leo Komarov.
An expensive contract for Bozak will take a considerable bite out of the Leafs cap space, making it more difficult for Nonis to re-sign other key free agents.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are another club facing a cap crunch this summer, with about $61.8 million invested in 18 players next season.
RDS.ca's Renaud Lavoie suggested Ryan Malone would become a compliance buyout candidate.
Lavoie still considers Malone an excellent player, but injuries in recent years limited the 33-year-old's effectiveness. He has two years remaining on his contract at a cap hit of $4.5 million per season, plus a limited no-trade clause in which he can submit a 12-team trade list.
Given those factors, buying out Malone would prove easier than trading him.
On April 13th, Montreal Gazette columnist Pat Hickey speculated Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin's off-season shopping list would include “at least one top line forward.”
Since Hickey's article appeared, the Canadiens dropped four of five games, with each loss a lopsided affair highlighted by shaky goaltending and sloppy defensive play.
If this late-season slump carries into the playoffs, the Canadiens won't get past the first round.
That could prompt Bergevin to shift his off-season focus toward adding more skilled size and strength to his checking lines and defense corps.
Rumor Roundup appears weekdays 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 The Guardian (P.E.I.).