Canucks Don't Yet Hold All The Cards
It depends how bad the feelings are between Brian Burke and Mike Gillis.
After the weekend, it's not hard to say they're sour, with gusts to out-and-out dislike.
That's okay. GMs who don't like each other can do hockey deals, and part of the weekend was spent by both men trying to see if they can work out a trade that would move Roberto Luongo and his enormous contract into the Leaf tent.
Nothing happened, and Burke's comments that he wasn't going to "strip-mine" his organization to get a goalie without mentioning Luongo specifically suggested Gillis is asking for a lot more than Burke - or anybody - is willing to give. Only Florida is also in the mix, it appears, which works for Luongo since it's his first choice.
Gillis says he's in no hurry. Well, he might want to re-think that.
There's one card Burke could play, one that would turn relations between the two clubs downright ugly.
The Leaf GM could lay down a huge, multi-year, multi-million offer sheet next Monday for the other Vancouver goalie, 26-year-old restricted free agent Cory Schneider, the Canucks goalie every team would rather get if they had a choice.
That wouldn't get them Schneider; Vancouver would have to match rather than accept multiple first rounders from Toronto.
But it would force Vancouver's hand in the same way San Jose forced Chicago to let Antti Niemi go a few years ago by signing Niklas Hjalmarsson. Let's say the Schneider offer was eight years for $40 million. The Canucks would be stuck with more than $10 million in annual goalie costs, with both at lengthy terms. The Leafs could also, if they wanted, load the deal with so-called "lockout" money, say $15 million in the first year that would be Schneider's even if there's a lockout next season.
If you're the Leafs, why not? Worst thing that could happen is you might actually get Schneider, or that the Canucks might poach Leaf RFAs down the line.
Otherwise, these two teams don't like each other anyway. Might as well play hardball.
The Canucks are a wealthy team. But no owner would want to carry a contract like that, and Luongo's.
If the Leafs did it, it would poison the waters between the teams, just like years ago when the Leafs put down an offer sheet for Mattias Ohlund. Theoretically, the Canucks could give Luongo to some other team to spite the Leafs, but what good would that do Gillis? Burke hasn't liked long-term deals in the past because he believes they contravene the salary cap, but he appears to be past that principle. His colleagues have convinced him it's putting the Leafs at a competitive disadvantage.
The Vancouver GM, of course, could sidestep this threat by signing Schneider himself this week, but Schneider seems unlikely to sign until he knows the starting job in Vancouver is all his. There's not a chance, despite Gillis' bluster, that Schneider wants to show up in camp next fall still faced with battling Luongo for starts.
So really, Gillis needs to solve this problem this week by trading Luongo, if not to the Leafs, then somewhere. No Luongo, no threat for a Schneider offer sheet. It's hard to gauge what Florida's actual interest would be, or whether they'd be willing to give roster players, draft picks and top prospects to Vancouver as Gillis appears to be demanding.
We know he's not getting Jake Gardiner from the Leafs, and Luke Schenn is gone. He might get a roster player (Tyler Bozak) or a second-line prospect (Jesse Blacker, Korbinian Holzer) and a second rounder. Demand Nazem Kadri or Stuart Percy and a second and Burke might really have to think.
Problem is, Gillis has told Canuck fans he's determined to get a bigger package than that for Luongo. He suggests he has all the cards. Funny, because its starting to look as though he's a man backed into a corner.