Strombabble: Luongo to the Leafs still a possibility?

Cam Charron
September 24 2012 09:40AM

I've been fairly anti-Luongo-to-the-Leafs for a while now, suggesting back in June that even if the Leafs had the pieces to acquire Luongo the risk of that contract with ten more years still on it isn't worth the trouble.

Of course, that won't stop us from borrowing the 'Stombabble' series title from our friends over at Canucks Army to dissect the latest developments in a potential Roberto Luongo to Toronto deal.

What do we know? We know Brian Burke wants to acquire a goaltender, and that Mike Gillis has one to sell.

Some of this is going to be based off of Jason Botchford's article in the Vancouver Province this morning. Nobody is arguably better connected to the embattled Canuck goaltender than Botchford from a media perspective.

Toronto has already made a solid offer for Luongo, and when asked about a deal to the Leafs, GM Mike Gillis said there were several assets the Buds have which can get it done.

Gillis was also asked recently about his relationship with Burke, and said they get along “well enough” to pull the trigger on this thing. [Province Sports]

Which pieces do the Leafs have that the Canucks would covet? Thomas has suggested at Canucks Army that the dangling piece could be Jake Gardiner. If Gillis wants a good return on the deal, Burke will have to pay a premium. Botchford's article from this morning not only suggested that Toronto is still involved, but even as Florida wanes, there are still two "mystery teams" on the table. One is speculated to be the Edmonton Oilers, the team that Luongo grew up cheering for.

There's also potential fallout from the Leafs relationship with Luongo's longtime goalie coach and friend coming to an unceremonious end last week. François Allaire. The dysfunction in the system could be too much for Luongo to waive his no-trade clause, and while Botchford never made specific reference to that event there's always the absurd notion of a coaching staff impacting how a goalie coach handles his assets.

After all, the goalie has only one job: Make saves, and that's been a typical area of concern with Brian Burke teams historically. He had success in Anaheim when the Ducks already had Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Ilya Bryzgalov, but in Vancouver under his tenure the team bounced around several replacement-level goaltenders before the dust settled and reigns of the team were given to Dan Cloutier.

I grew up in Vancouver and as much as I hate to say it now, I was a Cloutier fan and owned his jersey. Cloutier was one of those goalies who was talented enough to get the job done half the time, but his conditioning and health issues led to fatigue and more games for the unprepared backups. He was basically James Reimer, or what we perceive as Reimer right now. He's a solid goalie when he's in the lineup, but the real issue with Reimer is his concussion problems and the fact that only the 2007 Red Deer Rebels had him play more than 50 per cent of their games.

Brian Burke and replacement-level goalies

In his one season managing the Hartford Whalers, that team was 3rd worst in the league in goals against, ahead of just the expansion Ottawa Senators and second-year San Jose Sharks. Sean Burke and Frank Pietrangelo contributed to the team's .874 save percentage. He left to take a job with the NHL so he didn't necessarily have much time to fix the goaltending, but ask anybody in Vancouver, and they'd suggest Burke left the excellent teams between 2001 and 2004 incomplete.

Burke recognizes, to his credit or fault, that goalies are fairly expensive and probably worth less than what managers pay for them:

“From my perspective, the prices that are being asked have to be reasonable,” Burke said. “If you can get a goaltender who makes you better, and it costs you 15 first-round picks, would you do it? No.

“So somewhere between 15 first-round picks and something that makes sense, we’re not there yet. I’m not going to overpay to upgrade at that position. I’m not happy with what’s being asked. From my perspective, rather than strip your organization to fill one positional need, we'll go with what we have. [Globe & Mail]

That's about as public of a negotiation as it gets. Later in the story, Gillis made his own reference to the number 15, that there were 15 legitimate No. 1 goalies in the world, probably in an attempt to sell Luongo as more valuable.

But I disagree with Gillis' math in coming up with that assessment (I'm sure he would too if he were speaking off the record). There are 30 starting goalies in the NHL by definition. 15 indicates these goalies are above average. But even an average goalie, if he's above replacement-level, has some value.

Over at Habs Eyes on the Prize this summer, Bruce Peter found a definite discrepancy in goalies who dress as "starters" "platoon" and "backups" and "call-ups". On record, I'm in favour of a platoon between Reimer and Ben Scrivens and keep their games played low. "Replacement" goaltenders at even strength have a save percentage running six or seven points lower than the NHL average of .921, so James Reimer's .918 from last season is actually excellent value considering his contract.

Any goalie you could just pick up, via the minors or the waiver wire, can be expected to get a .912 in save percentage. But of the 28 goalies who started more than half of their teams games (42 or more), 18 were above league average. 15 were above what Peter considered league average for a starting goaltender, which is somewhat the way averages work.

Basically

There are a number of things that prevent this deal from happening. Lack of assets doesn't seem to be one of them, but Burke wants value and Gillis wants assets, and isn't afraid to use his leverage in having the only available elite goalie on the market to get a deal from one of the few teams that lacks a starter.

The other thing is Allaire. It's absurdist, but Luongo has always been a little quirky, and there were reports that he wanted Allaire brought to Vancouver when he was first traded there. Luongo's gone a long time without his mentor, but it is worth noting he's played less of an aggressive butterfly style and a more conservative hybrid style under coach Rolie Melanson who has worked with Luongo to bring him closer to the net and make him more effective from the stand-up.

These are roadblocks. They aren't deal killers, but it's clear it's going to take a heck of a lot for this deal to happen. Luongo is still elite, will be for a few more years, and will give even this Leafs team a good shot at the playoffs. The real question is whether stubborn Gillis, stubborn Burke are willing to blink in a manner that doesn't ruffle Luongo's feathers.

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Cam Charron is a BC hockey fan that writes about hockey on many different websites including this one.
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#1 leafer123
September 24 2012, 11:08AM
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Burke is going to steal Luongo from the Canucks in another magic Phaneuf or Lupul trade and make all these anti-Burke leaf trolls eat crow yet again. Leaf fans can be so tempermental at times.

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#2 elvis15
September 24 2012, 04:50PM
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@leafer123

That's the kind of thinking that has ended up with the Leafs missing the playoffs the last 7 seasons. That'd mean 9 years without any NHL playoff games in Toronto if the lockout takes this whole season.

If you're banking on Burke stealing Luongo for less than he's worth, be prepared to be disappointed.

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#3 mrj
September 24 2012, 06:06PM
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When the new CBA is in place I doubt Luongo will be traded to the Leafs or any other team. His contract will be untradable when the new deal is in place.

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#4 RexLibris
September 24 2012, 08:36PM
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Perhaps in the event of some sort of amnesty arrangement Luongo finds himself a free agent for a brief time.

That might change the dynamic and Burke's response to previous free agent bidding wars is well known.

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#5 Lus
September 25 2012, 12:20AM
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Always love your work Cam. Though I'm a Nucks fans so I'm used to reading on Canucks Army.

You follow the Nucks and Leafs, do you think Gillis would be asking for Gardiner? I just can't see it. He's a lefty. He would have to outperform Hamhuis (not happening), Edler (not happening), and now Garrison (not happening defensivly). There's also Ballard & Connauton. AV has a very unique system, he has all the pieces he needs on the left side. Why use an asset to pick up something you already have?

I think he's asking for a centre. Either Kadri or Colborne.

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