Cory Schneider or Roberto Luongo? The debate over which goalie was going to take the Vancouver Canucks to the promised land drug us all down into the mire over the past three years. It was a goalie controversy that was the first and last discussion about the Canucks over that time period. An endless amount of ink, virtual and real, has been spilled over who should be in net.
Tuesday night the New Jersey Devils, with Schneider in net, made their only visit to Vancouver for the year. It was a nice time to applaud Schneider, thank him for his service and finally, hopefully move on.
Perhaps we can finally put the goalie drama to bed for good.
What a ride it has been
When the Canucks brought in Roberto Luongo from Florida in 2006 it seemed that they had their goalie situation stabilized for the next decade. Luongo’s play on the ice seemed to only solidify that notion until he, and the club, ran into the Chicago Blackhawks in the playoffs.
It was after the 2009 and 2010 losses to the Blackhawks that media and fans started to pick away at Luongo’s status in Vancouver. All the while Schneider was impressing in the AHL and then eventually in a back up role with the Canucks. His promise and potential birthed one of the oldest axioms in sports.
The back up is always more popular than the starter.
The notion that a changing of the guard was due reached a fever pitch after the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals when Luongo laid the now infamous eggs in Boston. People started to question whether or not Luongo had the ‘stones’ to win the big games – despite playing quite well in the playoffs that year, including two shut out victories in the finals.
The seeds of controversy were planted.
General Manager Mike Gillis and then coach Alain Vigneault ignited a full blown controversy when they replaced Luongo mid-way through the Canucks 2012 first round playoff series against Los Angeles. The team was down 2-0 in the series, despite solid play from Luongo, and the change seemed somewhat justified to spark the team for a comeback. The comeback didn’t happen and that off season Schneider was signed to a hefty contract and the talk of Luongo being traded began.
Luongo took this in stride, poking fun at it often from his Twitter account:
Being a backup is a lot funner than I anticipated………
— Strombone (@strombone1) February 2, 2013
Gillis was adamant that he wasn’t going to just give away the net-minder and seemed to be asking for a big haul of prospects in return. Time went on and no trade was to be had. The NHL then locked out and rumors swirled about potential Luongo landing spots – most notably Toronto. Nothing happened.
The Canucks went into the lock out shortened season saying that Schneider was the guy and that was borne out as Schneider got into 33 games while Luongo saw action in only 20 games.
Both players handled the situation publicy with complete grace and professionalism. They even joked about it and seemed to get along great.
After another first round exit, this time a sweep at the hands of the San Jose Sharks, the feeling was finally a trade would happen, surely the Canucks would not go another season with two goalies.
For Luongo, he had accepted the fact that his time with the Canucks was over – he was ready for a new start.
When the NHL Draft arrived in New Jersey in June nobody saw what happened coming. About an hour into the proceedings the Canucks shocked the hockey world. They traded a goalie, finally. People were dismayed to find out it was not Luongo that was traded, but that it was Schneider. To New Jersey. For the sixth pick in the draft.
While it felt, and still feels, like maybe they could have got more for a young, experienced goalie, that’s what they were stuck with. A top ten pick that they turned into Bo Hovart – player that is still a year or two away from contributing.
The Canucks entered this season seemingly without a goalie controversy. Luongo has been installed as the number one guy again, new head coach John Tortorella has confidence in him, and he has played well early in the season.
But it took Tuesday night to close the book on the whole debacle. In some ways it is a benefit that New Jersey comes to Vancouver early in the season. It’s gets it over with quickly, in the fourth game overall and second home game.
What had previously only been a competition played out on talk radio, blogs and fan message boards, finally got played out on the ice. Schneider vs Luongo.
In the long run the Canucks 3-2 overtime victory doesn’t even matter. More important than the two points is the fact that this chapter, a somewhat sordid at times chapter, of Canucks hockey can be put to rest. Schneider and the Devils will go back to the Eastern Conference and the Canucks can now focus on beating the likes of the San Jose Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings.
No longer will we have to worry about who will be in net for Vancouver. We won’t have to debate Schneider versus Luongo any more…thankfully.
Andrew writes about the WHL and NHL Draft Prospects. He also covers the Seattle Thunderbirds for 710 ESPN Seattle and spent two years with Sportsnet. Follow him on Twitter @andyeide.