If the Canucks can salvage some trade value out of Roberto Luongo, it may be the team's most impressive save of the season. With backup Cory Schneider outplaying him in Vancouver's first-round loss to the Kings, the team's star goalie has become expendable to a franchise that has won two straight Presidents' Trophies but has yet to win its first Stanley Cup. It wasn't supposed to end like this for Luongo, who may well go into the Hall of Fame someday.
Luongo's 339 wins and 60 shutouts are second only to the Devils' Martin Brodeur among active goalies. Yet his penchant for giving up soft or bad-angle goals has made him a pi√±ata for pundits and fans alike in Vancouver. Witness the cheapie he allowed on April 11 in a 4--2 first-round loss to L.A.: Kings center Mike Richards, pinned near the end line on Luongo's left side, threw a puck at the goalie's skates that would have slid harmlessly through the crease had it not banked off Luongo and into the net. The gaffe detracted from his 35 saves and made it easier for coach Alain Vigneault to bench Luongo in favor of Schneider (right) after the Canucks fell into a 2--0 series hole.
Luongo, who turned 33 last month, signed a front-loaded 12-year extension in 2009 worth $64 million. The 26-year-old Schneider made $900,000 this season and will become a restricted free agent on July 1 if he does not re-sign with Vancouver. His numbers this year (1.96 GAA, .937 save percentage) were better than Luongo's (2.41, .919), though he has never had the scrutiny, either from fans or opposing scouts, of being a No. 1 goalie. General manager Mike Gillis has said that nobody is rushing to a decision, but Luongo did tell reporters he would waive his no-trade clause if asked. "I don't want to be one of those guys who is going to stand in the way of anything," he said on April 24, two days after the Canucks were eliminated.
The Maple Leafs are said to be a front-runner for Luongo's services. Fran√ßois Allaire, his old goalie coach, now works with Toronto, which will be well under the cap ceiling next season. But if Luongo has amassed ample detractors in Vancouver, he could get deep-fried quickly in Toronto; the Leafs haven't won a Cup since 1967 and haven't been to the playoffs since 2004. The Blackhawks may be interested. New Jersey too, if Brodeur retires. But the Lightning would be the best fit. Tampa Bay goalie Dwayne Roloson is 42, and his future with the club is uncertain. Luongo's wife, Gina, is a Florida native and, as important, the hockey spotlight is much smaller. It's time for a fresh start.
Stealthy sniper Ray Whitney has led league-owned Phoenix's improbable playoff run
Ray Whitney really blew his cover last Friday night, when he momentarily elevated himself from journeyman winger to hero. Whitney—who became perhaps the least heralded 1,000-point scorer in NHL history on March 31—scored the overtime winner in the Coyotes' 4--3 victory over the Predators in Game 1 of their second-round series on what he described as "kind of a mucky thing." Phoenix forward Martin Hanzal won a face-off at the right circle in front of Predators goalie Pekka Rinne and shoved the puck toward the slot. Whitney then darted past Nashville defenseman Shea Weber, stopped the puck with his left skate and quickly reached out with his stick to jab it home. "Ray saved us," said Coyotes captain Shane Doan after the game. "Huge goal for the franchise."
The win marked the first victory for Phoenix in a second-round playoff game, which includes the club's first incarnation as the Winnipeg Jets. For the cardiac Coyotes—owned by the NHL since the franchise went into bankruptcy in 2009 and rumored to be on the move ever since—it was the third time in their unlikely postseason run (they lead the Predators 2--0 after Sunday's 5--3 victory) that they had prevailed after allowing a tying third-period goal.
The 5'10", 180-pound Whitney—a former stick boy for the Oilers who once received a $100 tip from Wayne Gretzky—is 39 and playing for his seventh NHL team. The expansion Sharks selected him in the second round in 1991, and his work habits and training regimen have kept him around. There's nothing spectacular about Whitney's game, but he's a good skater with exceptional hands who has made a career out of being in the right place at the right time. "He was a small player who started playing in a big man's game," says Phoenix coach Dave Tippett. "There are players who are not sure what to do with their opportunity. He's taken the opportunity and run with it."
In 2006, Whitney won his only Stanley Cup, with the Hurricanes. This year he equaled his career high with 53 assists and led the Coyotes with 77 points. He admits to being out of step with the music his younger teammates bump to in the locker room, but he hasn't outgrown the prank of sneaking into the background of televised interviews and making faces at the camera. "I try to fool myself into staying young," says Whitney, whose resilient team has fooled everyone by staying alive.
ANNE-MARIE SORVIN/US PRESSWIRE (LUONGO)
SITTING CANUCK Luongo's playoff benching last month has fueled talks of a possible trade to Toronto.
BOB FRID/ICON SMI (SCHNEIDER)
ROBERT BECK (WHITNEY)
RED STORM The messy goal that Whitney (13) scored in the Coyotes' Game 1 victory last week was his first overtime playoff winner in 17 years.