One year ago, it was Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo who was supposed to be with another organization, probably the Florida Panthers. Pressing up-and-comer Cory Schneider was stealing the crease job and he had all but dethroned Lou – the goalie who wore the captain’s ‘C’ and came within one win of the franchise’s first ever Stanley Cup championship.
One win. But his “contract sucks,” or at least that’s how he put it.
Windows: they open and they close. In hockey terms, we speak of a window of opportunity – a period of time when a club can win the Stanley Cup before its core group becomes too old or too disgruntled to realistically challenge again.
There are two types of Stanley Cup finalists: 1) Teams with an open window. 2) Teams that come from nowhere, get one shot at winning, and usually, they fail.
Teams with a window typically reach the Finals and then reach the Finals again. The Red Wings hit the Cup Finals in 1995 – a few years into their window of opportunity, and they lost. Everyone thought that was it – the window had slammed shut. But it hadn’t – the Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup in 1997, 1998, and 2002, then once more in 2008.
The Canucks – after years of playing second fiddle to the Colorado Avalanche, Detroit Red Wings and hated rivals the Chicago Blackhawks – they finally got a shot at the Cup. The Canucks lost Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup finals on home ice against the Boston Bruins. We – the public – thought the window was just opening then, but hindsight is 20/20. It’s officially closed.
One year ago the Vancouver Canucks had the best goaltending duo in hockey – Roberto Luongo and Cory Scneider. One year later, they have neither – they have Lack.
Cory Schneider was dealt to the New Jersey Devils at the 2013 NHL entry draft for the 9th overall draft pick, Bo Horvat. Hopefully, he’s a window opener.
Some wonder why Canucks ownership didn’t cut Luongo a Compliance Buyout cheque last summer and keep Schneider – the goalie touted as the future. I guess that’s irrelevant, now.
With Schneider departed, Luongo was once again the go-to-guy for a franchise that employed Dan Cloutier before him, and could never win a playoff round, despite taking a 2-0 lead on the Red Wings in 2002, and floundering a first-round contest against the underdog Flames in 2004. Good goaltending is good.
Schneider is gone. Luongo is gone – and it was nice to be rid of his contract but it’s sad, too, because with him went the last remnant of a franchise that had a chance to win the Stanley Cup.
Luongo served the Canucks well from 2006 to 2013 – a true soldier. And yet, on Sunday, March 3, when the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity presented itself – the Heritage Classic outdoor game between the Canucks and Ottawa Senators – Luongo’s years of service and earned right to play meant little to clinging coach John Tortorella. The recently suspended head coach – hired last summer after being blacklisted in New York – decided his team would lack less with Lack in net. The move was controversial, and confusing, and if it was some ploy to wake up his team it actually knocked them unconscious. And then the calls came, and the Florida Panthers – the franchise that first let Luongo play NHL hockey – wanted him back. And they got him, for a third-line centre, a goalie who was supposed to be pro three years ago, and a pick that Canucks fans hope will play.
Today, Roberto Luongo plays against the Vancouver Canucks for the first time since Mario Lemieux was in the NHL; for the first time since Joe Thornton was a member of the Boston Bruins; for the first time since the Southeast Division was rolling out Stanley Cup champions. And it’s gotten so bad in Vancouver, some folk will be chanting: Loooooooouuuu.