Cory Schneider isn't ready to close the book on Roberto Luongo's time in Vancouver, not even after the three-year, $12 million extension Schneider signed with the Canucks on Friday seemed to make it more likely that the team would try to trade Luongo.
Cory Schneider - 2011-12
Goalie - VAN
GAA: 1.96 | SVP: 0.937
"It's a little premature to be writing his obituary in Vancouver while he's still on the team," Schneider said of Luongo, the starter since his arrival in 2006. "I'm not sure that's fair to him."
Fair or not, the Schneider extension makes it even harder to believe Luongo will be back, even if general manager Mike Gillis has said it's possible to keep both and insisted again Friday he is no rush to make a trade.
Still, a return seems unlikely for Luongo, who lost his starting job for the final three games of a first-round playoff loss to Los Angeles. Not with 10 years left on a contract with a $5.33-million salary cap hit. Not after Luongo indicated it's time to move on. And not with Schneider eager to prove himself as a No. 1 -- and a contract that pays him like one.
Despite all that, Schneider didn't want to talk in terms of replacing the franchise's all-time leader in almost every puck-stopping statistic – a guy he labeled "iconic." Instead he talked about how Luongo helped him develop into the goalie he is now, one ultimately capable of taking his job and ending his six seasons in Vancouver.
"I really owe a lot to him in terms of how I developed and the player I've become," Schneider said. "I've learned a tremendous amount and kind of honed my game and taken a lot of things from his game I've emulated."
That said, Schneider made it clear he's not trying to become Luongo.
"I'm not him, I'm here to try and be myself," Schneider said. "I'm my own goalie, and I'm going to try and establish myself as best I can and do what I can to help this team win a Stanley Cup."
Winning a Cup is about the only thing Luongo failed to do since coming to Vancouver as the biggest part of a six-player trade on the eve of the 2006 NHL Draft. He came up one win short in the Final against the Boston Bruins in 2011.
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Luongo is 224-115-41 as a Canuck and has been a key to their rise as Western Conference power and two-time Presidents' Trophy winner. He's posted a .920 save percentage, a 2.35 goals-against average and 33 shutouts in Vancouver, all franchise records for any goalie who played more than 70 games. He was a Vezina and Hart Trophy finalist in 2007 and 2011, selected to the All-Star Game three times, shared a Jennings Trophy with Schneider for the fewest goals allowed in 2011, and backstopped Canada to a gold medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics held in Vancouver.
"It's never easy to fill in shoes like Roberto's," Schneider said.
Ironically, not filling Luongo's size-15 shoes – literally – is one of a couple of physiological advantages that allowed Schneider to surpass him.
Although just an inch shorter at 6-foot-2, Schneider's smaller feet make him a better skater than Luongo. Add in more flexible hips than the bow-legged Luongo that allow Schneider to play a wider butterfly that provides more coverage and easier lateral recoveries, and you begin to understand how the understudy's 2.24 goals against and .928 save percentage in 68 games are the only all-time Canucks numbers better than Luongo's.
It doesn't hurt Schneider has also shown himself mature mentally, saying he wasn't worried about added pressure from replacing him as No. 1.
"Every chance I got to play I handled as a No. 1," the former Boston College star said. "Every game in the NHL is pressure, just being in the NHL is pressure. I don't think the contract, or dollars, or role on the team adds more pressure. Just to play in the League is pressure to perform and pressure to not let teammates down and something I learned to deal with and use a motivational tool."
Schneider, who could have become a restricted free agent on July 1 and subject to offer sheets from rival teams, said his desire all along was to stay in Vancouver -- in most part because of the opportunity to win. At 26, he could have signed a one-year deal and hit the open market an unrestricted free agent next summer; instead, he called his new three-year deal a "bridge contract" and said it's a chance to prove he's capable of handling a starter's duties.
"It wasn't really ever my intention to go elsewhere," Schneider said. "We agreed on length pretty quickly, and then it was just figuring out dollar value and what made sense in terms of where I stood in my career."
The biggest question remaining is how he will handle more playing time.
After three full seasons in the American Hockey League, including 60 his final year, Schneider played 25 games behind Luongo in 2010-11, posting a .929 save percentage in spot duty typical of most backups. That earned Schneider a bigger role last season, including a few starts ahead of Luongo after an impressive run while Luongo was hurt, and a chance to play bigger games against tougher opponents in important situations, including a January rematch in Boston.
Goalie - VAN
GAA: 2.41 | SVP: 0.919
Schneider finished 20-8-1 with the NHL's second-best save percentage (.937) and third-lowest goals-against average (1.96) in the regular season. He took over in Game 3 of the playoffs after Luongo lost the first two at home despite an often brilliant 35-save performance in the opener.
The only question left is whether Schneider can keep it up playing twice as many games as opponents develop a better scouting report on him.
"It will take a little bit of changing in terms of my approach," Schneider said of the workload. "If there's one thing Roberto has taught me, it's even if you are playing 60 games there are no shortcuts."
That seems to also describe Luongo's status with the Canucks.
"I have no idea," Gillis said when asked if a Luongo trade was close. "It may feel like you're close to doing something and it falls apart. It may feel like nothing will happen, and suddenly you'll get a phone call and it changes in 10 seconds. … We're going to take our time and make sure we do the best thing for this organization and whatever timeframe that is, most likely it won't be dictated by me."
That's a departure from last weekend, when Gillis told reporters at the NHL Draft in Pittsburgh that he was the problem because he expected a lot in return for Luongo. Of course last weekend his replacement wasn't under contract.