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Has Luongo won his job back in Vancouver?

by Barry Melrose

This summer and this fall it was crazy in Canada. I was up there working for NHL Network, and I saw and read the press regarding the Vancouver Canucks goalie situation. In the end, by the time the season had started, everyone handled it the right way. Roberto Luongo handled it right, Cory Schneider handled it right, they didn't give the media any fuel, and now, as Luongo gets ready to make his fourth straight start, it looks like the situation has been settled on the ice -- the way it should be. Luongo has been the best goaltender, he plays the games.

Now, I think it's pretty clear at this point that Luongo is the No. 1 goaltender. In the last three games he's started, he's 2-0-1 with three goals against, a shutout and a .963 save percentage. Overall, his save percentage and goals-against average are the second-best in the League. I think he's taken over the job and there's just no way they can trade him now because coach Alain Vigneault just isn't playing the other guy. Right now, when wins are so important, he's going to Luongo.

You have to remember that it's not what they say, it's what they do. They can say he's not the No. 1 goaltender, but if he's playing three games in a row, he's the No. 1 goaltender.

Many people are probably surprised that Luongo might have won back his job and won it back this quickly, but he's a professional athlete, and while he kept his mouth shut and handled this whole situation very professionally, he's very proud like every professional athlete is. He's not going to take losing his job quietly. Of course, he didn't cause any problems. He didn't demand to be traded tomorrow, but he did his talking on the ice. That's all you can do when you're a pro. He's outplayed Schneider, he's earned the No. 1 job, and Vancouver, because they didn't pull off a trade, might be the luckiest team in the League right now.

The big question now, though, is if Luongo's position is secure and how long a leash he gets. I think this actually depends on Schneider. How does he handle this situation? It's easy to be a backup goaltender. When the No. 1 guy struggles, you go in and play well. That's easy. All of the sudden, when you're the guy who's expected to play well and you're the No. 1 goaltender, it's an entirely different mindset. Luongo handled this situation the way you'd hope he would, and when he got a chance to play he played great. Now, if Luongo struggles and Schneider goes in and plays great, things can change again, but if Schneider is average nothing really changes.

This situation will still bear watching throughout the season, though, because a trade must be in the mix somewhere. Right now, Schneider is set to make $4 million next season and $4.5 million the season after that. Luongo is set to make $6.7 million per season through 2017-18. You just can't have that much money tied up in goaltenders in today's NHL, particularly with the salary cap going down next season. Also, neither one of these guys is going to be happy playing half the time, and you're paying them too much to be half-time goaltenders. The only problem is they need to find a dance partner. GM Mike Gillis said this summer that the deals he was offered for Luongo weren't good enough, and he was right. He couldn't trade Luongo for nobody. This guy is an elite NHL goaltender and he has a long-term contract. Yeah, it's an expensive contract, but you know your goalie situation is settled if you get him.

I can't really see Luongo being dealt now, but if they believe in Schneider the way they say they believe in Schneider, and get offered a ballpark deal for Luongo, I think there's a chance they could take it if it looks like they're getting a home run. But for me, I'd have a hard time justifying it with the way Luongo is playing now. The last three games, he's looked very good. He's looked very solid, he's been big in net, he's been square to the shooter, he's controlling rebounds, and I think for the most part he's looked very confident. I'm not saying the next game he can't revert back, but if you look at this short sample he's looked very good.

All of that means it might take a little longer to make a deal -- or maybe it means there's no deal at all because of how well he's playing -- but it certainly looks like he's taken his old job back even if we don't necessarily know where it goes from here. The one thing we can all agree on, though, is that whatever happens now, Luongo has made this soap opera in Vancouver a little bit richer, and it's turned into a really good story.

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