Trending Topics: Roberto Luongo vs. Tim Thomas, and the wrong way to leave town

Ryan Lambert
April 27, 2012

Trending Topics is a column that looks at the week in hockey, occasionally according to Twitter. If you're only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear internet instead?

An aging goalie on the wrong side of 30 who appeared in a Stanley Cup Final last spring and now looks primed to get shipped out of town via trade this summer, in favor of a younger and cheaper option who looks ready to become a franchise goalie in his own right.

That should sound familiar to both Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks fans, as both Tim Thomas and Roberto Luongo face very uncertain summers, and look for all the world as if they've played their last games in the uniforms they've worn for more than half a decade.

But in the end, it's all about how the two teams handle the shipping-out of their soon-to-be-former(?) star players where you can see which did so in the correct way and which did not.

As I'm sure you can probably guess, the city where one has been a whipping boy for everyone from the fans to some of the local media is the one that is handling things incorrectly.

It's hard to begrudge a team starting the goaltender it thinks will give it the best chance to win — hence Cory Schneider starting Games 3-5 after Luongo lost Nos. 1 and 2 — and it's also harder to fault it for wanting to clear a large amount of cap space (Luongo's hit being more than $5.33 per year through 2021-22, when he will be 43), especially ahead of a a new collective bargaining agreement that could drastically alter the salary cap.

But with that having been said, Vancouver's treatment of Luongo has been, in a word, poor.

Through everything — giving up the captaincy, the cheering when he's pulled from games, the constant questioning of when oh when Mike Gillis would pull the trigger and offload this bum on anyone will to take him, becoming the butt of lots and lots of jokes — Luongo has put on an exceedingly brave face. He's talked only of his admiration for Schneider and desire to do a good job for his team, when, as the holder of a no-movement, he could have very easily asked out at any time; and not one person on Earth who wasn't a complete idiot would have blamed him even slightly.

No surprise, then, that the Canucks garbage bag day earlier this week featured about a trillion questions to both Luongo and Gillis about the goaltender's future with the club. Both said the absolute correct things about doing what's best for the team and making sure everything was as it should be before making any major decision. And then, two days later, it comes out oh hey jeez in his exit interview, Luongo asked for a trade, and therefore looks like a liar for all that, "I'll happily waive my no-trade if the Canucks asked me to," talk that literally just happened less than 48 hours earlier.

It's not hard to guess where all that stuff came from, especially because it included the specifics of the teams to which he would possibly maybe accept a trade.

All this stands in stark contrast with the Bruins, who had a very good reason to unload their goaltender earlier this season because of that whole Obama thing, but did not do so. While the Boston media tried valiantly and desperately to run him out of town on whatever makeshift rails they could put together, the Bruins held onto their netminder and, shock of shocks, defended him.

Not with the kind of "you never like to see a guy on your team get treated like that" platitudes the Canucks occasionally offered the press whenever Luongo's removal from a game elicited cheers from the dull masses, either. To a man, the Bruins rallied around their starting goalie, even if more than a few probably thought privately he was a real me-first jerk. They defended Thomas' right to say and do whatever dumb-ass stuff popped into his head to anyone who asked about it, though with varying degrees of vehemence.

The second the Bruins lost to Washington on Wednesday, there was a flood of tweets from various members of the media, particularly in Boston, saying they didn't think Thomas was long to stay in black and gold. Makes total sense. But after the brief January sideshow and the even more brief flare-up just ahead of the playoffs, the team's defense of their Vezina-, Conn Smythe-, and Stanley Cup-winning netminder made the issue of whether he should be with the club not an issue at all. The mitigating circumstance, too, is that Tuukka Rask was too injured to have replaced Thomas if that needed doing at any point in the Bruins/Caps series.

Oh, I know, the Bruins more or less did what Vancouver is currently doing to Luongo to their own netminder two summers ago. Thomas was reportedly asked to waive his no-trade clause and reportedly did so, and thus Peter Chiarelli reportedly fished around for a trade partner to take Thomas, who has a $5 million cap hit (for three more seasons at the time), with Tampa and Philadelphia the most talked-about targets. Nothing ever came of it, and that ended up being to Boston's benefit; Thomas turned in one of the greatest goaltending seasons of all time because he had something to prove.

That kind of thing, we were told, is important to him. But there's a big difference between kicking the tires and all but leaking that a guy is going to be gone.

Maybe it's easier to run a guy out of town when he hasn't has the success Thomas had even before the Bruins tried to trade him the first time (that being a Vezina in 2008-09). Pretty impossible to paint a guy who just got done winning every goaltending award available and a Stanley Cup as "bad for the team," or whatever other insults might stick better to a guy who infamously needs his tires pumped.

(This isn't to say certain segments of the Boston media, some of whom have plainly had their knives out for Thomas for a while now, aren't trying very hard to paint him as the ultimate reason the team lost, even as fanboy favorites like Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand go shamelessly unscolded for their pitiful postseason performances.)

The Bruins — or whoever — didn't leak that Thomas would be gone, and they didn't silently entertain whatever negativity could be marshalled against him by those outside the organization in the way that Vancouver did for Luongo.

Both goaltenders will almost certainly be with new teams by the time next season starts and in both cases, the organizations they left will be better off for it. But clearly there are good and bad ways to usher a guy you don't need any more out of town, and I'm not sure why any team would ever pick the bad way.

Pearls of Biz-dom

We all know that there isn't a better Twitter account out there than that of Paul Bissonnette. So why not find his best bit of advice on love, life and lappers from the last week?

BizNasty on marquee events in the world of sports: "Just a heads up everyone, the 2012 WNBA draft is today."

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