An Ulterior Motive: Cory Schneider's Start In Tampa Bay the First of Many?
When Vancouver Canucks Head Coach Alain Vigneault announced that Cory Schneider would start in goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning, very few eyebrows were raised.
All things considered, far more should have been. It’s an unfortunate, often unspoken reality, a fact that many hopeful fans consider to be taboo, that this 2011-12 National Hockey League season is likely the last in which the Canucks will have Roberto Luongo and Schneider as their two goaltenders.
With this campaign being the last year of Schneider’s current contract, the writing is on the wall – Schneider has proven himself to be a capable number-one goaltender, something the Canucks already possess in Luongo.
Add those factors in with the salary cap implications of Schneider’s expected contract demands, which he has by all means earned with flying colours, and it doesn’t take a genius to surmise what the future holds.
At this time next year, Schneider will be long gone – nothing but a distant memory for the Canucks’ franchise and its supporters.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are a team in severe distress when it comes to goaltending. It was thought at the beginning of this season that the club’s current starting netminder, Dwayne Roloson, would be entirely capable of leading the squad deep into the Stanley Cup Playoffs – just as they did last year, where they came within one victory of defeating the eventual Stanley Cup-winning Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Instead, the Lightning have floundered, with Roloson’s suspect goaltending identified by many pundits as the principle cause of the team’s failure.
Taking into account that Roloson will be 43 years old by the time next season rolls around, it’s fairly clear that this forgettable season will likely be his swan song.
Which begs the original question – why did Cory Schneider play on January 10th against the Lightning? It was an audition, a showcase; an invitation for Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman to pick up his phone and give Canucks’ GM Mike Gillis a ring to inquire about Schneider’s trade availability, if he hasn’t already.
While Schneider’s performance in regulation time was far from flawless, allowing four goals, he did manage to stand tall during overtime and into the eventual shootout, where he turned aside all three Lightning shooters to secure the victory.
Skeptics will say that Schneider getting the nod was based on the fact that Luongo was tired, worn out after a hard-fought game with the Florida Panthers one night earlier on January 9th. That argument, however, is flawed; Luongo faced just 22 shots against the Panthers, a relatively light workload compared to most nights, and he had sat out the previous game against Boston two days earlier to rest.
To suggest he was too fatigued to play against Tampa Bay is laughable.
In terms of what the Canucks could be seeking in exchange for Schneider, there are a significant number of tangible assets which the Lightning possess that could be of interest to Gillis. Draft picks are always an intriguing option, especially when they’re coming from a team that is struggling along outside of playoff position.
Would Yzerman would be willing to take that bait in an attempt to solve his franchise’s goaltending woes, without sacrificing any player from his current roster? That’s another question entirely. Taking his relative inexperience into consideration, with this being only his second season in the GM’s chair, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that he will eagerly jump at a quick fix.
In terms of actual players whom the Canucks could target, there are two in particular who stand out as possible niche-fillers for the club – forward Ryan Malone, and defenceman Victor Hedman, two players who have been mentioned in trade speculation by local media in the past.
Malone is the bruising power forward Vancouver fans have long begged, pleaded and clamoured for – exactly the type of player the team badly needed when they were being knocked around and physically beaten by the rough-and-tumble Bruins during last season’s Stanley Cup Final.
Malone has a deft scoring touch, and a will to match – he would run through a brick wall for his teammates if the situation ever called for it. The next time Brad Marchand chooses to rough up one of the Sedins or lowbridge Sami Salo, Malone would dish out a little justice of his own – long before NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan could have the chance to levy a fine or suspension. Would a straight up Schneider-Malone swap do the trick for both parties?
As for Hedman, he would ideally be far more difficult to acquire, given the fact that he is only 21 years old, just signed a five-year, $20 million contract extension two months ago, and for all intents and purposes, is the only above-average blueliner Tampa Bay has.
Adding a stud like Hedman to an already potent Canucks defence core would be a dream come true for the organization and its fans alike, but the cost would be exorbitant – in other words, not just Schneider alone. Multiple other pieces of significant value would need to be included in a package, youngsters such as Cody Hodgson, Chris Tanev or prospect Nicklas Jensen – a cost which Gillis in all likelihood would be unwilling to pay, and rightfully so.
Of course, stranger deals have happened, and it is at least worth mentioning since as noted, the Canucks have explored the possibility of making a move for Hedman before.
Let the speculation begin once again.