VANCOUVER — When the Vancouver Canucks coaching staff opted Wednesday to turn a scheduled full team practice into a six-man optional, Roberto Luongo was among the six on the ice at UBC.
It never used to be this way. Luongo was always the main man. He was always the goalie playing every night and he was always the goalie resting while his backup took shots from the healthy scratches and fourth-liners.
But there he was Wednesday as Tom Sestito, Andrew Gordon, Steve Pinizzotto, Zack Kassian and Jordan Schroeder peppered him with pucks under the direction of goalie coach Rollie Melanson.
Luongo has worn a ballcap and watched Cory Schneider start five straight games, all wins. He will sit again Thursday when the Canucks entertain the Colorado Avalanche at Rogers Arena (7 p.m., Sportsnet Pacific, Team 1040) but he will not be sitting anxiously by his phone awaiting word on a possible trade out of Vancouver.
Make no mistake. Luongo is in play. He has been in play since last summer when Schneider supplanted him as the No. 1 netminder. Even Luongo himself declared it was time to move on. So far, general manager Mike Gillis has not pulled the trigger. The NHL trade deadline is next Wednesday at noon Pacific time and, if Gillis can’t move Luongo, Bobby Lou could start the playoffs as Schneider’s backup and remain there all spring.
“Yeah, those are all the things I thought about before the season started,” Luongo told a large scrum of reporters. “I was fully aware of all the scenarios, especially being here past the deadline, or whatnot. It’s stuff that I had a lot of time to think about during the lockout and I’m fully prepared for. Whatever happens, I’ll accept and be a good teammate.
“I’m trying to be as positive as I can and work hard and make sure that I’m ready. Things change quickly in the league. It’s not for me to be in a bad spot in my mind if something were to happen and I have to play. I’m in the NHL and I’m happy and, hopefully, it all works out for the best and we have a good Cup run here.”
Canucks assistant coach Rick Bowness, who handled media duties Wednesday, lauded Luongo for his professionalism.
“I give Roberto an awful lot of credit for the way he’s handled a very tough situation for him,” stated Bowness. “He is a very proud man. He is an elite goaltender and this is very, very difficult on him — and you wouldn’t know it. He won’t allow it to affect the locker room. He won’t allow it to affect his preparation and his work habits. That’s just not the type of man he is. He is an excellent teammate and he will never let his status affect this locker room.”
Luongo, now in his seventh season with the Canucks, had his opportunity earlier this month to seize the net but was unable to do so.
After an outstanding 2-1 shootout victory in Columbus on March 12, he allowed 12 goals on 84 shots in his next three starts (.857 save percentage) and the coaches went back to Schneider. The redhead from Marblehead, Mass., responded with the aforementioned five consecutive victories, two by shutout. Luongo has no trouble assessing the situation.
“We’ve all seen how Schneids is playing right now so there is absolutely no reason they would take him out,” Luongo commented. “I mean, he’s playing unreal and he’s probably the best goalie in the league right now. So, obviously, you just have to roll with the hot hand and that’s totally understandable.”
Luongo is 7-4-3 this season with a 2.47 goals against average and .904 save rate, the latter stat ranking him 32nd in the league prior to Wednesday’s action. Those numbers plus his onerous contract — nine years and more than $40 million remaining — appear to make him a difficult sell.
“I’m obviously not exactly sure what’s going to happen but, that being said, I’m just going to just keep doing what I’m doing and work hard and make sure I’m ready to go,” he said. “I’m trying not to think about it too much and just see where it goes.”
Asked about a best-case scenario for himself, Luongo replied: “I don’t have a best-case scenario. I just try to do my best every day. Sometimes you don’t have things in your control and there is no use worrying about that stuff and letting it creep into your mind and affecting you.”
Thursday’s date with the Avalanche is the Canucks’ last home game before the deadline. If Luongo is moved, it could be his last time wearing the Vancouver home blues. He claimed that had not even entered his mind.
“I don’t think about it that way at all,” he said. “I haven’t heard anything from Mike so there is no reason to think that.”