During Sunday morning’s game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals, Vancouver Canucks’ GM Mike Gillis and Assistant GM Laurence Gilman were spotted at the rink (click link for video). I won’t post sources because there are many, but Elliotte Friedman of HNIC was one of the first to post this on my Twitter timeline.
Subsequent to the inevitable firestorm on Twitter, two Capitals beat-writers, Stephen Whyno and Katie Carrera posted that the Capitals had stated any reports of any trade speculation involving Roberto Luongo were “completely unfounded”.
A couple interesting things to explore here:
1) The Capitals denial was about Luongo, and not necessarily Cory Schneider.
2) What assets do the Caps have that the Canucks might be in the market for?
3) Could the Canucks have actually be scouting the Penguins?
IS IT POSSIBLE THAT SCHNEIDER IS NOW BEING SHOPPED INSTEAD OF LUONGO?
Luongo’s recent run in the net (three straight starts) should be kept in perspective. It’s three starts! And yes, he’s scheduled to start the Canucks’ next game against Edmonton tomorrow as well. Last week, I wrote about why I felt this situation was being horribly mismanaged by coach Alain Vigneault. Of course, if the team had changed course at some point and had decided, for any of a multitude of reasons, to retain Luongo, then the recent goaltender dance would make much more sense.
That said, I’d still be very surprised if Gillis has decided to change course at this point. Vigneault made his choice in last year’s playoffs – and that choice led to Luongo’s desire to move on, and the team’s accommodation to explore moving the All-Star netminder. Luongo was quoted in the summer as saying it was “time to move on”. Schneider re-signed with the team for $4 million per year, presumably he wouldn’t have been so keen to do this if the team hadn’t messaged to him that he was the #1 guy moving forward.
Still, I have to say, the possibility that the Canucks were smoke-screening this entire sequence of events and were carefully orchestrating this situation all the way back into the summer has been in the back of my mind. Could the Canucks have been intending, all along, to move Schneider, knowing that Luongo’s contract would just be too difficult to trade if they were expecting any real assets in return? Could all the showcasing of Schneider last year, all the important games (Boston, San Jose, etc.) have been a “Hodgson-like” maneuver in order to inflate his asset value?
I think all this would be extremely unlikely. But would anything surprise anyone at this point? If the Canucks have orchestrated this whole “We are looking to move Luongo” stance to their benefit of moving Schneider, it would be perhaps the greatest manipulation of media in sports history.
WHAT DO THE CAPITALS HAVE THAT THE CANUCKS NEED?
The Canucks’ needs can generally be lumped into three buckets: 1) Young, offensive talent and solid offensive prospects; 2) Second or third line grit with scoring ability; and 3) Backup goaltending.
Obviously, items 2) and 3) above are more short-term needs as the Canucks continue their push into Stanley Cup contention before their “window” inevitably closes in the next couple of years. The Canucks have two very good goaltending prospects in Eddie Lack and Joe Cannata that could conceivably play at the NHL level, but neither this season. The Canucks also continue to see an increased need for grit and toughness, with some scoring ability, if they expect to progress deep into the playoffs. A lack of scoring depth has hurt them in their recent playoff runs – the Sedin twins are great, but when they are focused on exclusively, they can be shut down, especially 5 on 5.
Item 1) is really something that the Canucks need once the twins inevitably decline (a move which we may already be seeing the start of). Certainly Niklas Jensen is a nice prospect, but the Canucks do lack depth overall in their prospect pool – last ranked 26th in the NHL by Hockey’s Future.
So what do the Caps have here? They have good offensive prospects, namely, Yevgeni Kuznetsov, Filip Forsberg, and Stanislav Galiev. All three are projected to play at the NHL level, with Kuznetsov being ranked the #6 overall NHL prospect by Hockey’s Future. He’s signed in the KHL until 2014, but the fact remains he’s one of the league’s best offensive prospects.
In terms of short-term needs, the Caps have a number of good forwards who would make a nice fit in Vancouver. In my opinion, the best fit would be Troy Brouwer, who terrorized the Canucks back in the days of the heated Blackhawks rivalry – he’s signed for four more years at a cap-friendly $3.7 million. Brooks Laich is a good two-way centre that could play on either the second or third line, although, he might be a bit pricey at $4.5 million for the next 5 years. The Caps also boast 2011 playoff hero Joel Ward, ex of the Predators, who is signed for two more years at $3M. All three have some offensive upside and are tough to play against.
It should also be noted that the Caps have some nice assets on defense as well, including underachieving Mike Green and youngster John Carlson, both of whom play the right side. If the Canucks were to acquire one of these players, a defenseman would have to go back (and my gut tells me that it would take more than Keith Ballard).
Finally, the Caps have a nice backup goaltender option in Michael Neuvirth.
COULD THE CANUCKS HAVE BEEN SCOUTING THE PENGUINS INSTEAD?
While the Penguins appear to be a less-likely trading partner, we should remember there were two teams playing in Washington, D.C. today. Could the Canucks have been scouting the Penguins?
While the Capitals have been slower out of the gate and are facing more pressure, the Pens goaltending situation may not be inspiring confidence in the team’s leadership. Marc-Andre Fleury was downright horrible in last year’s playoffs. Is it possible the Penguins could be looking to upgrade here as they look to get back to the Cup final? Luongo could be a great fit here, and the Pens have some assets the Canucks would be interested in, including recently acquired centre Brandon Sutter or depth scoring forward Chris Kunitz. Their prospect pool isn’t as deep, however, with most of their top prospects being defensemen. Tomas Vokoun could be a good backup coming back, signed at $2 million.
I still think this unlikely – if the Pens acquired Luongo, they’d be in the same situation the Canucks are currently in with two NHL “Number One” goalies under contract with too many dollars committed to one position.