On the most basic level, the melodrama over Roberto Luongo and the trade that dare not speak its name comes down to a simple matter.
The Vancouver Canucks have to fill their gaping hole at center ice and the most efficient way to do that is to trade their $5.3-million backup goalie to the Toronto Maple Leafs. That means Tyler Bozak, who’s a pretty hot commodity for someone who’s never produced more than 47 points in an NHL season, has to be part of the deal. If he isn’t, there’s no deal with Toronto.
That, at least, is the simple explanation but, as you might be aware, this situation is about as simple as family day at a bigamists’ colony. There are so many layers to this drama, so much intrigue and behind-the-scenes manoeuvring, that it’s become appointment viewing around the NHL. Maybe it will reach a conclusion at Wednesday’s trade deadline and maybe it won’t.
But either way, there’s a big part of you that wants it to go on forever, because you can’t pay for this kind of entertainment.
By now, the 3,456 pundits and opinion-makers who are following this story agree on the basic elements of the trade discussions. The Maple Leafs and their general manager Dave Nonis would like to acquire Luongo and, when you look at their goaltending, that isn’t exactly a blinding revelation.
Before Saturday night’s game, the Leafs had worked their way to sixth in the Eastern Conference, seven points ahead of ninth, with what could charitably be described as average ’keeping. The Leafs’ No. 1, James Reimer, was 26th in the league in goals-against average and 22nd in save percentage. His partner, Ben Scrivens, sat 25th and 18th in the same categories.
Luongo, at the very least, would solidify the Leafs’ keeping for the next three to five seasons and improve their chances in this season’s playoffs. That, at least, is what the Canucks are trying to sell to Nonis.
He just doesn’t seem to be buying it.
The Leafs’ GM is unconvinced there’s a market for Luongo that stretches beyond the GTA. As such, he hasn’t felt compelled to offer Bozak, who becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer, or someone comparable, to make the deal.
That, in Nonis’s mind, leaves him and Canucks GM Mike Gillis as the only two players at the table.
Now, if you’re familiar with the history of the two men, that alone is pretty juicy. Gillis, of course, succeeded Nonis as the Canucks’ GM and Nonis has issues with the way that occurred. That doesn’t mean he’d hold up this deal to stick it to Gillis. But let’s just say the relationship between the two GMs is part of this story.
Gillis, for his part, has to come out of the deadline with some help for his team. The Canucks’ current six-game winning streak has eased the pressure to some degree, but Gillis has to offer something in the way of help to his beleaguered troops. The organization can’t expect Cory Schneider to play like Superman every night and the team to keep grinding out 2-1 wins when they’re missing so many pieces. The plain fact is, after the Sedins and Alex Burrows, the Canucks’ forward lines resemble an expansion team’s more than a playoff team’s, and Gillis owes it to his core players to bring in reinforcements.