Like sands through the hourglass, so are the Days of our Goalies.
That's correct, folks; I referenced a daytime soap opera in a hockey post, and for every day that passes so too does the Roberto Luongo saga mirror the drama of a soap. The rumors continue to swirl, and today is no different, with the common knowledge abound that Florida management has presumably given the green light to GM Dale Tallon regarding the pursuit of a trade for the All-Star netminder. No word on any changes of the asking price from Vancouver GM Mike Gillis, who is looking to raid the Panthers pantry for all of the fresh marshmallow fluff one can consume. Tallon has repeatedly stated to the media that he is not interested in sacrificing any of the bluechip prospects the Cats have waiting in the wings, but for the chance to acquire a top-tier goalie, one may tell some tiny white lies.
What is most interesting about this entire ordeal is the divisive opinion on whether or not this is a smart move for the Panthers. Folks in one camp highlight the fact that the Panthers, replete with young talent on the horizon and lacking a true proven number one goalie, would be foolish to pass up the deal, especially since it would seem Gillis is in a little bit of a tight spot thanks to Cory Schneider and the whole offer sheet mess that could possibly arise. Not to mention Gillis, who has all but admitted that Schneider will get the starting gig with the Canucks next season if he re-signs with the team, has already devalued Luongo in a trading sense and clearly wishes to dump his salary off the Vancouver books, bringing back some future talent in the process. Add in the fact that Luongo isn't willing to waive his NTC except for one or maybe two teams, and things are looking less peachy for the Vancouver GM in terms of options and returns.
The other side of the camp sees the Luongo move as an unnecessary deal, one that would have rippling repercussions within the Florida organization, and all of them negative. It would delay the ascension of future goalie Jacob Markstrom to the Panthers starting job, and could even affect contract negotiations with Markstrom when his entry-level deal expires after this coming season (Markstrom will be an RFA after next season ends). It will give the Panthers two very large and very long contracts, with the other being defenseman Brian Campbell's $7.1m/year deal for the next four seasons. There are even some who feel it will slight last season's success story in Jose Theodore, who at 35 displayed a sort of renaissance form and was the better of the two Panther netminders last season. Theodore, who is signed for one more year, will still factor in somewhere, likely as a backup to Luongo as assistant GM Mike Santos has stated that the team would like Markstrom to start one more season in the AHL before they feel confident giving him the full-time gig. It should be common knowledge by now that Markstrom, who has had several knee operations the past couple seasons, hasn't played a full season of North American hockey yet and is still green enough to warrant another year in the minors. There's zero chance Markstrom starts with the Panthers next season if Luongo is acquired, unless some catastrophic injuries occur.
There's no question Luongo would be an upgrade in net for the Panthers. Sure, his numbers last season weren't stellar, and Theodore nearly equaled them, but there's no denying that Luongo is still a top-ten goaltender who gives the Panthers a chance to win game in and game out. The problem with acquiring Luongo lies in who Tallon and the Panthers have to give up to obtain him. Florida has long suffered from poor drafting and underachieving prospects, and are just finally starting to turn the corner in that regard. Tallon is playing it safe publicly by stating that he won't sacrifice the Panthers upcoming talent, but it seems like writing on the wall that Gillis and the Canucks won't part with Luongo without that exact thing being a key piece of any deal.
Time will tell. With four more days remaining until the free agency frenzy rears its overpriced head from the waters and steals Jason Garrison to the tune of $5m/year, Tallon has time to get things reviewed and processed. If he finds a favorable trade deal and he gets approval to take on Luongo's contract while still having money left over to improve the team in free agency, Bobby Lou's coming back to the sunny swamps of Sunrise. If not, the Panthers sure do have a solid goaltending prospect that is one season away from being a potential top-ten goalie himself.