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With the Canucks ousted, some idle off-season Leaf chatter: If Roberto Luongo ends up “on the market”, would you like to Leafs to take a run?

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Playoffs are inevitably revealing for a host of reasons.  Some individuals play “over their heads” –that is, they perhaps play to their actual optimum potential, perhaps invigorated by unique the competitive environment.  When this occurs, fans of the team in question naturally hope for even better things to come from the player.  However, sometimes these playoff performers can’t in fact maintain that performance level in the years to come (Joel Ward, last year’s surprising playoff sensation with the Predators, now with the Capitals, may be an example of this phenomenon…).

Quite often, though, from an overall team perspective, this is the time of year when flaws become apparent, some subtle, some more obvious.  The pace is so fast, the checking so close, the determination in each stride so evident, that only the strongest, most determined—and best—teams tend to survive.  Everyone is giving their all but even that is sometimes not enough.  Only one team can advance.

It’s also a time when goaltending typically plays a huge role.  Oh, I know in the past few years we’ve started to think that you maybe don’t need a big-time, big-name goalie to capture a championship.  But I’m not sure that’s true, unless you have a team that is simply so much better than everyone else.  And in this day and age, that just doesn’t happen much any more.  The cap has, in all likelihood, finally killed any thoughts of another "dynasty" era and has instead brought us eternal parity, which I realize some people like.

Yes, goaltending is almost always the difference-maker.  And it almost always has been.  When I was just a toddler in the mid and late 1950s, Jacques Plante in Montreal was the man.  Plante (pictured above left in a great old late 1950s photo with Montreal teammates Bob Turner and Donnie Marshall on the far left helping out...) helped backstop the Habs to five consecutive Stanley Cups.  That was a great team, of course, maybe the best collection of talent of any team in any era.  (It was either that squad or the mid and later ‘70s Habs, in my view…)

In the ‘60s, Glenn Hall, longtime Maple Leaf legend Johnny Bower (right) and Gump Worsley, Hall-of-Famers all, captured every single Cup won- shared between the Hawks, Leafs and Habs.  (For Leaf fans, Bower was the vital cog in all four of those 1960s Stanley Cup wins, though ironically, he was only between the pipes in the Cup-clinching game twice in those four championship seasons.)

In the ‘70s, one could argue that Eddie Johnston and Gerry Cheevers in Boston were not “all-time” (though certainly highly competent) ‘keepers when they won two Cups with the Bruins.  But Ken Dryden and Bernie Parent, both remarkable goaltenders, shared all the other Cups in that decade.  Both were well-deserving Hall-of-Famers.

In the early ‘80s it was Billy Smith on Long Island, the backbone of those four Islander Cups in succession.  Then Grant Fuhr stood tall during all those Edmonton championship run.  In the ‘90s, Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy helped capture the most important hardware of all for Jersey and Colorado.  (Lefty Tom Barrasso also won two Cups in a row in goal for the Penguins, when he was on top of his game.)  Detroit has spread out four Cup wins over the past fifteen seasons, and while critics suggest they didn’t have great goaltending, I think it’s hard to argue against Mike Vernon, or Hasek or even Chris Osgood being significant contributors.

In any event, I guess that’s my long-winded way of saying I believe that goaltending still matters—a lot.   And when it comes to the Leafs and their current state of affairs, well, folks have been kind of campaigning in Leafworld for a veteran ‘keeper, someone who can come in and steady the ship, as it were, until the James Reimer we figured we knew re-surfaces healthy and confident in the (hopefully) foreseeable future.

It may be that some Leaf supporters would be happy to wait for Scrivens or one of the other promising Marlie goaltenders to step up at camp next fall.  Others like the idea of a modest UFA signing like Josh Harding.  I may be as well, though I sense most Leaf backers, despite being somewhat numbed by almost a decade without a single playoff series victory, still kind of long for a bigger "play" here- you know, someone like an Eddie Belfour (who won it all with Dallas in ’99) or Curtis Joseph, an all-time favorite Leaf goalie for many Leaf loyalists.

That kind of goaltending tends to get you places, including in the playoffs.

In any event, when I look at what the first round has “revealed” in the spring of 2012, it is, for me, simply this: not that many NHL teams who are in the mix of serious contenders at the moment  really need a goalie badly, though some do.  The same applies to non-playoff teams.  Some would like an upgrade.  Others are pretty solid in goal.

Of the teams still playing, Ottawa seems satisfied with Anderson (why wouldn't they be, eh?) and the young guys (two of them, actually) they have by the ready.  Washington must be captivated by young Holtby, though we’ve seen this movie with other young goalies in the past who didn’t necessarily stay the course over time.  But he's been awfully impressive in the playoffs so far.  The Rangers and Bruins couldn’t be happier in goal.  I know people have been pointing at Fleury in Pittsburgh, but the guy has been mostly brilliant in recent years, and that includes a well-earned Stanley Cup.  So he’s the man in Pittsburgh going forward, despite their early elimination this spring.

Now, New Jersey will soon have a need, assuming Brodeur finally steps aside at some point.  Philadelphia spent a ton thinking (hoping?) Bryzgalov would solve a 20-year old matter of negligence and mismanagement. (Some good teams were somewhat wasted there under Bobby Clarke because they did not have elite playoff goaltending…).  I'm not convinced Bryzgalov is the answer, but I guess we'll see as the playoffs move forward.

Of the non-playoff teams in the East, Buffalo, Winnipeg, Montreal and Carolina already have top-flight netminding.

Out west, Chicago has shown vulnerability in net during these playoffs, and they may be looking for answers this summer.  I wonder if Detroit really sees Jimmy Howard as their long-term solution.  But of the contenders, my guess is Vancouver is in the most confusing spot.  As in, what do they do with Luongo, since Schneider emerged as the new “go-to”, number-one guy against the Kings?  (He is a younger, much more cost-effective presence in goal, as well, without the attendant negative buzz that seems to accompany Luongo every year at this time…)

It’s all idle speculation, but if Luongo does become “available” this summer, which NHL teams would be serious about acquiring him?

Would Leaf fans have an interested in a very, very high-priced goalie with a great regular-season pedigree—and a long-term contract that would likely be an albatross for quite a number of years yet?  More importantly, does Leaf management even start to consider a phone call to Mike Gillis in Vancouver, or do they wait for him to make the first move?  Can Vancouver move forward with two number-one quality goaltenders in the same dressing?  I doubt it.  They need to make a move.

I've discussed my concerns here before (and here as well) about Luongo's inability to be consistently outstanding at playoff time.  I expect a guy who demanded to be paid like the best goalie in the world, to play like the best goalie in the world when it matters most- and that's in the playoffs.

Again, as I mentioned above, there are other NHL teams with goaltending needs, or at least who might be seeking an upgrade of sorts.  Edmonton, Columbus, the Islanders, Florida and the aforementioned Hawks and Flyers are likely in that category, but I wonder if anyone wants to pay any goalie the kind of dollars and term that Luongo has to be paid for the next decade.

When it comes to the Leafs, where do you stand?  Do you want him?  If so, at what cost?


  1. No chance I would be interested in Luongo. Bad contract plus poor results in the playoffs. Why have a goalie that can get you to the playoffs but leave you hanging once you get there? And that contract will be a definite burden in future years.
    Some point to his success with Team Canada but I think the team in front of him helped immensely!
    You mention Vancouver having a problem with 2 goalies on staff that want to be #1. I think Boston with Thomas and Rask are in a similar spot. What do you think is likely to happen there? If Bruins go out early, they may shop Thomas while his value may still be high?

  2. Thanks Ed. Yes, I've also expressed my reservations about Luongo as a true big-game goalie often here in the past. I am just wondering if some Leaf supporters would want Burke to give this a shot, given that Luongo is a talented guy.

    Would he thrive somewhere else? We'll likely hear that question a lot this summer.

  3. I recall when Marc Savard was apparently being shopped, and a number of Toronto media wags began speculating as to the cost for the Leafs to acquire him, suggesting roster players, multiple draft choices and so on. At the time I found this speculation regarding Marc Savard’s value to be absurd. The reality is that monster contracts, such as Savard’s or Roberto Luongo’s, greatly diminishes their value, often to the point that the team holding the contract would have to compensate the team taking on the contract.

    I am not sure that Roberto Luongo’s value has plummeted to the extent of a frequently concussed Marc Savard; however, speculation along the lines of multiple draft picks, emptying the cupboard of prospects and roster players in exchange for taking on an indeterminate talent with a NTC and an albatross of a contract is complete nonsense, especially at the goaltender position. If Vancouver wants to make room for Schneider, and Luongo wants a change of scenery, I would expect an exchange to be more symbolic than a boon to Vancouver. The team taking on the contract will already be paying handsomely merely by taking on the contract and freeing the Canucks of that burden. Roberto Luongo would be a huge gamble for the Leafs, one that I would hesitate to undertake, even at the cost of say Jonas Gustavsson, or a middling draft pick, for example.

  4. Like Ed, I think you've captured why the Leafs will not go after Luongo, Bobby C. (As I'm sure you know, I raise this as a point of fun conversation for Leaf fans during a long off-season- not because I am suggesting he would be an answer for us. My thoughts on Luongo have been well-documented in this space in the past...)

    This is really Vancouver's problem. They committed to him long-term, paid huge money and term. Now they have a better, cheaper option (and much younger) right in front of them. Luongo has shown he can't win with a great team in front of him. Where does he go now?

    It's a mini-mess for the Canucks, one I'm guessing the Leafs won't try to help them solve.

    Thanks Bobby C.

  5. Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "With the Canucks ousted, some idle off-season Leaf...":

    I wouldn't mind Luongo in Toronto, cap hit is only 5.3 for a proven talanted goaltender (the usual arguement that "he hasn't won it all" doesn't hold water with me as I can name half a dozen "elite" goaltenders that haven't won a cup either) I think playing in the north east would get a monkey off his back as playing Boston would go from a rare hyped up event to normalcy pretty quickly, and I think he might be a little bit more relaxed on a team that is still (still!!!!) rebuilding and not going to challenge forms cup.

    However, the contract is a silly length that Burke wont pick up and I highly doubt he would want to play in Toronto when he can go to Tampa who also need a goaltender in a state where his family live.

  6. Thanks Anon. Well said.

    To be clear, my concern (as I have noted here often in the past) is not the "hasn't won a Cup criteria". I don't subscribe to that theory for coaches or players, though it can be an indicator of sorts. (There are many outstanding coaches and players who have never "won" it all, and it is no reflection on their abilities, work ethic, leadership skills, etc...)

    No, my comment vis-a-vis Luongo is very straightforward: Like many others, I have watched him play in the playoffs with the Canucks for many seasons now. The sample size is now plenty big enough to make a fair evaluation.

    He has played behind one of the best teams in the NHL, and every spring, he cannot last because of poor performance. He plays some good games, but has never stepped up like the real recent greats (Roy, Hasek, Brodeur, Belfour, Tim Thomas and other "lesser" names who actually raised their game come playoff time- including some younger goalies still playing brilliantly right now in the playoffs). He demanded to be paid as the best goalie in hockey and simply hasn't been that when it matters most.

  7. Ed...I meant to respond earlier that, if I had to guess, the Bruins will explore trading Thomas this summer when he still has value. Rask then moves seamlessly into the top job....

  8. It depends what they want, but I think I do not want Luongo.

    Reimer and Scrivens could be forcing Luongo out of TO in 2 years just as Schneider is doing in Vancouver right now.

    I would rather Biron for two years. Josh Harding might also be an option.

  9. Thanks DP. I sense a number of Leaf supporters would like to see Harding here....

  10. I'd love to see Luongo here - one of the best goalies of his generation, carried a beat up Canucks team that stopped scoring within a game of the Cup last year, won a gold medal for Canada - but I think it's entirely unlikely to happen. Why would he waive his no-trade clause to come to a similar - if not worse - "fishbowl" market to Vancouver? Let alone leave an excellent team for a poor one.

    Although, interestingly, if we had a goalie of Luongo's calibre this season, we probably would have made the playoffs!

    Not to mention, Luongo has a very long, "cap circumventing" contract that Burke has publically stated his hatred for. I just think his contract makes him a bad fit for a trade here, between the length (which Burke is opposed to) and the no-trade (which lets Luongo be justifiably opposed to coming here).

    I think Tampa gets him, paying a first rounder and probably a roster player. Keep in mind how bad Jeff Carter's contract looked a few months ago - 10 more years, similar cap hit but without the drop in actual salary, younger player but seen as toxic and a cancer after things didn't work out in Columbus. He still netted Jack Johnson and a first for the Blue Jackets. Of course that was a steal for the Kings, but still, there was some value (perceived or otherwise) going back in exchange for the "awful" contract. These big contracts seem to matter quite a bit less than everyone thinks.

    Thomas is another name that interests me and for those who really believe in the talent we have in the pipelines (I don't), he's only got one year left on his contract. This is shaping up to be a fun offseason!

  11. Hey Mike, I understand your view on Fleury, because that seems to be all we ever hear about from any sports commentary. However, the truth is Fleury is below average, and has been resting largely on the laurels of one good playoff series leading to his Stanley Cup win. Sure, there's something to be said about a goalie who gets his team to the championship, but if you look at his actual underlying numbers, Fleury is just not great. He's okay. He's posted .912, .905, .918, .913 SV% in his last 4 seasons, far below league average. This past year, playing behind a stacked and often dominant Pitts team, he had the 27th best SV%.

    Fleury really had one fantastic playoff series, posting something like a .943 in that series, and then the following year they won the cup. But his 6 years in the playoffs he's posted .880, .933, .908, .891, .899, and .834 SV%s.

    He should be getting reamed out for his pitiful performance this year, as you can pretty much pinpoint Pittsburgh's demise on Fleury's performance (though the defense was mediocre at its best as well). I'm not how he's managed to hold onto this notion that he's a clutch goalie either. 4GA on 23 shots in an elimination game?

    Anyway, that's my rant on Fleury. I don't think he's very good, and his reputation is largely built on playing behind a stacked Pittsburgh team, a single good playoff series, and of course being reached on as the #1 overall pick.

    With regards to Luongo, I think he's a great goalie. He's a career .919 goalie, has had some really good years, and has really never had a really bad year. He's been at least average in the playoffs, with a .916 career average in the playoffs (mark of consistency), yet he takes all the blame when the Canucks forget how to score come playoff time.

    I wouldn't mind him in Toronto, though having him until 2022 is definitely not ideal and I just don't think it will happen. The whole Luongo choking and not being able to handle the pressure definitely reeks of media-manufactured narrative to me though.

  12. Thanks Dave S....good post.

    Maybe you're right about these cumbersome, long-term contracts. I just can't imagine why a team would want a guy (e.g. DiPietro) five years from now, well past their prime and still paying them millions of dollars a season. It just seems like bad economics to me, but maybe I'm missing something in the discussion.

    Agree that Luongo is more likely to end up down south, somewhere in Florida. And I'm guessing something of value goes back to the Canucks, though it's hard to guess what Tampa, say, would be willing to part with.

    Tim Thomas presents an interesting possibility, for sure, Dave. If the Bruins are eliminated, I wonder if he gets dealt before he hits the UFA market? Would the Leafs, as you suggest, be in that mix?

  13. I always respect your perspective here, Darryl, so I listen when you talk about Fleury/Luongo.

    Interestingly, I thought Fleury in his early years was hugely over-rated, then modified my view with his/the team's success in the ensuing years. I thought he looked very active, very good in Game 5 against the Flyers (small sample size, I realize, compared with some earlier poor performances in the series.) I'd be interested to hear some other observations as well. Perhaps I've been influenced by the team's general overall success.

    As for Luongo, I guess I'm in the minority. I just don't see him as a big-game goalie. Maybe I'm biased. I just feel he has not performed as needed year after year for the Canucks when they really needed him in the playoffs. I've seen it with my own eyes. He hasn't carried them enough when they needed to be carried. A guy paid to be the best in the business needs to play that way when it matters. And every spring, he struggles. The last two years, they needed the back-up to bail them out during the playoffs. But again, that's just my view. I know others disagree strongly and see him as an elite goalie.

    Thanks Darryl.

  14. Maybe Tampa take Luongo in exchange for Vinnie both have big long term contracts and with Stamkos being the leading scorer it might not be so bad for both teams win win what do you think?

  15. Ray, it does seem as though Tampa fits as a team that could take on Luongo's contract and they need goaltending, yes. I wonder if Lecavalier can have a bit of a resurgence in a hockey market? It strikes me that he played his best hockey when pushed under Tortorella, and was certainly a key factor in the Tampa Cup drive a few years ago. But his overall impact, while still evident, has been less in recent seasons. Two big contracts- Vancouver looking for scoring depth, TP, as we mentioned, wants a first-string goalie. It may well be a fit....Thanks Ray.

  16. Yes when you put it like that Mike it makes sense maybe they can both rekindle there careers a change is as good as a rest as they say thanks for your rely.

  17. Interesting thought Ray!

  18. Glad we connected here, Ray...good to hear from you.

  19. I'll admit to being a little surprised how much talk there is around the blogs for us to go after the luke-warm options like Harding or Biron or Lindback when none of them appear to be any sort of guarantee of an upgrade.

    To me it seems simple: if we, as Leaf fans, want to be proud of a goalie that is worthy of leading our hockey club into a period of resurgence, it's got to be a proven No. 1. Anything else and he'll become a fatted calf before the end of the season if we aren't screaming into the playoffs, helmets ablaze.

    Having said that, Luongo makes me nervous: he just seems to be able to lose games for his team. Of the UFAs I'd go Vokoun or no one. Tim Thomas coming available would be too good to be true.

  20. Thanks Kiwi Leaf. Solid post, as always.

    My sense is many Leaf fans want to see an upgrade in goal- they would certainly prefer a bona fide elite guy, but simply want to be better than we have been in recent seasons. Thus, the willingness to think in terms of less proven names, but netminders who have shown glimpses of high-end play.

    It will be really interesting to see what the Bruins do with regard to Tim Thomas going forward, as you mention. While he has his tough stretches like all goalies, he has demonstrated he is a big-game player. Rask seems ready to take over as number-one, so what do the Bruins do?