But if there is hockey at some point, one rumour that continues to surface is that Roberto Luongo could be headed to Toronto. Now, those who follow VLM know that we’ve been talking about that ‘possibility’ in this space for a long time. I’m of the view, as I’ve long stated here, that Burke has been in on the Luongo talks from the get-go. Vancouver GM Mike Gillis wants a hockey deal. Burke has been offering (before the CBA interruption, at least) a cap-clearing deal. I’m guessing that’s still the reality on both sides- and the current state of affairs.
Florida seems a more logical destination for Luongo, based at least on his earlier public comments. Hockey-market wise, I would think Chicago is the best fit for his services. Good team, very competitive, close to Cup contention still, yet in need of a difference-maker in goal who can play a lot of games along the way. But I have no idea how realistic that might be, if we ever get back to playing hockey. What is Chicago willing to give up to a Conference opponent?
As far as whether Lou could end up in Toronto, yes, I believe he still could. The new CBA (whatever it will finally be) will play a role contractually, for sure, but Luongo will be still be moved by the Canucks at some point this season, all things being equal. While it would be uncomfortable for all concerned, he could certainly stay with the Canucks until the trade deadline. And who knows, if he is not dealt before a new season finally gets underway and plays really well, he may end up the number-one guy in Vancouver again. You never know. Odder things have happened.
But assuming he is dealt, Toronto is a possible destination, yes.
Now, here at VLM, we’ve had a range of views expressed on the benefits of acquiring Luongo. Some like the idea a lot—assuming Toronto doesn’t give anything of value to the Canucks in return—to simply upgrade our overall goaltending picture. Others think it’s would be a good move because Luongo would help us at least make the playoffs.
Personally, I’m not a Luongo guy. He’s a very talented goalie, obviously. But too many playoff meltdowns from a guy who wanted to be paid like the best goalie in the world make him, in my mind, damaged goods. Is he still in his prime? I don’t know. Would he be an upgrade in the Leaf net? Sure. But if the bar here in this market is just getting into the playoffs, we sure have poor expectations compared to a decade ago, when we weren’t satisfied just making the "final four" in 2002. We wanted—and expected—more, much more of management. We wanted a roster that would challenge for the Cup.
And we should still feel that way, as fans.
I’ve said here that there are obvious things the Leafs need before we can consider them serious contenders for anything other than (maybe) a playoff spot in the weak Eastern Conference. An outstanding two-way, front-line center, a la Bryan Trottier, would be a start. (They don’t grow on trees, but I would have thought, four years into Burke’s time here, we’d be further along in discovering/acquiring that talent). We want better and more consistent goaltending, though some of us still hope that Reimer can be the guy. We need a bellwether guy on the blueline. To me, Phaneuf is not that player- and won't be. Gardiner is very talented but lacks in certain areas of his game—not to mention that he is still growing into his body and his overall game.
But we also need players with experience and who have had some degree of success in the playoffs. We also need, alongside that, real leadership. I don’t see Phaneuf as that guy, and I don’t see a supporting cast in the dressing room that can help him out in that regard.
Who is listening to—or following—Phaneuf?
So when we talk Luongo, I sense that some believe he will bring elements of experience and leadership to a team that badly needs it. But while he certainly brings experience, he is the poster boy for playoff failure. On a Cup-caliber team, he didn’t get the job done. The Canucks have had to yank him out of the net when the pressure mounts in successive player seasons. He is the A-Rod of hockey—a skilled guy with tons of ability who often looks great, but come crunch time, too often folds.
That’s what we want in Toronto?
How is Luongo going to teach the young Leafs what it takes to be successful in the springtime, in the playoffs, when he has never been able to consistently be “that guy” himself?
Truth is, I like Luongo as a goalie. He’s fun to watch. He’s had a nice career. But when you demand to be paid as the best, which he did, and wanted to be with a competitive team to prove he could win—and when given the chance, messed up—why would we believe it will be any better or different if he became a Leaf?
I’m not even concerned about the money, though that is always an issue. I’m not convinced Burke is building a “character”-filled team, despite his protests to the contrary. And I don’t believe adding Luongo will help in terms of playoff success or leadership. Remember Luongo as the "captain" in Vancouver? How did that go?
Can he help us win more games? Absolutely. And if that, and just getting into the playoffs, is enough, then by all means the Leafs should try to upgrade their goaltending.
But if the bar is higher than that, and we’re not just looking for a stop gap measure to make us all feel temporarily a bit better, I would look in a different direction— including trying to develop what we already have in the system and building the confidence of those goalies that may have legitimate potential.