Win or lose, I’d have written this.
Truth to be told – the Canucks fan that I really, truly am – I was pulling for a Devils win. It would have made this column more of a challenge and it wouldn’t have made me seem like such a reactionary, generalizing plug. (Which I am, just like any blogger. Fair enough.) I thought Cory Schneider outplayed Roberto Luongo on Tuesday night, although I don’t think it matters now. Each goalie let in one goal they had a chance to stop, or that didn’t click off multiple heels on its way to the mesh. Jason Garrison’s overtime goal – that tally that caused Cory Schneider to race off the ice untouched like he was Michael Vick running through Minnesota’s endzone – wasn’t just tipped on its way to the crease, but newest Canuck Mike Santorelli’s screen job was flat out phenomenal.
So the game, in the case of the goalies, was a draw. One equal temper of heroic hearts.
But, when it comes to the Cory Schneider trade – the trade that will either be mentioned with the words “Luongo” or “Horvat” or “fu*king Gillis” or all of them – the Canucks made the right choice. Given the situation, given what lay ahead, and given what the Canucks had handed themselves, it was the right call.
Mike Gillis had punched himself into a corner and reacted the way he always reacts to these sorts of situations… with a bazooka.
Remember the $10 million offer for Mats Sundin? (He took it, but he only brought home $5 million for half a season. Those Swedes… they all socialists, right?) How about the Luongo contract that was so loved and is now so hated? 12 years and, like, a billion dollars? What about the Hodgson-for-Kassian trade, the only decision that we could probably say, right now, is a complete failure. (I love Kassian. I really do. I like the effort. I like the size and the attitude. The like the hair, or the lack of it. But there can’t be a person out there who hasn’t been hit in the head by a falling fridge who thinks Zack Kassian is a flat-out better offensive hockey player than Cody Hodgson. No, no, seriously… if you think Kassian is a one-up, head-on better player than Cody Hodgson, you need to finish your 12 steps and denial is one of them.)
When Mike Gillis does something, he does it with a period. He does it without regret or a rear view mirrow. Hey, he has to.
So, Cory Schneider was dealt. It really happened. Roberto Luongo wasn’t traded. It really didn’t happen. They got this game out of the way early. They both played great. It’s over. It’s done. BOOM. Move on.
Okay, you’re not going to move on. I understand.
There’s this idea hockey fans have that goaltending is the most important piece of any championship team. It is, but it’s not that simple. You don’t win by snapping up the goalie of the moment at every moment, because there are a lot of moments and a lot of different tenders who drive-by shoot the gong.
Sure, great goaltending wins championships. Goalies – on their own – don’t.
In the last three seasons, all these guys have played in Conference championships and Stanley Cup Finals games: Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo, Antti Niemi, Corey Crawford, Jonathan Quick, Martin Brodeur, Mike Smith (for two different teams), Dwayne Roloson, Tim Thomas, Tuukka Rask, Marc-Andre Fleury, Tomas Vokoun, and Henrik Lundqvist.
There’s no pattern, no rhythm there. There are a lot of older guys who got rediscovered their youth (Roloson, Vokoun, Thomas, Brodeur), some young guys who got hot and kept it up (Niemi, Crawford), some established starters (Fleury, Luongo, Quick, also Thomas, also Lundqvist, also Brodeur), and backups who filled in for their struggling superiors (Smith, Schneider, also Vokoun).
Missing from that list are guys like Pekka Rinne, Jimmy Howard, and last year’s Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky. Great goalies who haven’t been backed up by their teams, and their teams were the disappointments.
There are 60 great goaltenders in the NHL and only 30 openings, several of which have been locked up for years on end.
The thing all champions or near champions have in common is their loyalty to one guy, their ability to pick him and ride him through his highs and lows, and their belief in their own system. Sure, a team can collapse like a neutron star if they believe in their own system and they own system sucks, but goalies are rarely the guys who deserve that blame.
Patrick Roy was on a lot of great teams and some certainly terrible teams. He has four Stanley Cups and three Conn Smythe Trophies. He also did this.
Cory Schneider won’t become a great goalie. He already is.
But so is Roberto Luongo. What’s the difference? Why do we need both? Why can’t we just pick one – which we kind of did – and be happy with that? Why can’t we do what we should, which is focus on filling the other missing spots in our roster?
Is Kassian ever going to pan out? Is Ryan Kesler the guy down the middle? Can the Twins leads this team to the one-and-only silver chalice? Those, perhaps, deserve to be questions. Anything involving Luongo doesn’t. Not right now.
We already have to find a way to re-sign Henrik and Daniel Sedin and Chris Tanev, and we have rookies like Hunter Shinkaruk, Bo Horvat, and Frankie Corrado waiting to get in the system. Dan Hamhuis’s paperwork will expire before we’re ready to deal with his junk, too.
Do we really want to add a goaltender to that scroll?
We don’t have to. We have Luongo for life. One of the greatest goalies of all-time… he’s ours.
If the Canucks had rolled the dice with Schneider, there’s no guarantee they would have been able to re-sign him in two years. What if he won a Vezina in the next couple seasons? Would the Canucks really be able to afford him? What if the Twins left, or Gillis left, or Hamhuis left in that time? Would the kid even want to stay, or would he chase a lot more money and a much healthier chance to win somewhere else?
After seeing the way the fans in blue and green treated his planned predecessor, why would he even want to stay here? It would have become that awkward scenario nobody wants to admit is a real issue, like the Sedins’ contracts are right now. Imagine have to actually watch Aquaman 2 without Vincent Chase.
All players get older and all milk sours.
The Canucks kept Naslund, Bertuzzi and Morrison all two or three seasons too long and just barely escaped the ugly Caddyshack-Dalai Lama-sized glacier the Calgary Flames are just starting to attempt to climb out of.
So, the Canucks don’t have Cory Schneider, even though he’ll probably always feel like one of us. We’ll always talk him up, always tell people we could have kept him and that we drafted him. But that doesn’t matter – we have Roberto Luongo. He’s our goalie, and he’ll be our goalie until he isn’t a goalie anymore.
Isn’t that enough?
Shouldn’t that be a relief?
Goalies are like office Christmas parties: they’re a privilege, not a right.
*Originally published on White Cover Magazine…