Following up on some speculation from the week, it seems like the hockey world is bracing for a deal that would send Roberto Luongo to the perpetually embattled Toronto Maple Leafs goaltending rotation, regardless of what Randy Carlyle told the media today. Rob Longley over at the Toronto Sun quotes Luongo as giving Canucks’ GM Mike Gillis the “green light” to make a deal. Luongo is protected by a no-trade clause, but it should be done too surprising he would waive it if he still wants to be an NHL starter.
Now, as for Roberto Luongo’s owed salary and contract is the elephant in the room. I never understood the meaning of the term “elephant in the room”, since if there were an elephant actually in the room, I would freak out and point out to everybody that there is an elephant in the room.
As such, people can’t discuss much of Luongo without bringing up the elephant chained to his back. Over the last three years (proprietary statistics alert), Luongo is third among full-time NHL starters with a .929 even strength save percentage (Leafs starters: .916) and fourth among full-time NHL starters with an estimated Wins Above Replacement value of 11.3 (Leafs starters: 0.6).
Few goalies have managed to be as consistent as Luongo over the last several years. In a vacuum, he ought to be the most sought-after piece this whole, extended NHL offseason. He’s one of the few goalies that can have an excellent season and you don’t have to dismiss it as an outlier. If he looks shaken, stirred, unfocused, battling the puck, or whatever opinion you’ve forged of him based on a few seconds of TSN or CBC footage, the overarching theme is that he stops the puck just about better than anybody, in a class of elites with Henrik Lundqvist and Pekka Rinne (Tim Thomas dropped out).
That said, let’s focus a little on the elephant in the room. Roberto Luongo has a contract that, if you haven’t heard, is quite long. According to CapGeek, Luongo has $47.3M left on a deal that runs through 2022. If a team were to buy him out in the summer, he would be on the books until 2031 (which is probably why no team in the right mindset would buy him out). His cap hit, however, is relatively low at $5.3M per, but at 33, that can become an albatross as he approaches his retirement years.
Goalies, as we’ve found, age rather unpredictably. By the time Luongo hits age 38 and you don’t know whether he’ll sink or swim, he’ll still have five years on his contract. However, his “retirement years” beginning at age 40, if he were to retire, would save paying a hefty cap hit for an old goalie not making particularly a lot of money. Right now he’s making $6.7M. In 2019, it will be reduced to $3.4M. In 2020, $1.6M, and in 2021 and 2022, just $1M.
Now, the NHL has added a wrinkle into the new collective bargaining agreement, apparently, essentially by making clubs getting dinged with the money they saved for a back-diving deal. The way Elliotte Friedman wrote it for CBC, in the event the Leafs trade for Luongo before the season starts:
the Maple Leafs will pay Luongo $43,666,000. (I’m not pro-rating this year’s lockout-infected salary. Going for the easy math here). The total cap hit for those seven seasons is $37,333,331. The difference is $6,332,669. Divide it by the three unused years in Luongo’s contract, and the penalty per season is $2,111,890 — slightly larger than Vancouver’s.
This isn’t all bad news for the Leafs, if they were to trade him. For one, the cap benefit penalty to the Canucks increases each year they hold on to Luongo. By my math, if the Canucks were to hold onto him through the summer, their cap benefit penalty increases by about $200K to account for the extra money saved under the deal. It goes up at about $490K per season after that. There’s some future financial incentive for the Canucks to rid themselves of the deal before it becomes too much of a burden for future General Manager Manny Malhotra’s group in 2019.
The second bit of good news is that the Leafs can recoup that and, if Vancouver asks for too good of a player for Luongo, get the Canucks to pay up to 50% of his salary. Per James Mirtle:
Keeping salary in trades: Teams can have up to three contracts at one time that they are retaining the salary of.
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) January 7, 2013
The max teams can keep is 15% of the salary cap. Only 50% of a deal can be kept. A contract can have salary retained in a trade only twice.
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) January 7, 2013
Aside from wreaking havoc on HF Boards, this means the Leafs have several ways to be good samaritans and help rid teams of their good players on less-than-stellar contracts. Luongo would be included on that list, but I’m already looking ahead to names like David Krejci, Drew Stafford, Dave Bolland, Nik Hjalmarsson or David Booth becoming available next summer as there’s a cap crunch for the naughty teams who spent within the rules of the last CBA.
How to trade for a goaltender?
Is Toronto the ideal landing spot? It makes sense partially for Toronto, provided they don’t have to give up too much. The Canucks, to their credit, have done a good job concealing their interest of a central piece of the deal. The two names to get popular recognition? Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak.
Yesterday, when drawing up trade proposals, I would have told you that there’s no chance the Canucks should get Kadri, but depending on how much salary the Canucks hold onto to get their player, it may make the deal worth it. What’s better than an elite goaltender at $5.3M? An elite goaltender at $4.5M, of course.
Jason Botchford has brought up Kadri and Bozak. Few teams requiring a goaltender also have a centreman to offer. I don’t really think the Leafs do, but perhaps the Canucks see differently:
The Canucks need help now, which is why Leafs centre Tyler Bozak has long been rumoured as one of the players the Canucks covet. He’s a nifty playmaker who can be used on the second power-play unit. But his game has been ripped for defensive deficiencies, and you can’t help but wonder how that may play out with head coach Alain Vigneault.
Nazem Kadri is another player labelled as a defensive liability who has been linked to a Luongo deal. The former seventh overall pick hasn’t exactly been a great fit with Toronto since he was drafted in 2009. He’s a forward who will need to play in the top six to be effective. That’s a fairly crowded corner of the Canucks roster heading into this season. But it could change next year if the team were to pass on re-signing Mason Raymond, and if the Canucks bought out David Booth. Teams will have two amnesty buyouts after this season, and with the Canucks needing to re-sign or replace Alex Edler, they may have to use both.
To me, the natural starting point to a deal with the Canucks would be young Cody Franson, a BC-born defenceman who played his junior years with the Vancouver Giants. The Leafs didn’t seem to find room for him this season, and their camp will be flogged by the likes of Morgan Rielly, Mike Kostka, Jesse Blacker and Korbinian Holzer, I don’t think he’ll get too much of a look, particularly after headed to Sweden after spending the lockout as an unsigned restricted free agent. The Canucks need defensive help, particularly an offensive defenceman.
From there, who knows. If the Canucks are indeed higher on Bozak than I am—and if anybody can deploy Bozak in such a way that he turns into a plus-possession forward, it’s Canuck coach Alain Vigneault—then I wonder if a deal with those two straight up could accomplish this. If Bozak is a foil and the Canucks are really after Kadri, well, do you make that deal? The team’s top forward prospect for four or five good years from an elite goaltender?
The most dangerous thing the Leafs can do is stand pat with this roster, which finished third worst in score-tied puck-possession and fourth worst in save percentage. That’s not to say “make a move for the sake of making a move”, but is the simple replacement of Luke Schenn for James van Riemsdyk and the addition of Jay McClement enough to fix this team? Not at all. While the prospect cupboard is bare, it’s nothing that can’t be fixed with two good drafts.
It could be a fairly decent battle. I’d be reluctant to give up Kadri if I’m Brian Burke, and would much prefer the Canucks accept Bozak. The Canucks are going to try to convince teams interested in Luongo that the market isn’t soft at all and they’re perfectly fine having both Luongo and Cory Schneider playing hockey for them. The goalies themselves won’t, so in practice, Mike Gillis only has as much time to work as long as that green light lasts. If Burke sets his price, Bozak, not Kadri, unless the Canucks hold onto a significant block of salary, then the deal won’t be made, we’ll go with our own NHL-calibre goaltenders, and see you in the summer. I think the cap benefit penalty ought to be ignored. By the time 2019 rolls around, the salary cap could be well over $80M.
Just think, though. In a year or two we may have a resolution to the Luongo conflict one way or another.