May 25 2013 01:35PM
If the Edmonton Oilers aren’t thrilled with Devan Dubnyk’s performance as a starting goaltender, does it make sense for the club to pursue Vancouver Canucks starter Roberto Luongo?
Roberto Luongo is an excellent goaltender. Over both the last three and the last five seasons he has averaged a 0.930 even-strength save percentage, which represents elite level performance – it’s better than any other Canadian goaltender, and slightly better than Henrik Lundqvist (the gold standard) over the last five years, slightly worse over the last three. Luongo is a top-flight starting goalie.
Because of his contract, the trade cost for Roberto Luongo would likely be low. With the salary cap falling, and the potential for multiple starting-calibre goalies on the market this year (Ryan Miller, Mike Smith, Marc-Andre Fleury, etc.), Vancouver will be in quite a bind if they cannot move Luongo. It’s impossible to know, but this feels like a situation where a package centered around Ales Hemsky might get the job done – the cap hits are comparable, and while Hemsky isn’t a perfect player he would add some badly needed secondary offensive support behind the Sedin line.
Moving Hemsky for Luongo would also free the Oilers up to use Devan Dubnyk as a trade chip. Dubnyk is an average-ish NHL starter on an affordable deal ($3.5 million for one more season); to the right team he would likely have more value than Hemsky. A deal like this would allow the Oilers to upgrade their goaltender while upgrading their principle trade chip at the same time.
In the short-term, this hypothetical scenario seems both plausible and favourable to the Oilers. But what about the long-term?
Firstly: Luongo has a no-trade clause. He has emphasized time and again that his chief goal is simply to be a starter, so maybe he waives it because he’s low on options and doesn’t want to get stuck fighting with Cory Schneider for playing time again. On the other hand, he’s spent most of his career in warmer places; it’s entirely within the realm of possibility that he would refuse to go to Edmonton.
Luongo just turned 34 years old; he’s in the wrong end of his career and his performance is going to decline. He might start slowing down in two years, or it might take five, but at some point in that window he will likely need to be replaced.
The contract: Luongo is signed for the next nine seasons. For the sake of argument, let’s assume he retires as soon as the dollars start dipping, in the summer of 2018 (the far end of the two-to-five year window mentioned in the last paragraph). If that happened, any cap benefit accrued would count against the clubs that gained it for the remaining four years of his contract. The “cap benefit” is the difference between dollars paid and cap hit in those seasons, with that benefit divided equally over the remaining years. In this scenario, both the Oilers and Canucks would be on the hook for penalties over the four seasons following Luongo’s retirement, as shown here:
“Benefit” is calculated simply as dollars paid minus cap hit; with a 2018 retirement the Oilers would be staring at a $1.73 million cap hit penalty from 2018-19 until 2021-22. That’s a non-trivial penalty, but with the salary cap likely to be significantly higher by then, it’s also one the Oilers could likely afford to sustain.
In the long-term, the chief fear is that Luongo’s performance falls off a cliff two years from now and that he stubbornly refuses to retire because he’s still getting paid. If he continues to play well, he has a modest cap hit and the penalty for his eventual retirement is survivable. If he falls apart two years from now and retires, the Oilers will need a new starter but they’ll have gained a small cap benefit that will turn into a tiny cap penalty over the following seven years (less than $400,000 per season). But, if he falls apart and then refuses to retire, the Oilers would be in serious trouble.
How great a risk is it? Really it depends on the individual. Here’s a (subjective) look at some of the oldest goaltenders in recent memory, and when their performance slipped:
Sometimes it’s a straight line drop off a cliff (Dominik Hasek), sometimes it’s a few years of ups and downs with a generally decreasing performance (Martin Brodeur) and sometimes the goalie retires at the top of his game (Patrick Roy). I’d guess that Luongo probably has three to four more years as an above-average NHL starter left in him, and then another year or two where he can still play but isn’t what he was.
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Recently around the Nation Network
Over at NHLNumbers, Rex Libris asks Who Are The Edmonton Oilers Best Scouts? Here's how he describes his process:
I am looking at the Oilers’ prospects taken between 2008 and 2012, the Stu MacGregor era, grouping them according to region drafted, and then grading them based on a variety of rankings including Lowetide’s top 20s, Hockey’s Future, Corey Pronman at Hockey Prospectus and giving weight to LT’s oft-cited preference for players with a “wide range of skills”. In some cases players who have made the jump to the AHL/ECHL may be ranked ahead of those still playing junior and those who have signed professional deals are ahead of those still unsigned.
Click the link above to read the whole piece, or feel free check out some of my other pieces here:
- Mike Gillis blames "some guy in his mother's basement" for Luongo buyout talk
- Can Devan Dubnyk meet Craig MacTavish's expectations?
- Valeri Nichushkin just did the Oilers a huge favour
- Building next year's bottom five
- If Ales Hemsky has low value, does it make sense to trade him?
- Follow Jonathan Willis on Twitter!