The Goaltender Controversy That Never Was

Bruce Bennett

Since Alain Vigneault opted to start Cory Schneider in nets during the first round of last spring's Stanley Cup playoffs, much of the media and many fans have been spending a lot of airtime, ink and attention on the "goaltender controversy" in Vancouver.

But is there really a sign of such a controversy?

Think about it. The Vancouver Canucks management and coaching staff have really done nothing to support the idea of a controversy.

The first hint of this controversy was when Roberto Luongo himself spoke out after the playoffs were over (for our boys, anyway), saying he would waive his no-trade clause to allow Gillis to deal him to another team. The next event was when Gillis signed Cory Schneider to a contract with a 3 year, $4 million cap hit, leading many to believe that a trade had to happen or the team would have too many dollars tied up in the crease.

After those two events, trade speculation went wild. Gillis admitted to discussing a possible Luongo trade with a number of other teams.

As a result, everyone else assumed that Corey Schneider had been annointed the number one goalie permanently and Luongo was about to leave town on a rail.

But, really, the facts don't support that theory.

Did Vigneault start Schneider in the last three games of the LA series? Yes, he did. What else could he do with the team having blown the first two home games? Though no one was blaming Luongo for those first two losses, the Canucks were clearly outplayed, he had to do something to try and get the team back into the series. Schneider played well and there was no reason to change back before the series ended.

Did Gillis openly admit Luongo was being considered for trade? Sort of. He acknowledged that he had spoken with other GMs, but has said all along that he would not trade Luongo unless a deal that would help the team was available. Given a relative glut of goaltenders on the market and the awkwardness of the kind of long term contract Luongo has, not to mention his veto power on any trade, Gillis knew that trading Luongo would not be easy. His reluctance to simply take whatever he could get spoke to the team's willingness to continue to platoon the two goaltenders.

Did Schneider get the net for the first game of the season this year? Sure he did, but that doesn't mean there was a commitment to 30-40 starts being penciled in for him. It didn't make sense that the team would be willing to sit a $5.3 million dollar contract on the bench for most of the season.

It always made sense to have both goalies play regularly, to go with the hot hand, to platoon Luongo and Schneider. It gives the Canucks a big advantage, knowing that they always have a hot goalie ready to play and always having a top notch guy to bring in to relieve a starter who falters. Both Gillis and Vigneault have been saying from the beginning of this so-called controversy that they planned to play both guys as long as they had them and they saw it as a strength for the team.

Schneider wants to be a No.1 guy and so does Luongo. That, more than any contract or money issues, is the real issue that will have to be addressed before long.

Will the Canucks trade Luongo this year? Will they trade Schneider (Gillis has acknowledged this is possible)? Will they go through the whole season and playoffs with two No. 1 goalies? Well, all are possibilites, but if they are ever to play a season with that much money committed to the position, this is the one to do it in before the new cap restrictions kick in.

The Canucks seem pretty good as currently composed, and can expect a boost when Kesler and then Booth return to the line-up. If other needs arise the emergence of Schroeder and Kassian as a quality forwards gives them other trade options.

Everyone is convinced that Luongo and Schneider cannot continue to share the crease and maintain their friendship and team spirit. But while media and fans have been doing a lot of hand wringing, the players themselves, including the 'keepers have been fine with it, turning it into a running joke with references to magic coins, etc.

By next season something will happen. One of these goaltenders will be traded and a new era will begin for the Canucks. And this is hardly a controversy. Every team makes changes every year. It will be no great shock should the Canucks make one in this area.

Until then, Go Luo, Go Corey, Go Canucks.

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