With the current collective bargaining agreement set to expire in just under two weeks on September 15, the National Hockey League is approaching a standstill. While teams are working feverishly to sign some of their key players to contract extensions, the free agent and trade market has become a bit stagnant.
But while much uncertainty remains floating around, some teams may have to make a move before the current deal ends and a seemingly inevitable NHL Lockout begins.
Brian Burke, general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, may be one of those people with one of those said teams who needs to pull the trigger on a major trade before the owners look to lock out the players. More specifically, he may need to make one move in order to save his job going forward.
That move would be trading for current Vancouver Canucks starting goaltender, Roberto Luongo.
Many teams are afraid to acquire certain contracts, as they are unsure whether or not the new collective bargaining agreement will even include a salary floor. That means that they will not need to spend unnecessary money just to have a high enough payroll.
But while that would be good for a few frugal teams, it would be bad for the league, as a whole.
Either way, the financial aspect is not what could be holding up anything with Toronto. At this point, Burke is past the honeymoon stage, and desperately needs to shake things up to get the Leafs back into the NHL Playoffs, and furthermore, make them relevant in the hockey landscape up north.
Burke has survived the new ownership. So far. He fired head coach Ron Wilson during the season last year, but the Leafs still missed the playoffs once again.
Simply put, that will not continue to fly for a team who still has high aspirations on the ice. Burke knows that.
Unfortunately for Burke and the Leafs, he is not working from a position of power. That belongs to Canucks general manager Mike Gillis. While Luongo wants out, and even though it would probably be a good thing for everyone involved to give the goalie a fresh start, the Canucks will not give him away. Luongo has a no-trade clause, but not a no-move clause, meaning he is more under the team’s control.
The three teams who remain the most interested in acquiring Luongo are the Leafs, Florida Panthers and Chicago Blackhawks, with the first two being the favorites. Luongo has stated his desire to return to the Panthers, but they are not thrilled with Vancouver’s asking price. The Canucks are looking to net enough return talent to help them immediately. Thus far, no team has been willing to bite.
Vancouver also knows that if an attempt to trade Luongo is unsuccessful, and the netminder grows increasingly unhappy and causes a distraction in the locker room, they could simply place him on waivers and see if another team is desperate enough to claim him and have to pay the remaining portion of his massive contract. It would not net them any players or prospects, but it would rid them of his albatross of a contract.
Either way, the pressure is on in Toronto. Burke needs to get the Leafs back into the postseason. The Canucks need to move Luongo.
While this seems to be a perfect match, nothing is ever as easy as it first appears. A deal could get done, but it will likely not be before September 15.