Saturday, May 5, 2012

Could Luongo Stay?

Outside of Niklas Lidstrom’s playing status next year, no story will dominate the hockey world quite like the fast-growing goalie controversy in Vancouver. The Canucks certainly have an awkward situation on their hands – on one hand they have an elite goalie who has fallen out of favor with the majority of the fanbase, (unfairly) becoming the scapegoat for a team that has come up short on their expectations. On the other hand, they have a younger, cheaper goalie that has shown great promise, winning over the Vancouver fanbase in the process. I make two assumptions here, one is Vancouver will not keep both, the other is that other teams will make offers for Schneider. I do believe Luongo will be the odd man out, but I certainly do not believe that as strongly as others, and I will explain this below.

Ostensibly, Vancouver will begin the process by comparing the value of Luongo’s contract to a range of contracts that they theoretically see themselves giving to Schneider. But there is more – and at this point is where I believe many stop the analysis. The very factors that make Schneider more valuable than Luongo to the Vancouver Canucks also make him more valuable to every other team.

As outsiders, there is no way we can accurately speculate on just how much more valuable they see Schneider. It’s easier (but still more difficult, and still beyond the scope of this article) to identify each player’s relative trade value. What we can do, though, is talk about how the trade value of one impacts the necessary value of the other, and from there, how that relationship impacts Vancouver’s ultimate decision.

We begin with obvious – there is a whole lot of uncertainty in the market for Roberto Luongo. On production alone he is a hot commodity, but his contract precludes many teams (and possibly teams that have been speculated as trade partners) from acquiring him. There are other teams that both need goaltending and can handle the financial burden (Chicago and Edmonton), but it is not clear that Vancouver is willing to trade an elite player to one of their biggest rivals. I believe the decisions of these smaller market teams (Columbus, Florida, Tampa Bay) on whether or not they are willing to take on the burden to be one of the biggest factors in Vancouver’s ultimate decision, because if the market for Luongo becomes liquid, then we can almost guarantee that he’s gone. But if Vancouver finds the offers to be lacking, then the possibility of an offer for Schneider that closes the gap between the value I mentioned earlier becomes more and more likely.

In other words, there is an inflection point in this scenario – some point where Schneider’s advantage over Luongo is mitigated by the value Vancouver could acquire by trading Schneider. What that exact point is can only be known by Vancouver, but assuming that Luongo has played his last game as a Canuck neglects a very important part of this calculus.