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Roberto Luongo not the answer to Leafs’ leadership needs

Today, I’m starting this column without benefit of knowing whether the NHLPA made a “counter-proposal” which will trigger a real move forward in solving the current CBA impasse or set the situation back even further than it was before.  So I’m not sure whether I should sound hopeful there will be a season or not—much less an 82-game NHL schedule. (Self-editor's note:  the latest news is disheartening, though certainly not surprising, I now see.  Oh well, mutual greed trumps all...)

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.


  1. I feel much the same about Luongo as you have described. I've enjoyed watching him play, but wonder how he'll do under media (and anticipated playoff) pressure in Toronto.

    The recent owner CBA proposal would be rather harsh for teams with significant back-diving contracts, and could well open other trade possibilities (Minnesota anyone?) for a goaltender that would help recent signings (Parise and Suter) to stay put.

    That said, I came up with a proposal of my own that could provide a solution that might satisfy the union and be a positive for the owners over the longterm.

    The Luongo-type (and other high $) contracts could actually be used to implement a solution that 'makes whole' all of the current player contracts much faster (from the owners' share, since they signed the deals) instead of later (and not from the players share, as it appears would be the case now).

    Why not drop the 20% max contract limit and implement an 'exceptional player contract luxury cap' on any salary exceeding 10% of the team cap. For ease of exemplifying this, let's say the cap is 60M, then any SALARY exceeding 6M for the season would invoke a luxury tax.

    There are about 50 players whose salary will exceed 6M, so every dollar above that rate could be taxed dollar per dollar. These would be expenses for the owners, but could be put in the pool that pays all the current contracts as signed, while setting HRR at 50/50.

    Once the existing contracts have been settled during this new agreement, the luxury tax could then be placed in a 50/50 pool used for career ending injury support (i.e. something more beneficial to players) and allow more flexibility by removal from team caps creating a new place for career ending injuries to be placed AND (something more for the owners), funds could be used to prop up struggling teams more 'openly' than we've seen in Phoenix.

    The great thing about this idea is that the players have their primary concern resolved right away and have the long-term protection afforded to the injured and the owners will gain longterm flexibility when attempting to sign Free Agents (and the PA likes inflationary contracts); sort out short term team financial crises more openly and deal with injuries more wisely - so I don't see a downside (maybe its just not occurring to me yet!).

    So if the Leafs acquired Luongo, he and Phaneuf would cost 1.214 M into the pot (Weber would be 8M!!) - this would put over 90M into the pot...

    Perhaps the formula could be tweaked to a lower number or set up on a sliding scale up to 100% luxury tax on contracts above a higher number than 6M providing a smaller pot. In any case, this is one way to share without changing the basic cap... then it's all about management of how many highly paid players you sign or put on your roster.

  2. That's as creative a suggestion as I've heard so far, InTimeFor62. I wish some of the ideas that have been presented here in recent posts and comments would at least be fodder for discussion between the two parties...

  3. Hi Michael,

    This from Damien Cox this morning ...

    "At the draft, reports indicated Vancouver asked for centre Tyler Bozak, defenceman Jake Gardiner, a first-round pick and winger Matt Frattin in exchange for the 33-year-old Luongo. The Leafs had no interest in paying that kind of price, largely because there is no significant market for the services of the veteran goaltender."

    Seriously? Is this guy Sydney Crosby?

    I could see the Leafs taking him, only because they have to do something. However, offering anything in trade other than a bad contract going the other way would be foolish in my opinion and would make me question Burke even more than I already do. I would be really pissed off if they were to give up anything at all of value to acquire this guy.

    I would much rather take a pass and see what else comes along.


  4. I'm with you Brad (cbh747). I can't fathom Burke giving up Frattin and Gardiner for Luongo. Gardiner isn't going anywhere.

    That said, if I'm Gillis, I'll look to get the best "hockey" deal I can. Markets shift. Teams get desperate. Luongo may be "worth" more in the middle of a season if a team needs a goalie in a hurry because of injury.

    Thanks Brad.

  5. No goalie in the world will save the Leafs if their defensive play doesn't improve. Luongo's playoff meltdowns happened with a very good defence corps in front of him - not to mention backchecking forwards. That ain't our Leafs!
    I'd rather get the forward and defence help you mention - and which everyone, including BB, seems to agree on - and see if Reimer et all can bounce back with the extra help up front.

  6. We're on a very similar page, Gerund O'!

  7. MIchael,

    To be fair to the Leafs as a team. I think that they need to improve in all areas, including goaltending. I am reluctant to dismiss the option that would be Luongo out of hand. It is also fair to say that I wouldn't give up anything more than a middling contract or draft pick for him. Even under the previous CBA, his huge contract and small performances hurt his value in my mind.

    As fans of the team, we need to embrace any avenue that can be taken to make the Leafs a playoff team. Prospects and draft picks are at their essence, remarkably unreliable.

  8. I hear you, Jim. My sense from those who have posted here is that while a number of Leaf supporters would be OK with Luongo as an upgrade, they would not want to see Burke send much the other way.

    It will be interesting to see if Gillis eventually blinks. Thanks Jim.