Questions linger in wake of Schneider-to-Devils deal

Monday, 07.01.2013 / 11:21 AM
Dan Rosen  - Senior Writer

With one trade early in the 2013 NHL Draft on Sunday, it appears the Vancouver Canucks solved an immediate problem and the New Jersey Devils finally put in motion a real transition plan out of the Martin Brodeur era.

Or did they?

While it looks like the trade that shipped Cory Schneider from Vancouver to New Jersey in exchange for the No. 9 pick (Bo Horvat) erased pressing concerns for both teams, there are still several questions that need to be answered before either side can accurately call the trade a success.

Here are three that must be answered soon:

Can the Canucks mend their relationship with Roberto Luongo?

Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini flew to meet Luongo at the goalie's home in Florida on Sunday to try to explain the organization's thinking, but emotion has always been a big part of this goaltending fiasco and Luongo admitted to TSN he was "shocked" and added he would have "to let this sink in and figure out what I'm going to do."

Remember, Luongo was supposed to be the one to leave Vancouver, either by way of a trade or a compliance buyout. He departed Vancouver after the team was eliminated from the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs thinking he would be playing for another team in 2013-14, that Schneider was the Canucks' goalie of the present and future. By all reports, Luongo was given zero indication from the organization of anything to the contrary.

Everything has changed now, meaning Luongo has to change his thinking too. It can't be easy.

Despite saying he will have to figure out what he's going to do, Luongo may have no choice but to return to the Canucks considering the 34-year-old goalie has nine years and more than $40 million left on his contract.

He'll be hard-pressed to find fans feeling too sorry for him considering those contract details, but if Luongo is that fed up with the organization for dragging him through a year-long ordeal, making him the backup only to then say, "No, you're our guy again," it's possible he decides not to report for training camp in September.

That would mean Luongo likely would be suspended without pay, but it would leave the Canucks in one heck of a bind with zero proven NHL goalies on the roster behind him. As petty as it may seem, it could be his way of getting back at the organization for putting him through an emotional roller coaster.

The alternative is for Luongo to return to Vancouver re-energized and re-focused as the team's unquestioned No. 1. That's what the Canucks are obviously hoping for, but it's also something they realize isn't a guarantee, or why would Aquilini have flown to Florida to talk to Luongo?

What will New Jersey do now with three goalies under contract for the 2013-14 season?

There aren't enough nets even in practice for Martin Brodeur ($4.5 million), Schneider ($4 million) and Johan Hedberg ($1.4 million) to all get the work in they require and deserve, so it definitely appears Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello will have to figure out how to rectify his three-goalie situation before the start of the 2013-14 season.

The first option, and likely the best, for Lamoriello is to trade Hedberg, who is 40 years old but has proven he can be a capable backup with a friendly cap number for one more season. There are plenty of teams that could be in the market for a someone like him, but Hedberg has a no-trade clause, so that's another obstacle the Devils would have to get around.

Hedberg's family lives in New Jersey now, so he may be less inclined to waive his no-trade clause or at least be picky about the destination.

Ironically, the Canucks seem like an interesting trading partner considering they don't have a veteran backup behind Luongo. The Chicago Blackhawks could be in the market for a veteran backup to Corey Crawford if they let Ray Emery walk into unrestricted free agency.

The Philadelphia Flyers, San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings, Columbus Blue Jackets, Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers are among the other teams that could be interested in acquiring Hedberg.

The other, less attractive options for New Jersey are to use a compliance buyout on Hedberg or send him to the American Hockey League. The Devils theoretically could use a regular buyout on Hedberg, but then his $1.4 million would still be on their cap for the 2013-14 season. A compliance buyout erases the cap hit.

Is Schneider good enough to be New Jersey's goalie of the future?

Everyone in the sport who talks about Schneider says he's the real deal, a true No. 1 goalie and someone who can help a team win the Stanley Cup. Brodeur called him a top-five goalie in the NHL on Sunday.

But Schneider still has to prove it, and it's not a 100-percent certainty he'll get a chance to do that in 2013-14 with Brodeur still around and, according to Lamoriello, the Devils' No. 1 goalie.

Schneider will have to beat out Brodeur for more playing time in 2013-14, although it does seem that New Jersey would be better served if the two split the 82 games almost down the middle, provided they stay relatively healthy.

What happens beyond next season remains to be seen because Brodeur has not ruled out playing into the 2014-15 season, even though he will be 42 years old at the time. Schneider is signed for two more seasons, meaning he would be eligible for a contract extension next summer.

The best-case scenario for Schneider is to play well in whatever role he has in 2013-14 then hope Brodeur either retires or is willing to accept a backup role in 2014-15 so he can become the No. 1 goalie. If Schneider is good next season and Brodeur is willing to step aside, there's no reason for Lamoriello not to give Schneider a contract extension next summer.

Schneider was primarily the Canucks' No. 1 in 2012-13 and went 17-9-4 with a 2.11 goals-against average and .927 save percentage, but he allowed nine goals in two playoff appearances. Schneider has 55 wins, a 2.20 GAA and .927 save percentage in 98 career regular-season games, but he's 1-4 with a 2.59 GAA and .922 save percentage in 10 career playoff appearances.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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