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Vancouver fans and media suddenly rediscover that Roberto Luongo is an elite goaltender

Photo from Flickr/carsonballer14

Breaking news: Roberto Luongo is an elite goaltender – change everything. 

Beyond all belief, that’s the conversation now fueling the Canucks goaltending “controversy.” 

On Wednesday morning it was still business as usual — unchanged since last April — and twelve hours later the trade guns were blazing and they’ve been zeroing in on golden-boy Cory Schneider ever since.

“Which goaltender should the Canucks trade now?” asked the Team 1040 poll question for much of Thursday morning.

Clock it. The speed with which this thing turned on its head and went straight down the rabbit hole has to be a record somewhere.

The tipping point was an unexpected one: Roberto Luongo shutting out the offensively anemic Colorado Avalanche, of course. And you have to go all the way back to Saturday to find the last time an NHL goaltender managed that. So this all makes a lot of sense, right?

Not really, no. And it gets worse.

Earlier Wednesday — prior to the game and the subsequent derangement — the dominant line of conversation centered around why Luongo was starting his second game in a row. Very quickly the “showcase” argument emerged, before being dismissed as completely preposterous.

The showcase notion revolves around the idea of putting Luongo in a position to succeed and impress, ideally attracting trade interest and speeding up his way out of town.

That idea was overwhelmingly panned. Nobody needs to be reminded of how good Luongo is, went the counter-argument, and any General Manager worth anything wouldn’t have his opinion changed on the basis of a game or two. Sound logic.

But then Luongo posted a shutout and everyone’s opinion changed.

Cory must go and Roberto must stay. Because this and because that.

Only in Vancouver.

Amazingly, one of the many strange arguments supporting this unexpected turn of logic is the fact that Schneider has just two more years left on his contract, and then he’ll hit a giant pay day. So the Canucks might not be able to afford him. So the team should move him now.

Is your head starting to hurt yet?

For reasons that should be obvious the conceptual pieces to this puzzle are hard to assemble. They don’t really fit together, but the basic picture seems to go something like this: Schneider is unproven, so the Canucks can’t trust him — but he’ll definitely strike it big at the end of his contract because he’s an incredibly talented goaltender, so the Canucks should ditch him. And Luongo is a great goaltender, no one needs to be reminded of that, so the Canucks should have no trouble trading him — unless he posts a shutout against a team which can’t score, in which case our collective understanding of everything changes completely and the Canucks should keep him.

Only in Vancouver.

This market is notorious for its silliness when it comes to the Canucks, but this particular episode drags that silliness to new depths.

The concept of a goalie controversy was inevitable the moment Luongo reported to training camp, ironic grin and all. But the reality that he’s an exceptionally talented goaltender has remained unchanged from the moment he was displaced by Schneider last April. The sudden rediscovery of his ability over a twelve hour span is beyond ridiculous.

The positive cheers and “Luuuu’s” Roberto received from the fans at Rogers Arena on Wednesday night were a poetic bookend to the jeers and boos the same man received when he was pulled in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals in Boston — the fans in Vancouver watching the game on the Rogers Arena scoreboard.

Since that series the arc of his tenure here in Vancouver has been trending toward a singular, near inevitable outcome: A merciful trade out of town.

It was known by all once Schneider started Game 3 against the Kings in last years playoffs. It was known by all when the Canucks signed Schneider to a 3 year $12-million contract this past summer. It was known by all when Roberto Luongo acknowledged that it was "time to move on" from Vancouver. It was known by all the multitude of times that General Manager Mike Gillis has publicly acknowledged his efforts to trade Luongo.

Unfortunately for both goaltenders, that trade has been a hard time coming. And in all reality, the longer this goes the more likely it is that other GM’s around the league start offering packages for the more alluring Cory Schneider, and soon those offers could easily become too difficult to pass up.

So the possibility of a Schneider trade is certainly not an impossibility. Nothing is. 

But the rationale for trading Luongo is as sound now as it was in April, May and June of last year. His completely unsurprising excellent play in a the first handful of games this season doesn’t change that rationale, and shouldn’t.

And neither should Cory Schneider’s play so far this season. As good as Luongo has been Schneider has played equally impressively. Lest we forget Schneider has a shutout of his own, and it came in a game the Canucks really had no business winning at all. Had it not been for Schneider the game would have been over and out of reach in the first five minutes against the Anaheim Ducks. But he stood on his head while his team hung him out to dry. Then the Ducks lost their heads and spent the rest of the game in the penalty box, leading to a very misleading 5-0 Canucks win.

Rumours of Cory Schneider’s struggles have been greatly exaggerated.

It’s a terrible problem to have: Two top-flight franchise goaltenders, each better than a substantial part of their league brethren, but the writing is on the wall and has been for some time.

Robert Luongo was and remains an elite NHL goaltender and he should be applauded for the way he has spent his time here in Vancouver. But as thrilling as shutouts against the mighty Colorado Avalanche are, it’s time to move on with the plan that was set forth nine months ago.

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