You can stop calling Cory Schneider the backup.
Two playoff starts in a row mean those days are behind him. Kind of like Roberto Luongo’s Canucks’ days.
In a decision that is sure to have lasting implications, head coach Alain Vigneault tapped Schneider instead of Luongo, once the captain and the core of the team, in the Canucks’ critical win-or-go-home Game 4.
It’s unclear when Luongo’s next start will be, but if it’s for Tampa Bay, no one will be surprised. What seems implausible now is that Luongo is back in Vancouver next year.
Luongo chose not to talk with media, but this will be hard for him to deal with. He was the starter for Game 1 of the playoffs. He played two games, was great at points, consistently good and made just a handful of mistakes.
This isn’t about his play. This is about the team believing that Schneider is better. And if the team feels that way now, why didn’t it feel that way to start the postseason?
It’s a great question. What happens if the Canucks go back to Luongo for Game 5? No way, you say? Don’t for a second think that’s not possible.
Either way, why would Luongo want to come back and split the position next year? Or worse, be resigned to being the backup, if Schneider does prove he really is better?
The Canucks took away Luongo’s goalie coach Ian Clark a couple of years ago. They reduced his workload dramatically, even though he has always said he loves to play. And now, he’s benched for the two biggest games of the year, a decision made by Vigneault. It’s one that had to involve GM Mike Gillis and strong input from goalie coach Rollie Melanson.
It’s Melanson who works the closest with the goalies, and it’s Schneider who has been the much better student. Schneider has picked up Melanson’s technique faster and more entirely. In the middle of this season, Melanson, in a way, threw up his hands with Luongo, allowing him to charge out of his crease more, challenging shooters.
Schneider plays like a Melanson goalie. Luongo does not.
So to sum up, they fired his coach, changed his technique, and took away his job in the playoffs, which he lives for. Being a proud man, and fiercely competitive, at some point Luongo is going to say enough is enough.
That some point is expected to be this summer.
“I’m not surprised at all,” Schneider said before putting forth a command performance in Wednesday’s 3-1 victory. “Nothing surprises us anymore. We both have to be ready for anything. After playing last game, I thought there was a chance I would play again.
“We’re both professionals and grown men. We can handle anything they decide.”
Trading Luongo won’t be easy, but it won’t be as complicated as some people think. Yes, he’d get to pick his destination. He’ll choose a few teams, maybe both in Florida.
There is an out clause in his contract for the organization he plays for eight years into his deal. He’s just finished year two, so essentially, the team that picks it up will be taking on a six-year deal that will see Luongo earn $40.2 million. His cap hit is $5.33 million a year. All reasonable, considering what Ilya Bryzgalov got in Philadelphia.
You can bet Toronto would be interested, and maybe even Detroit. Most assume his landing spot would be Tampa Bay.
The Canucks may have to take a bad contract in return, but it won’t be one as long as Luongo’s.
Coming back with both goalies next year can’t be totally ruled out, but it seems terribly unlikely right now.
If Luongo is gone, life will change for Schneider, who would be the starter for the first time in his NHL career.
He is seven years younger, but still has to prove he can carry the load over the course of a regular season as the No. 1 goalie.
“I’ve been a starter at other levels; I played 60 games in Manitoba,” Schneider said. “I understand, it’s not the NHL. But you have the same ups and downs in that season as you would in any season. It’s harder to be perfect over more games.”
And we all know Vancouver demands their goalies be perfect.