|Luongo was 31-14-8 last season with a .919 save percentage, 2.41 GAA. (Getty Images)|
The long NHL lockout put on the backburner one of the more interesting stories that developed last summer, the seemingly inevitable and imminent departure of Roberto Luongo from the Vancouver Canucks.
Well, it's back on. From Rob Longley of the Toronto Sun:
#Luongo says he has given #Canucks GM Mike Gillis the "green light" to do whatever he needs."— Rob Longley (@longleysunsport) January 7, 2013
Luongo made the comment in South Florida at the Panthers' training facility. Luongo still calls the area home after his stint with the Panthers a few years back. On Monday, he spent a little more than an hour working with longtime coach Francois Allaire. Ironically, no Panthers players were present (they were at another facility).
Considering that some of you probably forgot what was actually happening thanks to the lockout, here's your refresher: Cory Schneider started to earn more and more playing time in net for the Canucks and then started the final three playoff games (the Canucks only played five, losing to the champion Kings).
Given their ages and taking their contracts into consideration as well -- Luongo has a cap hit of $5.33 million through 2021-22 -- Luongo saw the writing on the wall that he was no longer a true No. 1 and politely asked to be traded. The way that he put it to the media was he told the Canucks that he would be willing to waive his no-trade clause if they asked, a passive-aggressive approach.
Vancouver general manager Mike Gillis began exploring his options, but he didn't pull the trigger on any deal. During the lockout, it seemed that the only actual hockey talk we had -- minus non-NHL teams, that is -- involved the rumors floating around Luongo's future. Most notably, there was the rumor that Luongo was going to be traded to the goalie-starved Toronto Maple Leafs as soon as the lockout was over.
The key part to any potential Luongo swap is that no-trade clause; he has veto power. Earlier in the trade talks, Luongo made it abundantly clear that his preference would be to return to the Panthers. Florida GM Dale Tallon at least explored the option, seemingly finding the Canucks' asking price too high.
But all along, the best fit and the team with the greatest need has been the Leafs.
With the increased scrutiny in a city like Toronto, some wondered if he would be interested in going there. He hinted that it wouldn't be a deal-breaker with both his green-light comment and a few more aimed more directly at the Leafs speculation.
The belief here is that the Leafs will remain the clear favorite to land Luongo. They are the one team out there with a true need for his services. The Panthers will remain in the conversation (Panthers beat writer George Richards still favors the Panthers, in fact) and perhaps the Blackhawks will linger, but Toronto seems to be the most logical.
But according to Steve Simmons, the Panthers will have the first right of refusal.
The truth on Luongo: Until the Florida Panthers inform Canucks they have no interest in him, he won't approve a trade to anywhere else.— steve simmons (@simmonssteve) January 7, 2013
Of course, there is the possibility the Canucks don't trade him at all. A possible, albeit less likely approach, would be for the Canucks to hold onto Luongo for this season and then buy him out after the year and let him walk. Having a tandem like Luongo and Schneider in a compressed, short season would be rather huge for Vancouver.
Note that by all technicalities, the lockout isn't actually over yet. The Canucks can't do anything with Luongo until the new CBA has been ratified and the papers have been signed, so we have a few more days left to wait and see. But it sure seems like he'll be the first big name to change places post-lockout.