Roberto Luongo’s Days in Vancouver Appear Numbered, But Market for High-Priced Netminder Could Be Limited

Roberto Luongo's Days in Vancouver Appear Numbered, But Market for High-Priced Netminder Could Be LimitedCanucks coach Alain Vigneault was signed to a two-year extension through the 2014-15 season on Wednesday, two weeks after general manager Mike Gillis inked an extension of his own.

That doesn't mean there won't be major changes taking place in Vancouver this summer. And the biggest change expected is in goal.

Just two years into a mammoth 12-year, $64-million deal, Roberto Luongo appears destined to play out that albatross of a contract elsewhere.

Luongo had stated at the club's breakup day last month, after the Presidents' Trophy-winning Canucks were ousted in the opening round by eighth-seeded Los Angeles, that he would be willing to waive his no-trade clause.

"It's going to be what's best for the team," Luongo told reporters. "Whatever scenario that is, I'm okay with it – whether that involves me being here or not is OK."

But after Vigneault was signed to the extension, the coach revealed that Luongo wasn't just willing to waive his no-trade clause, but had actually asked to be dealt. Vigneault revealed that in an interview with TVA Sports on Wednesday, as reported by Louis-Andre Lariviere of SLAM! Sports.

"This is what he wants now," Vigneault told TVA's The Match on Wednesday. "And what we must do is [make the best decision] for our organization.

"We will act in the best interest of our organization while trying to do what is best for Roberto," Vigneault added.

Moving Luongo won't be easy with that contract, though it helps that some of the money was front-loaded to lower the cap hit to $5.33 million a year. The Canucks have already paid Luongo $10 million in 2010-11 and $6.7 million this past year. Luongo, 33, still has six more years at $6.7 million, then single years at $3.4 million and $1.6 million, followed by two years at $1 million. If he plays out the full term of the contract, he would be 43 at the end of the deal.

Cory Schneider, meanwhile, is just 26 and coming into his own. He supplanted Luongo as Vancouver's starter in the playoffs, starting the final three games of that series. The Kings won two of those games to eliminate Vancouver, but Schneider was certainly not at fault with a 1.31 GAA and .960 save percentage. He also went 20-8-1 with a 1.96 GAA and .937 save percentage in 33 games in the regular season, and Vigneault made it clear in a conference call Wednesday that Schneider would be his guy going forward.

"I think what happened in the playoffs would be an indication of what might happen moving forward," Vigneault said, via the Vancouver Sun. "I think Cory's development from last year to this year, obviously he's improved."

But if the Canucks want to get out from under that long-term commitment to Luongo, what kind of market is there for him? Luongo remains an elite goaltender, even with his struggles in his last two playoff series.

He alternated stellar starts with disastrous ones against Boston in last year's Cup Final, posting a 3.41 GAA and .891 save percentage overall in the seven games, and was 0-2 with a 3.59 GAA and .891 save percentage against the Kings this year before giving way to Schneider. But Luongo was 38-15-7 with a 2.11 GAA and a .928 save percentage in the regular season last year and a solid 31-14-8 with a 2.41 GAA and .919 save percentage this season.

He is still more than capable of helping many teams, though the number of teams capable of taking on his contract is limited. Tampa Bay, which struggled in net last year with Dwayne Roloson suddenly showing his age, has frequently been speculated to be one possible landing spot. But Lightning GM Steve Yzerman put a damper on those rumors while discussing his preference to address his goaltending needs through the draft or free agency rather than the trade market in an interview with 620 WDAE in Tampa on Thursday.

"I think everybody's trying to find somebody that's an elite guy," Yzerman said. "I would say there's probably five or six elite goaltenders in the league and then there's a group of good goaltenders, and then there's a group of teams that are really searching for that guy to lock up and not worry about for the present and the future. My philosophy [is] I'm trying to find that Hall of Fame goaltender, and good luck trying to do that. It takes time. We'll find that guy through the draft or unrestricted free agency. That guy isn't there at this time."

That could be just a smokescreen to keep from losing any leverage in trade talks, but the Lightning may be hard pressed to add Luongo's cap hit with five players already on the books at $4 million or more through at least 2015 with Vincent Lecavalier ($7.727 million through 2019-20, Steven Stamkos ($7.5 million through 2015-16), Martin St. Louis ($5.625 million through 20-14-15), Ryan Malone ($4.5 million through 20-14-15) and Victor Hedman ($4.0 million through 2016-17).

If Tampa isn't interested, Toronto could be a possibility. The Leafs certainly need help in goal and have money to burn, but can GM Brian Burke really take on that contract after campaigning against the use of such front-loaded deals for so long?

Chicago also has big-market money and could use an upgrade in goal, but may not have the cap space. And could the Blackhawks really sell Luongo to the only fan base that may hate the Canucks more than the folks in Boston?

There's no easy answer for where Luongo will end up next year. The only thing clear is that it's looking less and less likely that he will stay in Vancouver.

Have a question for Douglas Flynn? Send it to him via Twitter at @douglasflynn or send it here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.

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