Abandon All Luongo Hate, Ye Who Enter Here
We've all seen the photoshops and read the millions of jokes about how hilarious/awful it would be if Vancouver Canucks' goalie Roberto Luongo ended up getting traded to the Chicago Blackhawks. I don't even have to list all of the historical moments that would make this one of the most awkward unions in recent hockey memory. There is a large chunk of the Blackhawk fan base that would rather have a limb gnawed off by a dull-toothed house cat while they watched a marathon of According to Jim than see Bobby Lu play goal wearing red at the United Center.
I haven't been shy in professing my love for the mercurial netminder lately. Since finding out about his excellent Twitter account and learning that he's actually not the super villain that Chicago media would have us believe, I'd say I've turned into a pretty big fan of the guy. One of the more hilarious things I've seen perpetuated is that he's not only evil but that he's also a terrible goalie. If you honestly believe that because you've seen him get lit up before, please go learn about something called sample size, and then read this and get your myth debunked. If you still believe that Luongo is a bad goaltender then it's time for you to go back to your P'Zolo and your director's cut of Paul Blart: Mall Cop.
Most of the arguments I've seen against such a deal come from the people who hate Luongo based on his affiliation with the Canucks, people who think he's a choker (already addressed), people who saw him play only against the Hawks and somehow ignored all the games where he was an absolute brick wall, or people who hate his contract.
The contract argument is the only one with any shred of validity so I'll address that. Roberto Luongo has a long contract that makes sure he is well compensated. However with the cap increasing to 70 million dollars this season his AAV (cap hit) of 5.3 million dollars seems less bulky than it did just a short while ago. In fact, he's the got the ninth highest cap hit among NHL goalies as of publication. Right now the Hawks have 7.7 million dollars of cap space. If they wanted to fit him in, they could do so. You have to assume some of that cap space will disappear depending on who is heading back to Vancouver in exchange for Luongo. So that's not really an issue. If you want world class goaltending you're going to have to pay for it.
The length, however, is another story. Luongo will count as 5.3 million dollars against the cap for every season through the year 2021-22. To put that into context, the Cubs might actually be competitive by then. Ryan Reaves will have been imprisoned for over 8 years by then. Ray Whitney will be ready to retire by then. To take on a contract of that length scares most people and that's rational. Chicago has a history of rejecting its athletes that come with longer than average terms. Roberto Luongo would undoubtedly be blamed for any and all shortcomings that pop up while he's here. Like it or not that's how this city operates. Brian Campbell was the target of a lot of irrational hatred - until he was traded. Now everyone wishes he was still here. But I digress.
The argument then becomes a question of managing your salary cap, whatever it may be given current labor questions and annual changes in the overall team cap number over those next 10 seasons. If you're sincerely worried about having that cap hit on the roster by the time Luongo obsolesces I don't know how to win that argument. It's true, he's probably not going to be very good by 2019 or maybe even sooner. But he is going to be good next year. And for a good handful of years after that. Everyone creamed their carpenter jorts over Tim Thomas just a year ago and he was 37 years old.
However tempting the idea of having Luongo in Chicago is it's not particularly realistic. Chicago's own David Kaplan, known to be somewhat excitable, misread this beauty of an interview with Luongo and incorrectly stated that Luongo was proclaiming that Chicago and Florida were his top two destinations. Kaplan was quick to state he spoke to "NHL types" but that seems like an intentionally vague response from a guy who had his foot in his mouth. Unless those NHL types are Roberto Luongo or his agent - they are as clueless as you or I. Luongo was simply asked about those two cities and responded with witty answers that traveled the high road. The man is a poker player. He's not going to tip his hand.
What we do know about Luongo's status is that he is prepared to move on and that Cory Schneider has been installed as the number one goalie in Vancouver. With Eddie Lack ready to come in as the back up, there just isn't room for Luongo anymore. The two most logical destinations are Toronto and Florida but Canucks' GM Mike Gillis isn't backing down from what is assumed to be a hefty asking price that no team seems to be willing to meet. No one knows how this is going to end - only that it will end. I'd put the chances of seeing Luongo in a Blackhawks jersey somewhere around 3%, if even that high.
However, there's another angle here and that's between Stan Bowman and the front office. The last two seasons ending in abrupt first round exits are unacceptable to Hawks' brass and things must change for the better next season. The word is Bowman is under pressure to do something significant to turn around the fortunes of the club. Bowman has stated that he's looking for ways to make the team better but he feels comfortable with the roster he currently has. If he feels he can pull off a blockbuster deal that instantly improves the club he should go for it. On the other hand, were I Bowman, I'd be tempted to stick up for the current roster as opposed to jumping into Jay Feaster's olympic-sized pool of stupidity. People are bitter about the way things went last year and understandably so. But should the Hawks put together a solid first half (and they should and likely will) there will be all kinds of things they can do at the trade deadline when the market has settled down and a new CBA will be in place.
Plenty of people would argue that the Hawks have bigger needs - namely on defense and at second line center. But you won't convince me that the Blackhawks aren't a much scarier team with Roberto Luongo in net. Bowman has had a solid offseason if only by virtue of not giving insanely terrible contracts out to average players. The length of the Luongo's contract might be insane however he's anything but average. It's going to take some major stones from Bowman to land Luongo and probably a Big Gulp-sized swallow of pride by Mike Gillis to agree to send him here. I, for one, welcome the idea of our new goaltending overlord.