November 28, 2011
Any other time, a goaltending controversy in Vancouver might have been a hot topic that threatened to distract the Canucks from turning things around.
Schneider, much like Detroit Red Wings netminder Jimmy Howard(notes), plied his trade in the AHL for several years waiting for an opportunity with the big club. He hasn't been given the job outright like Howard in Detroit, but Schneider has made the most of his time in the Canucks' net. In 47 games play (38 starts), Schneider is 24-13-3 with a 2.32 goals-against average and .922 save-percentage. The bulk of his workload in four seasons of games in the NHL came last year when he posted a 16-4-2 record with 22 starts.
The question around Schneider for a long time was usually what could GM Mike Gillis flip his value for in a deal. As Schneider's stock continues to grow while Luongo's slowly diminishes (not like someone would trade for Lui's contract, right? Right?), his value is too important to the Canucks to move him right now. Vancouver is in "Stanley Cup or Bust" mode and the window is slowly closing as it typically does for teams built like the Canucks.
Luongo's slow start -- 7-5-1, 2.97, .896 -- is nothing new, as he's tended to sputter at the starts of seasons, but instead of letting him work through his issues on the ice in games, Vigneault has started Schneider in Vancouver's last four games, including a three-game road trip. Schneider won all four starts, including back-to-back shutouts against Colorado and Phoenix. Given his past, you might expect pouting or bad body language from Luongo in response to not having started since Nov. 13 and dealing with an upper-body injury, but he's grinned and beared it, all while supporting the head coach's decision as the team has succeeded.
Now, they're suddenly a formidable team again, dominating opponents and playing with sharp intensity and confidence. Schneider is a paramount part of this. Even Luongo knows that. No matter what your opinion of the $64-million goalie — and apparently there are some divergent views around town — Luongo is genuinely supportive of Schneider and his right to play.
"He has been busting his butt for the last two years and he has always been behind me 100 per cent," Luongo said. "He's playing unreal right now and we needed that as a team. Three big wins on this road trip. I'm 100 per cent behind him. We're a team. It's not about Roberto Luongo(notes) or Cory Schneider(notes); it's about the Vancouver Canucks."
Even as teams like the Columbus Blue Jackets, who might be interested once Curtis Sanford(notes) comes back to Earth, or the Dallas Stars, who might be interested is Kari Lehtonen(notes) isn't himself when he returns from his groin injury, possibly look outside their organizations for goaltending help, the return for Schneider might be too big of a price, mostly because he's too valuable to the Canucks.
And when Luongo gets his shot back in the net again, the presence -- and increasing importance -- of Schneider could be the factor that pushes him to turn his game around. We've seen it many times where teams have a 1A and 1B in net, and currently, that's what the Canucks have.
Contracts aren't dictating goalie play anymore for Vancouver. They can't afford to.