Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Life without Lou

The cloud of mystery hovering about Roberto Luongo's upper body injury is even thicker than the fog he usually plays in each October, but just as he is rounding in to form Lou is sidelined.  This in the midst of rumors the Canucks are interested in Evgeny Nabokov and the surprising back-to-back starst Lou got in Southern California.  The play that speculatively caused the injury, a Mark Streit point shot that struck Luongo in the mask while he lunged cross-crease, seemed to have strained Lou's groin, a problem area for him in the past, but the team is calling it an upper body injury, and they're not going much further than that. 

Could Luongo be suffering concussion like symptoms?  The shot was hard enough to dent the cage of the mask but a major league catcher might take a 90/MPH foul tipped fastball to the mush once or twice a week during a 162 game season using the exact same gear so it doesn't seem likely that even a hard shooting Streit could concuss a goalie with a puck that strikes him flush in the mask.  Directly after the play Cory Schneider was seen loosening up incase he had to come in for Lou, but Lou finished the game and did say he felt fine but missed two practices leading to the Nux confirming Schneider as the starter Wednesday at home against Chicago.  Eddie Lack will likely be recalled from the Wolves to back-up Schneider until Lou is healthy.

Are the Canucks so tight-lipped because they allowed their big-money goalie to stay in a game while concussed and didn't issue base-line testing or sit Lou in the quiet room?  Everyone seems to think that Alain Vigneault's referencing of the recent Buffalo/Boston goalie running incident alluded to the player/goalie contact issue, but maybe it had more to do with the fact that Sabres goalie Ryan Miller finished that game after being steamrolled by Bruin power-forward Milan Lucic and later was diagnosed with a concussion.  It's evident that the team still kneels to Luongo's authority on many subjects as clearly demostrated in last year's playoffs; is there a chance they wanted to pull Lou from the Islander game to abide by the league's new concussion diagnosis rules but were veto'd by Louie?

All politicking aside there are bigger issues at hand here: what does this mean for the Canucks?

Cory Schneider has been saying all the right things as the better goalie stuck backing up the guy who is supposed to be number one.  He's an RFA in the final season of a two year pact with the Canucks, but his restricted status does little to assure the team's brass and fanbase that he can be kept as a number one goalie playing second fiddle.  If they go to arbitration, which isn't the Canucks style, it will get ugly, a lot ugglier than with a depth forward or role player, and Cory will likely get his due meaning the team won't be able to afford him anyway.  Money aside they won't be able to sign him because it's not about the dollars but the opportunity to play number-one minutes and that's something the Canucks can't offer him, so if he isn't moved before the end of the season and they don't come to an agreement before the start of free agency they probably won't even have to worry about arbitration because he'll be getting an offer sheet from any of the many teams in the league that would kill to have a Cory Schneider.  Of course the Canucks could also lose him on their own terms and trade his rights but that would hugely diminish his trade value which right now would be sky-high considering Semyon Varlamov netted a first and second round pick as an unsigned RFA rumored to be heading back home to Russia.

Luongo is a polarizing personality.  Some of his comments in the media, as well as his interaction with the club and it's staff, haven't been great for his image, and his play at key times for the Canucks has been undeniably poor, but, he did get this team to within one game of the Stanley Cup and was a Vezina nominee...see what I mean, he's about as polarizing as a compass.  Some people still love to Lou him when he makes a big save, others just see an albotross hanging from the neck of this organization for the next decade.  Really, for the numbers he puts up his cap-hit isn't bad, it's the length of his retirement contract and the presence of Cory Schneider that get people upset.

Clearly the current structure of the Canucks goaltending position is about to change.  The Canucks always say they have two number one goalies and in the face of years of Schneider trade rumors have said they intend to keep him around, and why wouldn't they, he's their best goalie, but now their hand is being forced. 

Lou won't be out long, but if this injury somehow turns in to a Sidney Crosby-like episode then this team is going to be faced with some very hard decisions.

Another thing to consider is that Cory Schneider has never had to play under the pressures of being the starting goalie for a powerhouse NHL team.  He has excelled in the some-what relaxed world of back-up, playing road games against lesser opponents, but now he is the number one goalie until Luongo is healthy.  He should continue to play great hockey, but what if he doesn't?


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