VANCOUVER--Well, well, well. Isn't this an interesting turn?
Roberto Luongo, it appears, didn't get the memo that his days as the No. 1 goaltender of the Vancouver Canucks were over. Or, if he did, he's decided to ignore it until something definitive happens, keeping his sense of humour intact as a rabid hockey city awaits a resolution to the biggest sports debate on the west coast.
Spotting a familiar Toronto media face after his shutout victory over the punchless Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday night, Luongo barked out, "Hey, you here scouting for the Leafs, or what's going on here?"
We can assume he's heard he's been a trending topic in southern Ontario since June.
That Luongo received his second consecutive start on Wednesday came as somewhat of a surprise, particularly given that he'd been unable to hold a two-goal lead against the defending champion L.A. Kings in his previous start.
But open in the blue paint against the Avs he did, and 24 saves later, he had a shutout and a win, two things many believed he'd never register again in a Vancouver uniform.
It didn't have to be a dazzling performance by Luongo against a Colorado team that was shut out for a second straight game and was missing injured forwards Gabriel Landeskog and Steve Downie, as well as unsigned youngster Ryan O'Reilly. Let's just say the glory days of Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg are long, long gone, and leave it at that.
Luongo got a little lucky on the first shot of the game when the puck got behind him but stayed out, and then made his best save of the night, a breakaway stop on Matt Duchene, in the third with the game still on the line.
In other words, perfect is perfect.
"The guys did a great job in front of me. I don't think (Colorado) had much all night," said Luongo, previously winless this season.
"First and foremost, it's nice to get the win. It's my third start, so I wanted to get in there and get a win for the guys."
Now, it gets interesting. Luongo's stats are better than those of Cory Schneider, who signed a three-year, $12 million contract last summer to become, most believed, Vancouver's new starting goalie.
Arch-rival Chicago is in Friday night, and the identity of the starting goalie for that one will say something about where the internal politics of the Canucks are favouring at the moment.
"I'll tell you tomorrow," said head coach Alain Vigneault after the game when asked about Friday's starter. "Look, I understand why this is an issue outside our dressing room. But they're two quality individuals, team guys, and they will do what I say."
Luongo has done a very good job so far of playing the good soldier while GM Mike Gillis sorts out potential trade scenarios. The Maple Leafs still are interested in the 33-year-old netminder despite his nightmarish contract, but aren't willing to pay the price in players and prospects that Vancouver is demanding.
Florida may or may not be interested. Washington? Just speculation at the moment.
"I just get ready to play," said Luongo. "Whatever decision it is is fine. Whoever starts Friday is good."
The Canucks have played seven games, and Schneider has started four, Luongo three.
"I think I was able to build off Monday," said Luongo of his solid play in a losing effort against the Kings. "The more you play the more comfortable you feel. That goes without saying.
"I just take it for what it is. I'm playing hockey in the NHL. I consider myself lucky."
The Rogers Arena crowd greeted him enthusiastically on Wednesday, bellowing "Loooooooo!!" on even the most pedestrian of saves. Based on the audience's reaction, he's certainly not viewed negatively here at the moment, not viewed as an obstacle to obtaining other assets for a Vancouver team hoping to take a run at the franchise's first Stanley Cup this season.
What we know for sure is that if Vancouver makes a deal involving Luongo or Schneider this season, they'll either need a goalie back or will need a side deal to bring in another netminder. Their third-stringer, Eddie Lack, is out indefinitely with a hip injury.
Beyond that, there's seems no sense of panic in Vancouver. Toronto, meanwhile, is 3-3 with James Reimer playing well, while Florida is off to a lousy start, so we'll see if the pressure starts building with Vancouver's possible trade partners.
Right now, Luongo seems to be handling the awkwardness of sharing the net with Schneider somewhat better than his younger netminding partner.
It's almost as if the combination of the off-season and the 113-day lockout served to wipe out the memory of where Vancouver believed it was on goaltending matters at the end of last season.
Luongo is like the evicted tenant who refuses to leave until the cops come to give him the boot.
Right now, there's no police in sight.