Friday, June 23, 2006

Luongo On The Move: Canucks Fleece Panthers Yet Again

The Florida Panthers should really learn to stop dealing with the Vancouver Canucks.

Seven years ago, the Canucks shipped disgruntled superstar forward Pavel Bure to the Panthers. In return, the Canucks received a package of players including a former first overall pick, defenseman Ed Jovanovski. Bure provided the Panthers with two healthy and productive seasons (and one playoff appearance) before falling apart; Jovanovski has gone on to become an all-star, and an Olympian, and has anchored the Canucks defense ever since. It's pretty clear who won this trade.

Now, the Canucks may have gotten another one past the Panthers, despite new management being in place on both sides (ironically, Panthers GM MIke Keenan was the Canucks coach who feuded with Bure at the time of the last trade). Vancouver has acquired Roberto Luongo from Florida in exchange for Todd Bertuzzi and two other players. The trade actually breaks down as Luongo, rookie defenseman Lukas Krajicek, and a draft pick for Bertuzzi, goalie Alex Auld, and defenseman Bryan Allen. This may not turn out to be the flat-out theft that the Bure-for-Jovo deal was, but I think the Canucks come out ahead here. The x-factor is whether or not they can sign Luongo to an extension past next summer.

In Luongo, the Canucks get an elite goaltender who is entering his prime years. He has proven himself on the international stage, and has put up strong numbers in the NHL, despite playing behind a defense so inept that in 2003-04, Luongo set a record for shots faced. Talent-wise, the swap of Allen for Krajicek should be a wash, though Krajicek is a few years younger, and just completed his first year of NHL service.

The Panthers receive Auld, a solid young goaltender. He put up good numbers when he replaced Dan Cloutier this season, but is a definite downgrade from Luongo. Nonetheless, he should be serviceable at worst, assuming he doesn't crumble behind the maginot line defense of the Panthers.

The acquisition of Todd Bertuzzi is the major gamble on the Panthers side. From a business end, his $5+ million per year salary, combined with the $5.25 million that captain Olli Jokinen makes, will hinder the Panthers' ability to go after high-priced talent in the free agent market. On the ice, Bertuzzi has struggled for the past couple of seasons, and hadn't played up to expectations prior to the Steve Moore incident. In 2003-04, he netted a mere 17 goals in 69 games; this past season, he netted 25, a negligible increase given the overall upswing in scoring. Still, 20-25 goals is a poor number for a first-line power forward, and an abysmal performance for someone with his salary. Maybe the change of scenery will do him good, but I'm betting that his best days are behind him, and his numbers will increase marginally, if at all this coming season. By the end of next season, Nathan Horton will likely have passed him as the best power forward on the team.

To recap, the Canucks have acquired one of the best goalies in the league, albeit one who could opt for free agency next summer, in exchange for a promising, but largely unproven young goalie, and an overpaid, declining power forward. Canucks GM Dave Nonis could be the one wiping egg of off his face next summer if Luongo walks, but I have a feeling that won't happen. Assuming Nonis keeps the rest of his club together, the Canucks are much closer now to being a championship team than they have been in years. As for the Panthers, they've sacrificed goaltending and cap flexibility on the hope that Todd Bertuzzi can return to form. Years from now, we may be looking at this move as the beginning of the end of the Mike Keenan era in south beach.

A few more trade notes to close:

• With Luongo on board, will the Canucks flip Dan Cloutier? I'm assuming that they plan on going with a Luongo-Mika Noronen combo in net next year, so there's no place for Cloutier and his $2.5 million salary.

• Cloutier's appearance on the market can't be good news for teams like the San Jose Sharks and Mighty Ducks of Anaheim who were thought to be shopping a goalie. With the number of potential free agents and players on the trading block, this could quickly become a very flooded goalie market.

• Over at The Battle of Alberta, Senior Oilers correspondent (and Sports Matters news anchor) Andy Grabia has all the latest on the Chris Pronger trade rumors. I still find them hard to believe, but if he does want out, this will be a major blow to the Oilers. I can't see who they would be able to get that would even come close to replacing what he brings to the team. If his trade demand is serious, Kevin Lowe's best bet might be to ship him to Ottawa for young, cheap players (Andrej Meszaros, Antoine Vermette, maybe Mike Fisher), and use the cap room that would be freed up to sign Zdeno Chara or Wade Redden, who the Sens would no longer be able to afford.

• Speaking of the Sens, in light of Martin Havlat's announcement that he will only sign a one-year deal in Ottawa, I wonder if they might actually look at shopping him now. I don't see how they will afford him and be able to resign both Chara and Redden, which they are apparently trying to do.

• As always, Mark Spector (who must be the last man on the planet using tripod to host his site) has his usual excellent roundup of all the rumors.


At 12:49 AM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

Thanks for covering both stories here. I agree that the Canucks are on the better end of that deal. But they still need to sign Luongo,who is currently refusing to sign more than a 1 year deal. It's the reason Keenan flipped him in the first place.

I'm still reeling from the Pronger story.

And btw,that's not Mark Spector. It's Lyle Richardson's site. Don't know why he goes with the name Spector.

At 1:38 AM, Blogger Alex said...

My bad, and my apologies to Mark Spector, a fine hockey journalist. (But seriously, Tripod? Did Geocities raise their prices?)

I still think that the Panthers could have gotten better value for him. Personally, I would have pursued the deal with LA involving Frolov, Dustin Brown, and Mathieu Garon. The former two players are still young, developing, and the Panthers would be getting them for their 'restricted' years. Even if they weren't sold on Garon in net, they'd have the money and the assets to go after a more established goalie, either through free agency or the trade route.

The Pronger thing seems surreal to me. Totally random bit of information - did you know that his wife is from Missouri? You know who else is from there? Janet Jones. Coincidence? Yes, but I'm hoping that someone will take this information and craft a completely implausible story relating to karma and the Oilers being cursed. Bonus points to anyone who can incorporate both Stan Weir and Harry S. Truman into it.

At 1:10 AM, Anonymous MSYB said...

How about Pronger and Conklin for Cam Ward?


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