VANCOUVER -- Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis said during his season-ending press conference Thursday it is unlikely former franchise goaltender Roberto Luongo will be back with the team next season.
After already waiting more than a year to be traded, Luongo knew better than to say his departure was a certainty. But he did make it clear he wanted to move on, agreeing the recently completed season was a wasted year in his career.
"My main goal is to be a starter. I feel I still have a lot to give," said Luongo, who has nine seasons left on a 12-year, $64 million contract. "I am at a stage in my life where I want to play; whether that's here or somewhere else remains to be seen. But what's happened over the course of the last two years suggests that maybe it's not my place to be the starter here anymore."
Despite saying the same thing a year ago, Luongo repeated he couldn't see himself back in Vancouver after losing the No. 1 job to Cory Schneider three games into last year's Stanley Cup Playoffs. History repeated itself in this year's postseason, with Luongo starting the first two games -- this time because Schneider had a groin injury -- before ceding the net in Game 3 of what turned into a four-game elimination against the lower-seeded San Jose Sharks.
"We both want to play and there's only one net," Luongo said.
If Luongo's desire to play more isn't enough to force a move, a shrinking NHL salary cap next season should be. The Canucks are over next year's expected $64.3 million limit with 17 players (and both goaltenders) on the roster.
"I don't think I am the only one putting pressure on Mike the next couple of months, knowing the salary-cap situation," Luongo said.
As for where he might end up, Luongo wouldn't speculate. Nor was he willing to talk about whether he would use his no-trade clause to control that destination, repeating a phrase often heard over the past year by saying he "would wait for Mike to come to him."
Gillis almost did just before the NHL Trade Deadline in April, pulling Luongo out of a practice in case he needed him to sign off on a potential deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Gillis said he hopes a changing landscape this summer allows him to complete a trade of Luongo.
"If the lockout didn't occur we were well on our way to making a deal," Gillis said.
In 20 games, Luongo finished the regular season 9-6-3 with a 2.56 goals-against average and .907 save percentage, his worst numbers since his rookie season with the New York Islanders in 1999-2000.
After working with his former personal coach, Francois Allaire, for eight weeks during the lockout, Luongo was among the NHL leaders the first month of the season before being left in during an 8-3 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Feb. 24. Another one-sided game in the season finale against the Edmonton Oilers (7-2) further skewed what was a small sample size.
Luongo was the Canucks' best player in the first game of the playoffs against the Sharks, keeping Vancouver in it early with several spectacular saves. He finished with six goals allowed on 61 shots, losing Game 2 in overtime, before giving way to Schneider for Game 3.
Luongo said he felt good about the changes he made in his style and is eager to contribute elsewhere next season.
"The way I came into camp, the way I felt about my game and stuff, I was really excited about that," Luongo said. "With all the stuff going around I kind of lost some momentum in the middle, but I still feel I have many good years left in me and I can contribute somewhere and I want to be part of something like that."
Schneider on Thursday revealed the injury he suffered during a win against the Chicago Blackhawks with three games left in the regular season was to his groin, and admitted to whiffing on a long shot in the third period of Game 3 that turned a 2-1 game into a 5-2 blowout.
Despite being pulled, Schneider was back in net for Game 4, bobbling a rebound on a Sharks power-play goal that tied the game late in regulation, and again on another power play early in overtime that ended the Canucks' season.
"This is his team and he deserved to play," Luongo said of Schneider. "He was just put in a tough spot with the injury and not practicing much going into a playoff game like that, and I thought people were a little unfair in the way they judged his play."
Schneider wasn't looking for excuses, saying the "groin was not an issue."
"It got to a point where once it got warmed up I didn't really notice it," Schneider said. "The team believes in me, they said, 'You're our No.1, you're our guy, and as soon as you are ready to go, you are ready to go.'"
That said a lot about where Luongo ranks, and why, despite all the open-ended answers about an uncertain future Thursday, he was willing to offer a farewell to Canucks fans and reflect on his time in Vancouver, which included Olympic gold in 2010 and Game 7 heartbreak in the 2011 Cup Final.
"First of all I'd like to thank them for everything," Luongo said. "And apologize I wasn't able to bring them the Stanley Cup."
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