Despite reports to the contrary Roberto Luongo will not be playing for the Florida Panthers or the Chicago Blackhawks next season. The 33 year old Luongo requested a trade following the Los Angelas Kings’ sweep of the Vancouver Canucks last spring, and realistically there is only one team that is capable of absorbing the enormous contract (ten more years at $5.33 million per season). The cash strapped Panthers are incapable of making such a financial commitment, and I find it hard to believe that the Canucks would trade their former franchise goaltender to a Blackhawks team that they have faced three of the last four years in the playoffs. In the end the pressure is on two people, Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke and Canucks GM Mike Gillis. Above all else during Burke’s reign in Toronto the Leafs have lacked solid and dependable goaltending. Say what you want about Luongo, there is no disputing his pedigree as an elite tender in the league. Should Burke fail to address his glaring goaltending issue then this season in Toronto will more than likely be his final one. What Burke has going for him in regards to acquiring the expensive Luongo is the fact that money is not an issue for the deep pocketed Leafs. What Burke has going against him though is the fact that Gillis cannot stand the fiery Irishman.
Ever since Mike Gillis took over as GM in Vancouver, there has been bad blood between himself and the Brian Burke/David Nonis led Leafs. Gillis succeeded Nonis in 2008 (Nonis succeeded Burke in 2004). Since that time, the Canucks have filed tampering charges against the Leafs, and there was also that weird situation when Gillis refused to acknowledge Burke when the Leafs visited Vancouver for a regular season game back in 2010. The feud between these two teams became a little more intense when Gillis signed long time Leaf captain Mats Sundin to a one year contract after the Leafs decided to part ways with their franchise player. Following thirteen season with the blue and white Sundin played the final 41 games of his career in a Canucks jersey. I can’t help but think that Gillis rubbed salt in the wound of Leaf fans with the signing of Sundin. Consider that at the time Sundin and the blue and white were coming off of that difficult NTC issue, and many people outside of the organization still hadn’t forgiven him for refusing to waive.
The friction may exist because many people feel – perhaps Gillis himself – that the current Canucks squad is more Burke’s and Nonis’ team than Gillis’. Of the 27 players on the current Canucks roster Gillis has brought in 17 versus the 10 holdovers from the past regime. However, the core of the team that has won the past two President’s Trophies were brought in by the current GM and assistant GM of the Leafs. Of the 10 Burke/Nonis players on the current Canucks team 6 are forwards. They are: Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Ryan Kesler, Mason Raymond, Alexander Burrows and Jannik Hansen. Two current Vancouver blueliners were not acquired by Gillis, they are: Kevin Bieksa and Alexander Edler. Finally, the remaining two pieces are both goaltenders Luongo and Corey Schneider. Gillis can win as many Executive of the Year awards as he wants, but the reality is that he inherited a hell of a team when he took over the reigns in Vancouver.
As the negotiations to bring Luongo to the Leafs have gotten more intense, both GM’s have begun firing off at each other through the media. Gillis is hoping to get something of value for an asset that has little to no value to anyone other than Burke, while Burke is attempting to obtain Luongo for a middling prospect (Jerry D’Amigo/Jesse Blacker) and a salary dump (Mike Komisarek/Matthew Lombardi) . How much of this is personal though? There have been reports that Gillis does not want Luongo to go to the Leafs and help them become a playoff contender. Is he willing to poison his own dressing room and jeopardize the harmony amongst his players in order to continue an odd personal rivalry?
Luongo will eventually become a Leaf for a little bit more than Burke is willing to pay when both of these men stop acting like high school kids. I’m just hoping we’re not seeing a repeat of the old Bobby Clarke – Eric Lindros – Pat Quinn saga that carried on for the entire 2000-2001 season. This one shouldn’t drag out that long, but this is slowly shifting from business to personal.