NASHVILLE – Daniel Sedin remembers it all.
He remembers when Roberto Luongo arrived in a 2006 blockbuster trade, returning the Vancouver Canucks to the playoffs and back-stopping them to the playoff semifinals. “He took our goaltending to another level, for sure. That first year he came in, he was the reason we were good. The only reason,” he said.
He remembers when Cory Schneider became an NHL regular in 2010-11, showing the potential to be a starter in this League. “He learned a lot from Roberto. He was good for us, too,” he said,
And he remembers when the Roberto Luongo vs. Cory Schneider goaltending controversy was one of the NHL’s most enduring soap operas, eventually leading to both goalies being traded away: Schneider to the New Jersey Devils in 2013 for the ninth overall pick that became Bo Horvat, and Luongo (and his contract) traded back to the Florida Panthers in 2014.
Last weekend in Nashville, Sedin saw both goalies representing their teams at the NHL All-Star Game, and he couldn’t help but wonder ‘what if?’
“We have a good thing going in Vancouver now with Ryan and Jake,” he said of goalies Ryan Miller and Jakub Markstrom, “but when you see those guys … it was tough to see them go.”
It wasn’t surprising to see Schneider, 29, take over the crease in New Jersey after Martin Brodeur’s departure and join the NHL’s elite netminders. He has a 2.03 GAA and a .929 save percentage in keeping the Devils in the postseason picture.
But was Luongo expected to post similar numbers – 2.08 GAA and a .930 save percentage – with the Florida Panthers at 36 years old?
Sedin hesitated when asked the question, before saying, “I think so. But with age you never know.”
Wait … isn’t Luongo around the same ago as the Sedins?
“I think he’s one year older than me,” said Sedin.
“He’s old, that’s for sure.”
Schneider and Luongo had breakfast together in Nashville on Friday morning. In the NHL All-Star Game Skills Competition on Saturday night, they even partnered up to help Brent Bruns with a Breakaway Challenge attempt by play-fighting near the crease, leaving the goal empty so Burns’ son could score:
“That’s the fun part about hockey. You build relationships and you never know when you’re going to see them again. And then you come to an event like this, and see some old faces,” said Schneider.
And recall some old times, like when two elite goalies battled for the crease in Vancouver.
“We laugh about it sometimes. It seems so long ago, but it was only two or three years ago,” said Schneider.
Their goalie controversy lasted only two years, but it might as well have been 10. When Luongo struggled at times in the Canucks’ Stanley Cup Final classic against the Boston Bruins, there were calls for Schneider. The following season, Schneider’s success earned him a new contract and caused GM Mike Gillis to give pause to his original plan: Developing Schneider for a few seasons and then trading him.
Instead, it was Luongo they looked to ship out.
And then the lockout happened, and Luongo’s contract became a hell of a lot harder to move. That led to a dramatic 2013 press conference in which he declared his long-term contract “sucks.”
A few months later, it was Schneider traded instead.
The controversy was nothing of their making. All Luongo and Schneider did was play really, really well; and in Luongo’s case, sign a contract he had earned.
Now, two years after Luongo was moved and three years after Schneider was, both goalies are thriving while the Canucks are in a transitional phase.
“Things happen for a reason. He’s doing great, and succeeding in Florida,” said Schneider, adding that he anticipated Luongo's success.
“You knew he was going to be a unique goalie for a long time. The way he plays, his mindset. He wasn’t going to fall off the map,” said the Devils goalie. “Maybe he’s stealing some of Jagr’s magic liquid there. Keeping him young.”
It’s easy to feel like a rookie when 43-year-old legend Jaromir Jagr’s in your locker room.
“It's like I’m still wearing diapers when I’m next to him,” said Luongo.
If Luongo’s play is a surprise, it’s eclipsed by the surprising play of his Florida Panthers, who currently lead the Atlantic Division. And Luongo admits that they may have caught some teams off-guard this season.
“It’s tough, when a team hasn’t had that level of success in recent years, to take them seriously,” he said. “We’re not satisfied with what we’ve done so far. Because we really haven’t done anything.”
Satisfaction was something many felt Luongo had after the Canucks finally traded him to the Panthers, which was his desired destination. Old goalie goes “home,” fades into oblivion with a team that’s been to the playoffs once since 2001.
That assumption made Luongo livid.
"That’s one of the things that really upset me when this whole thing went down. People thought I was just coming back to retire. That’s not me. I’m as competitive as they get. I want to win badly, “ he said. “Anybody that knows me knows that’s not my nature. I want to win. I want to have another crack at it.”
Especially when the last crack ended in a Game 7 loss on home ice in Vancouver.
“He got that taste five years ago. That’s something that’s always driven him,” said Schneider.
They’re both driven. They’re both successful. And if the fates allow it, there’s a chance they could even meet in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
While there’s a mentor vs. student aspect to this rivalry, it would be undoubtedly friend vs. friend.
“I learned a lot [in Vancouver]. Not only about playing goal, but about myself, and the mental aspect of the game. Cory was a huge part of that, and I’m glad he’s having the success he’s having,” said Luongo.
The Panthers goalie smiled.
“Which I called, by the way.”