The only real goaltending problem facing the Vancouver Canucks is the team has one too many starting goaltenders.
By playing .500 hockey in the first five games of the season, the Canucks are being dissected like a frog in biology class. After a loss it's easy to second-guess the choice of goalie.
It's a situation few people believed the Canucks would be in when the lockout-shortened NHL season finally started. Common wisdom was, once the labour dispute was settled, Roberto Luongo would be dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs and Cory Schneider would be the undisputed No. 1.
Canuck general manager Mike Gillis is one of a handful of people who knows exactly why that scenario hasn't happened. As he's explained, trading the 33-year-old Luongo isn't like getting rid of that second car you can't afford anymore. Only a few teams are willing to take on the remaining 10 years and US $47.3 million of Luongo's contract.
Adding intrigue, Gillis told Cam Cole of the Vancouver Sun a potential deal is in place with a team for a player nobody has thought of. Trying to read the tea leaves in Gillis's cryptic comments has created speculation Luongo could be going anywhere from Florida to Philadelphia to Washington to Chicago.
Even Edmonton has been mentioned, but it's hard to believe the Canucks would deal Luongo to a division rival. Considering Luongo has a no-trade clause in his contract, giving him a say in any deal, it's even harder to believe he'd want to live in Edmonton.
The story took another twist when Schneider was ventilated for five goals on 14 shots, then pulled in the second period of Vancouver's 7-3 loss to the Anaheim Ducks in the season-opening game. When Luongo started the next night against Edmonton, the simmering question of who is the Canucks' starting goaltender came to the boil.
Bottom line is, Schneider is the Canucks' goaltender for the present and future. That's why Gillis signed the 26-year-old to a three-year, US $12-million contract last summer.
Schneider has shaken off his lockout rust. His 30-save performance in Vancouver's 5-0 win against Anaheim Friday night is an example of why management has decided Luongo is expendable. He didn't get much help in the 4-1 loss to San Jose Sunday when two early turnovers put the Canucks in a hole, following by Vancouver then going 0-7 on the power play.
"You always want to get better," Schneider said. "You don't want to get worse or be up and down. It's feeling better every day. You don't want to regress after a tough start."
A goaltender controversy makes for a good topic on sports talks radio but it doesn't seem to be an issue inside the dressing room.
"We have two great goaltenders," said captain Henrik Sedin. "It's got to be up to the coaches and management to handle it."
Coach Alain Vigneault doubts the crowded crease is a distraction for his players.
"I'm convinced that none of our players are going home today saying 'Louie should be playing' or 'Schneides should be playing,'" Vigneault told reporters before the Canucks left on their three-game California road trip.
"All this stuff? It's just stuff."
Luongo is an avid poker player. He's used those skills dealing with the hand that's been dealt him this year. Publicly he's been supportive of Schneider. He's shown patience with management. He knows sulking or being disruptive would hamper any trade.
Privately. Luongo must be frustrated. No one likes uncertainty. Being a backup must eat at his ego. Luongo is the kind of goalie who needs regular minutes to stay sharp. Looking average while appearing once every few games won't help his trade value.
The Canucks have until the April 3 trade deadline to write the final chapter in Luongo's Vancouver story. There's a chance Gillis might think he's not getting proper value for his asset and decides to keep Luongo for the rest of the season. Gillis has always said he won't make a deal unless it helps his club. At some point having two starting goaltenders will hurt the team.
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