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There are still a few days left in the NHL’s trading window, but I’d like to take a minute to analyze the highest profile deal yet — “the Jeff Carter trade.”
If you’re reading this, then by now you know that center Jeff Carter has been traded to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for defenseman Jack Johnson and a conditional first-round pick in either 2012 or ’13.
Contrary to where most people want to start, let’s look at this deal for the Columbus Blue Jackets first. I think this is a smart move for the Jackets, though I acknowledge that time will tell whether this is a good move.
The Move for Columbus

As I and some other people wrote in the summer, the trade acquisition of Carter made very little sense for Columbus thanks to the overpriced and over-termed (11 years, $58 million) contract that Philadelphia had just signed the player to seven months prior. The argument everyone else was making was that Jackets’ star winger Rick Nash finally had a true number one center to play with, and also that the long-term investment (paired with the acquisition of James Wisniewski’s rights and subsequent five-year deal the team gave him) signified the Blue Jackets’ intent on building a winner.

I understood the argument, but I’m a value guy, and the fact is there is not and probably never will be value in Jeff Carter’s salary cap hit. The only way Carter’s $5.27 million annual cap hit makes any sense is if over the next few years the salary cap is raised significantly and individual player salaries start going through the roof. Fat chance of that happening, since we are almost certainly going to see a lockout this summer by the owners specifically designed to achieve the opposite result.
Since Carter’s contract made him undesirable, I think it was a smart move for Columbus to move him off the books and free up some more cap space (for the next decade, remember). The team sucks on defense and mostly in net, so to have a “goal scorer” like Carter doesn’t really help you unless he makes you an elite offense. The Jackets’ 27th-best goals per game figure quashes any semi-argument that could have been made there.
The man that was sent the other way, Johnson, also carries a somewhat hefty contract, but it’s smaller and shorter than Carter’s, and in that sense Columbus benefits from the deal. Johnson’s actual impact on a hockey team’s record has been, in my opinion, greatly overstated, but if the expectation is for him to be a second-pairing guy then I think he can fill that role well enough. One problem with this rational expectation is that Columbus might need him to be a top-two blue liner, but there is at least hope that David Savard and/or John Moore, both selected in the 2009 entry draft, may pan out to be good enough top-four defensemen to compliment Wiz and Johnson. Both rookies are currently with the Jackets, although it is unclear to me how importing Johnson will affect the look of the blue line for the rest of this season. I would suspect it might not matter: this is clearly a club looking forward to next year and beyond.
Another obvious hinge that will determine whether this trade was a good move for Columbus is what happens with that conditional first-round pick. If the Kings miss the playoffs this year, then Columbus will get L.A.’s top pick in 2013. If the Kings hold on and make it into this spring’s top eight in the Western Conference, then the Jackets will get to choose whether they want that first rounder this summer or next. It would be silly to try to project how this unidentified subject’s career will pan out versus Carter’s, so let’s make a note of the existence of the pick and move on.
The Move for Los Angeles

For Los Angeles, I guess the move is alright if we’re looking at the Kings as a Stanley Cup contender in the medium term. While I tend to bash Carter based on his performance versus his contract figures, the guy is inconsistently productive. I mean that as a semi-compliment. He has some upside, which I’ve seen a few times this season in Columbus. But far more often Carter has little impact on a game, and that’s where I hate him as a $5.27 million player.
The move is also alright enough if we’re looking at the price the Kings paid. Most of the talk was that Columbus would trade Carter if they could get their next starting goalie out of the deal. Well, Carter’s in Hollywood now, and yet, so is Jonathan Bernier. If and when the Kings finally trade Bernier, they probably will be able to get that first-round pick back (or at least a second and possibly a roster player) anyway.
Losing Johnson doesn’t really hurt the Kings’ hope for a playoff run because they play a defensive style to begin with, and Johnson’s game is not conducive to keeping the puck out of his own net. In 343 career NHL games, all with the Kings, Johnson is a cool minus-90. You can bring up the fact that he plays on the power play, and yes that’s true, but dude, he’s minus-90. That includes a minus figure every single season he’s been a professional, which may mean he’ll transition seamlessly to Columbus’ playing style. Hey-O!
Carter’s move to L.A. is interesting on a personal level in two ways. First, it was Rick Nash who was supposedly on the Kings’ wish list. The idea was that overused cliché, “imagine if Nash had a center like Anze Kopitar,” and/or “imagine if Kopitar had a wing like Nash!” These “imagine the partnership” pre-trade hypotheticals are getting more tired and less reputable, since we heard the exact same assertions after Columbus traded for Carter (to pair with Nash) in the first place.
The second human element that makes this move familiar for L.A. is that Carter is now reunited with his parter in ran-out-of-Philly-dom, Mike Richards. With the top line of Kopitar, Justin Williams and team captain Dustin Brown playing pretty well together (given L.A.’s defensively-skewed style), it would be normal to assume that Carter will skate on the second line with Richards. Maybe the duo can rekindle the fire that helped them lead the Flyers to the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals. I would think not (this year anyway), since Chris Pronger is not walking through that door…
GMs Gripping: Howson & Lombardi Had to Make This Trade

Worth noting is the GM factor as well. It’s no secret that Scott Howson has done a pretty bad job of building that Columbus roster, as evidenced by their 27th-best offense and 29th-best defense this season. Perhaps what’s worse was sticking it out with head coach Scott Arniel as long as he did. It’s not that I’m an advocate of firing coaches quickly, but Arniel was eventually relieved of his head coaching duties, and only after division rival St. Louis scooped up Ken Hitchcock. Hitch has led the previously toiling Blues to within contention for the conference’s top seed. Prior to taking that job, he was just chilling in the Blue Jackets’ organization. Hiding right there, in plain sight. Howson did not have the wherewithal to make the obvious hire, and because of that he is still on the hottest of seats. Luckily for him, he got a do-over for that rather funny gaffe of trading for Carter’s contract in the first place.
The Kings, like the Blue Jackets and so many other teams this season, are also working under their second head coach of 2011-12. The old saying goes, “if you can’t change the players, change the coach.” That’s what L.A. general manager Dean Lombardi did when he brought Darryl Sutter in to replace Terry Murray. Now an attention grabbing player change has been made. If neither move works, it would logically follow that maybe the GM would be the next to go. Lombardi insists that this trade is for both the short-term and the long-term, but only the naive would not consider Lombardi’s knowledge that there might not be a “long-term” for him. Not in Los Angeles, anyway.
These moves, when analyzed as a pair of departures and arrivals, almost had to be made by the respective GMs. How they pan out may not be known until after those GMs are long gone; alternatively, this trade may be the catalyst for a very long extension for either Lombardi or Howson. Only time will tell, but the clock is already ticking louder than the promo for 60 Minutes.
The Inverse Relationship Between Contract Figures and Future Stanley Cup Shots

The last item worth mentioning for me is how taking too much can ultimately backfire. It’s a theme driven home to most of us from a young age: share, do not take more than you need or deserve, you reap what you sow, etc., etc. While I think Los Angeles is a pretty fly destination, especially for a dude with highlighted hair, the fact that Carter has been traded twice in the fifteen-and-a-half months since he signed that ridiculously inflated contract with Philadelphia only goes to show that in a league with a salary cap, it’s not all florets and no chunks to sign for way more money and years than your play warrants.
Wade Redden, Alexei Yashin, Cristobal Huet and others have been effectively blackballed from the NHL courtesy of the fact that they are incapable of contributing anywhere near the level of their overpriced contracts. Carter is still just 27 years old, but if he isn’t careful and doesn’t put it together soon, he could find himself the next victim of his own greed. I’m not saying that anybody in their right mind would turn down the offer the Flyers made to Carter, but what I am saying is that any player must understand that by agreeing to carry such a high cap hit for such a long time, said player has probably lost the comfort of just getting by. If you can’t give a contender a realistic hope at a championship, then you will play for a crap team. If you can’t give a crap team anything, then you will have only your youth as a selling point. Once that’s gone, so are you. 
Carter’s situation seems specifically like a good one now, but he’s lucky he’s still young enough to have a decent suitor. Life is give and take, and when an owner gives a player a lot of money for a long time, the owners can also essentially take away that player’s opportunity to compete for a Stanley Cup. Once it’s determined that a player’s contract is too high, that player becomes lucky to just be fodder for those teams chasing the cap floor. Carter has what might be his last best opportunity to prove that he can play up to his contract for a competitive squad. Let’s see how he plays this one.

While my summer declaration that the NHL’s Central Division was the strongest from top to bottom has been decimated by Columbus’ awful season, the other eighty percent of the division have far outperformed even my biased expectations.
As far as point percentage goes, which paint a clearer picture of the true “standings,” the top four in the Central are all in the top six of the Western Conference.

Team
GP
Pts
P%
Detroit
53
72
0.679
Vancouver
52
69
0.663
St. Louis
51
67
0.657
Nashville
53
68
0.642
San Jose
50
64
0.640
Chicago
53
65
0.613
Los Angeles
53
60
0.566
What does this Central Division 50+ game dominance mean? Well, very little, if we’re honest. There still will be an 8-team playoff for the right to not touch the Campbell Bowl and play the champion of the other conference for the Stanley Cup. But one thing to at least acknowledge is that if this lopsidedness continues through the 82nd game, the way the playoffs are seeded will force at least one mistimed intra-divisional quarterfinal series.
If the playoffs started today, Nashville would have to travel to St. Louis in the first round, despite the fact that the two teams place third and fourth in the conference, respectively. This is of course because Vancouver and San Jose, as division winners, are guaranteed top three seeds. I have no beef with this, and I’m not unaware that it may be the Central champ that ends up as the 3 seed. Just pointing out that the 4th place team would be on the road, and the 3rd place team would have to face a team they may have some argument for avoiding.

Defense Wins Championships?

One surprising thing to me about the order of these teams is that Chicago is bringing it up the rear, largely thanks to the fact that they’ve been taking it there every time they score less than three goals in a game. Jesse Rogers pointed this out some time ago, but as of today the Blackhawks have won only one game in regulation when scoring less than three goals. And that one game was against the Kings, where a 2-1 score is sort of like a 3-2 or 4-3 game given L.A.’s penchant for keeping the flow nonexistent.
A response to the above stat is that Chicago has the 4th best offense in the league, and therefore don’t need to win a lot of 1-0 or 2-1 games. But the fact is the Hawks are 4th in the league with 3.1 goals per game, which makes failing to tally thrice just a below average game. In the playoffs, prolific offenses tend to have to find other ways to win games that are shrunk by the better opponents and heightened intensity. I’m not saying Chicago can’t win the Cup, but they almost certainly will have to win more than one game by a score of 2-1 or even 1-0. Haven’t been able to do that so far through 53 games against the entire league. We’ll see if they can do it in less than 30 against only the best.
In an All-Star Game of Front Offices, the Central Division Would Mercy Rule Everyone Else

The stat that impresses me the most about these four teams is the one in which they’re not that prolific: player salaries.
Despite placing first, third, fourth and sixth in the west in points taken per game, if the standings were determined by blowing through cap space, only one of these central giants would even make the playoffs.
Amongst on Western Conference teams, Chicago’s payroll ranks eighth; Detroit comes in ninth; St. Louis eleventh; Nashville thirteenth. Their on-ice success may not be in total contrast with their thriftiness — as information has moved us all closer to being general managers (in our daydreams), we may have overvalued the correlation between dollars spent on players and wins.
To both comment further on the distinction that we should all make between the two paper figures and pile on Columbus, it is actually the Blue Jackets who lead the Central Division in salary cap hit this year. The Jackets have spent the fourth most on player personnel in the Western Conference, ahead of such Stanley Cup contenders as San Jose, Boston, the New York Rangers and of course, the rest of their divisional brethren.
The reward for the conservatism of Detroit, St. Louis, Nashville and Chicago? The freedom to buy this month in the trade market, for one. The ability to sign the cream of the free agent crop this summer, for two. In Nashville’s case, the latter seems more urgent, as it is their players who count for two of the premier names in the upcoming FA pool (Shea Weber & Ryan Suter). Detroit and Chicago figure to be immediately much more concerned with the former effect, as there can be only one Stanley Cup champion each year, and after all, there is only one Ales Hemsky (or Travis Moen, or…).
St. Louis is a little harder to figure out, as they are in that awkward position of being better than their name. Call it punching above their weight, quote Shakespeare or The Departed, the point is: the Blues are a contender right now, but may not be in the financial condition yet to go out and make splashes. Time will tell, but I expect the Blues to go forward with mostly the same players that have been the best team in the NHL since the hiring of head coach Ken Hitchcock.
Before the other three teams get involved in a loaded NHL Tuesday, the Red Wings travel to Glendale for a game against the Phoenix Coyotes tonight at 8 p.m. EST on NBC Sports Network. Detroit has eliminated Phoenix in the first round of the last two playoffs, and will try to improve upon their 15-14-1 road record this season.

The other day I came across a little back-and-forth blog entry on the worldwide leader of not hockey coverage concerning what the Vancouver Canucks should do with goaltender Cory Schneider. The debate is the same one that any good team has around the trade deadline: do we keep our guys regardless of position or remaining years under contract, or do we trade some guys off for added depth and/or bolstering weaknesses?
Craig Custance argued the only rational side — that the Canucks have to trade Schneider’s expiring contract this month in exchange for skating help, because not only is the soon-to-be 26 year-old scheduled for a huge raise in conflict with the team’s marriage to starter Roberto Luongo, but also because championship windows are only open for so long, and the team is obligated to stock up on as many players that can actually help in a playoff run while the squad is good enough to snatch sport’s greatest trophy.
Scott Burnside argued that the Canucks can only win the Stanley Cup if Schneider plays a decent role in doing so. He went on to state that Luongo “cannot go all four rounds” necessary to win the Stanley Cup. Folks, it’s time for some good ol’ fact exploration, myth debunking and rationality in the hockey media.

Cory Schneider’s contract is up this summer, and he’s probably the hottest name amongst young goalies ready to become full-time starters somewhere in the NHL. This means that he’s going to be offered more than his current $900,000 salary he’s making this season. How much more? Just remember that Mike Smith scored a $2 million per year contract with Phoenix last July based solely on a few good games late in the season, including one in the playoffs. Schneider’s last few years have undoubtedly garnered more confidence in his ability to guard the line than Smith’s had. So… is the number $3 million a year? More? Of course, it will depend on supply and demand, but highly coveted free agents tend to get very good contract offers.
Whatever the offer will be, the Canucks would have to be willing to match it and then be alright with blowing around or above $8 million a year on goaltending. That would be possible, but given the Canucks’ penchant for spending to the salary cap, it may lead to a rude awakening that all of a sudden leaves the team’s skaters downgraded. I know this doesn’t necessarily pertain to next season, but as it stands right now, the Canucks have the least amount of cap room this season of all 30 teams in the NHL.
I’ve written extensively about the need to spin off expiring contracts that a team knows it can’t re-sign. Despite all the man love for Schneider, this situation is no different. The Canucks are set up to compete for the Stanley Cup right now. There is no guarantee that the Sedins will be this good forever, or even next season given the way concussions are ending careers these days. Vancouver has already seen how much Ryan Kesler’s health means to their playoff successes, so why can’t people see the need for as much skating depth as possible during a war of attrition?
If trading Schneider this month can get the Canucks a contributing skater and maybe even a draft pick, the team is almost obligated to pull the trigger. When was the last time a young goaltender entered the playoffs as a backup and won the Stanley Cup? One could look to Antti Niemi in 2010, but by the time the playoffs had started Chicago had clearly chosen Niemi as the team’s number one. Unless Vancouver is planning a similar seat change, we can’t use the 2010 Blackhawks as a “see, I told you so” anecdote. On the other hand, Chris Osgood came into the 2008 playoffs as Detroit’s backup, but went on to win 14 games and the Cup. But one disqualifying piece of evidence is that Osgood had done it before. He “went all four rounds” in 1998, so he can’t be linked in with the Luongo / Schneider debate as Burnside crafted it.
Of course, the whole of Burnside’s and the rest of anti-Luongo nation’s argument is that Luongo is incapable of winning the Stanley Cup. I hate it when I’m forced to defend a person or stance that I don’t entirely believe in, but you’ve all forced me to be Luongo’s de facto apologist. Let’s take this time to get a grip, because if Luongo backstops Vancouver to the Cup this year I don’t want to hear the popular sentiment change. Here’s your chance to take in the facts and decide whether you want to be an anti-Luongo extremist or a person who acknowledges that the future is unknown and that the past indicates that a Luongo-led Cup win is entirely within the realm of possibility.
Why Do We Think Luongo is a Loser?
To debunk the myth that Roberto Luongo is a mental midget who is “incapable of going all four rounds” of a Stanley Cup playoff, it’s important to go back and figure out why we have this abstract feeling in the first place.
I remember when I used to waste my time watching college football. There was one particular game in 2007 when USC traveled to Nebraska. I remember watching the Trojans dismantle Big Red, and thinking, “Wow, I forgot that playing football really well was what USC actually did.” Over the previous five seasons, the USC Trojans football scene was surrounded by such hyperbole (“best team ever in 2005”… until they lost) and celebrity (akin to L.A. Lakers games) that I had forgotten they were at their core a highly successful amateur football team. Like when the rock star dominates the pages of the pseudo-tabloids, it’s easy to forget sometimes what the star actually does.
I think that while a lot of the Luongo hate is based in recent playoff losses, more of it is based in… we forget. Prior to 2007, Roberto Luongo had never played in a playoff game at the NHL level. But that 2006-07 season was his first in Vancouver, and it is remembered as an absolute stinker for Luongo because of the way that it ended, with him seemingly complaining to the referee seconds before allowing a soft wrister from 57 feet out.
Here’s how that ’07 playoff series ended

But even in that game, Luongo stopped 50 of 52 shots. In his first career playoff game a few weeks earlier, he saved 72 of 76 in a win over Dallas. His GAA for the 2007 playoffs was 1.77, and was accompanied by a .941 save percentage. These brilliant stats don’t account for the fact that the Canucks were beaten by the eventual champs, the Anaheim Ducks, who many still regard as one of the best teams in recent memory. But nobody cares to look up the numbers, because Luongo screwed it up. I believe this lapse in concentration has led to all of the current Burnside-esque assumptions about Luongo’s supposedly low mental strength, but most people would need some time to remember this root of the argument.
The following season was a bad one for Vancouver, as they missed the playoffs and caused the media to pick up the “blow up the team” reaction, which in some ways was followed by team brass. Some of the old guys were out, and the team started to look like its current self around the 2008-09 season. One quick note about 2007-08: Luongo had a 2.38 GAA and .917 save %. Just sayin’.
2008-09 was another good season for Luongo, as he slightly improved his regular season stats from the prior year. The playoff exit came at the hands of the young and uber-talented Chicago Blackhawks in the second round. Despite the clincher being a 7-5 win for Chicago, Luongo still sported a so-so 2.52 and .914 in those playoffs. And here’s another point: the idea that this was an upset is misguided. Vancouver had home ice solely based on winning the weak Northwest division. The Canucks gained 100 regular season points to the Blackhawks’ 104. The better team won.
The following season was easily Luongo’s worst. He brought a 2.57 and .913 into the playoffs, and put up numbers that were much worse once he got there. The 3.22 GAA was not good enough, and an .895 save % is simply never going to win Stanley Cups. But this playoff was again lost to the Blackhawks, who went on to win the Cup in a finish that surprised exactly nobody. The Blackhawks were the odds-on favorite to win the thing to begin with. And he did win the Olympic gold medal game in overtime at home, and there has never been more pressure on him than in that game.
The 2010 series against Chicago was a stinker, as only one game of the six was decided by as little as two goals. Luongo was not very good. But anyone watching the series knew who the better team was anyway. The mark of a goalie who cannot get it done is that he fails despite having the better team in front of him. No sane person would argue the 2010 Canucks were better than the 2010 Blackhawks.
Then there was last year, when Luongo put up much better regular season numbers and in doing so was a finalist for the Vezina. His playoff stats were almost equal to those from the 2009 playoff season, except this time, his team made it fifteen games further. How does one explain that? One possible explanation is that the Canucks were a much better team in 2011 than in 2009. I think that’s a big part of it. Another explanation is that 2011 was a weak year for Chicago, who lost to Vancouver in seven games after not being able to find the defending champion magic. I would even agree with that assessment.
Chicago was down last year, and Vancouver still needed OT of the seventh game to finish them off. But here’s the point — they did finish them off. And Luongo was clutch in the 2-1 win to close things out. He was equally clutch in two shutouts during the Stanley Cup Finals against Boston, one of which being the at-the-time “must win” Game 5 on home ice, where the Canucks prevailed by a goalie-friendly score of 1-0. Not a lot of mental weakness there. So why do we still spew the same tired analysis of his so-called mental weakness five years after the embarrassing playoff exit?
Because thinking is hard, and the story of life and reality is so much more comprehendible once we start using motifs and putting everybody in their box. Few people want to acknowledge that the future is unknown and many different results are possible. Ideologies are preferred by the less intellectual; extremism and bigotry are on the particularly non-thinking side of the spectrum. So here’s one that makes it easier: Luongo is a loser who always loses and therefore will always continue to lose, no matter the facts, moving parts or reality that surrounded past losses or future outlooks. There, we did it! We came to an absolute conclusion. Doesn’t that feel better and safer than contemplation?
Now that we’ve rooted out the source of the widespread anti-Luongo sentiment, let’s go fact finding.
Luongo Has Won Pressure Packed Games
We have this thing called the Triple Gold Club that includes players who have won the Stanley Cup, IIHF World Championship, and an Olympic gold medal in their careers. These players are seen as inarguable winners.
Luongo needs only the Stanley Cup to join this list.
In winning the gold medal in 2010, Luongo led Team Canada through four elimination games. The last two were 3-2 victories. The Games were in Vancouver. The entire country of Canada was demanding a gold medal and nothing less. Luongo won the games.

You think Luongo would have gotten out alive if he had lost this game?

During last year’s playoffs, Luongo was the winning netminder in two of the three games that he started when facing similar pressure. He won Game 7 against Chicago, he won Game 5 against Boston, and lost Game 7 against Boston. Before we write off that fifth game of last year’s finals, let’s think about what a Canucks loss would have meant. It was one of those clichéd “closest thing to a must-win” game. Vancouver won it 1-0. It looked like this:



And that seventh game that proved once and for all that Luongo didn’t have what it takes to “go all four rounds,” well, Vancouver scored 0 goals in that game anyway. Boston won and Vancouver lost, but the three wins the Canucks did get were largely influenced by Luongo. Show me the loss in which Luongo was the difference.
Luongo Has Gone “All 4 Rounds”
Deciding games are always the end of the chapter. Many underdog teams hope to even make the seventh game of a given series, despite the fact that it will be a road game, because “anything can happen in a one-off situation.” Fact: Luongo made it to the seventh game of the final round. Yes, the Canucks had home ice and lost. Yes, he allowed too many goals in Games 6 and 7, when the Cup was one victory away. But the argument that he “cannot go all four rounds” is not at all supported by the evidence.
Rocky & Apollo after the first fight

In Rocky, it was the Italian Stallion’s mission at the Spectrum to “go the distance” with heavyweight champion Apollo Creed. Despite Rocky Balboa’s split decision loss, he is professionally proud that he “went the distance” with the champ. A fifteen-round split decision loss is about as close as one can get to actually winning. So is losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
If Luongo’s Past Disqualifies Him from “Going All 4 Rounds” & Winning the Cup, Then Everyone Else’s Does Too
If we’re going to say stupid things like, “The guy who got to the final game of the final round can’t go all four rounds,” then no other goalie who has yet to win the Stanley Cup can go all four rounds and win it either. This conclusion is of course asinine, but it logically follows from Burnside’s argument.
Here is the list of current NHL goaltenders who have shown they can “go all four rounds” and win the Cup, since we’ve determined that getting the the seventh game of the Finals is not doing so: Martin Brodeur (comical at this point), Nikolai Khabibulin (is there anyone more unlikely given age and team?), Cam Ward, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Marc Andre Fleury, Antti Niemi and Tim Thomas.
Hey, a betting man may love the idea of getting Boston, San Jose and Pittsburgh against the field when it comes to winning the Cup this year, but to say that these are the only teams that have a shot in 2012 because they’re the only teams with goalies who have done it before is so ignorant that it really doesn’t warrant all of the contemplation we’ve given it just on this blog entry. But sometimes absurd things have to be called out.
Will Luongo ever win a Stanley Cup? I don’t know, although I would say the likelihood substantially drops if this isn’t the year. But he’s capable of doing so, and let’s not forget two key facts about the way everybody analyses sport.
Destination-obsessed
First, too many of us have become obsessed with the destination. Putting all of the emphasis on finishing first is a good way to promote actually finishing first, but it also causes us to forget just how hard and statistically unlikely it is for any one team or person to actually finish first, especially in a league of 30 teams with a salary cap.
Not appreciating the journey also has some insane side effects, aside from the obvious obsessing over the destination. It causes us to demand ends to stories far too quickly. Remember, before Luongo sucked and was incapable of winning, he was young and awesome and the highest goalie ever drafted at the time and “if only he could get out of Florida he could really be a winner.” He’s lived through just four playoff seasons, and only one with a legitimate Cup contending team, but now he’s done and dusted. He sucks.

Photo via
Remember when Luongo was the hot 26 year-old that just needed to get out of town?

The Buildup Always Precedes the Tear Down
I’ve yet to hear anyone point out the hypocrisy needed to declare Luongo a failure while touting the Stanley Cup credentials of Schneider. Let’s not forget that six years ago Luongo was in a similar position to Schneider. The talk was, “Man, that Luongo sure is good but he’s stuck in a hockey black hole with Florida. If only he could get out.” While Luongo had been the Panthers’ starter for a bit, in contrast with Schneider’s zero seasons as an NHL starter, the sentiment and their ages (26) at the specific point are very similar. Since finishing first and winning titles is very difficult, is there any doubt that in six years time we’ll be doing the same deconstructing of Schneider’s game, barring a Stanley Cup somewhere between now and then? Not bloody likely.
Photo via vancouversun.com
Now Schneider’s the fawned-over mid-20s goalie that needs a new spot

I’m not sure how to prove this as “fact,” but there is no way at this current moment that the statistical odds of Vancouver winning the Stanley Cup in 2012 are noticeably greater with Schneider in net than they are with Luongo. If you disagree with me, then you almost certainly also believe that Tim Tebow is a good NFL quarterback and other various illogical, irrational, bad takes that are wholly unsupported by any critical analysis or evidence. But I’m not talking to those people, because if you’re still reading this you’re obviously a smart person capable of thought. Help me help you. Let’s clear our heads of the lazy, all too easy “Luongo sucks” garbage.
Do I believe Roberto Luongo is the best goalie in the NHL? Not at all. I’ve been a Henrik Lundqvist honk for years. Do I see issues with the way the Canucks have exited the playoffs in the last four tries? Sure. The only game in which Luongo played well and still suffered elimination was that 2007 blunder in Anaheim, with two blowouts from Chicago and one from Boston coming since. Am I picking the Canucks to win the Cup this year? I don’t think so, but we’ll see come April.
One Goalie Must be Traded this Month
My point is this: the championship window is open right now for Vancouver. It won’t be for long, if history of sport is any indication. This spring should provide the Canucks another opportunity to achieve the greatest success in hockey while offering their mobbish fan base the spiteful victory they may not know how to handle.
The move is simple. If the Canucks do not want to or cannot trade Luongo and the remaining nine years on his contract with the intention of moving forward with Schneider as the starter in the fall of 2012 and beyond, then they should definitely trade Schneider for something that will help them win the Stanley Cup in four months. If they think that letting Schneider play out the string, sit the bench (or even play) for another elimination, and sign a contract to be someone else’s starter is the smart move, they may want to re-read this sentence.
Fan sentiment changes over time, and ultimately is based solely on titles. To let Schneider walk for free in July and end up with zero Stanley Cups in Vancouver ten years from now would be unacceptable. To trade Luongo and end up with zero Stanley Cups in Vancouver ten years from now would be unacceptable, albeit popular for a short period of time. To trade Schneider now in exchange for a deeper squad that allows for a more honest run at the Cup this year while also selling the fans on the impossibility of re-signing him this summer would be by far the most acceptable move to a fan base that, like all others, is fickle, vindictive and a prisoner of the moment.
The Canucks should not give in. They hold a very valuable piece that a few teams may covet. No team ever plans on winning the Stanley Cup with its backup goaltender, and therefore, if all goes well the team will not need to use this valuable piece until they no longer own it. They are married to the man who sits in front of the player in question. The decision is obvious: sell, sell, sell. In the interest of the sporting attitude, go for it. Because what’s another playoff loss going to do for you moving forward? Nothing except more whining and riots.

The only way keeping Schneider through the playoffs makes sense is if the Canucks’ skaters suffer little to no injuries. Good luck with that.