TORONTO - Brian Burke faces an enormous decision between now and the June draft: Is he willing to cast aside his personal, professional and philosophical convictions in favour of taking a run at the suddenly available Roberto Luongo?
That is the real question for the chief decision-maker of the Maple Leafs as the summer of change gets closer.
It became more of a question Tuesday when Luongo basically announced he is willing to waive his no-movement clause and understands itís in the best interest of the Vancouver Canucks to probably trade him elsewhere for next season.
This is the problem with Burkeís high and mighty ways. He has not been shy in stating he believes many of the long-term contracts in the National Hockey League circumvent the current salary cap structure and he has been adamant in the past that he wouldnít make the kind of offer the New York Rangers made to Brad Richards, which is not in violation of league rules, only in violation of Burkeís personal set of determinations.
The year before, Burke testified on behalf of the NHL against the New Jersey Devilsí signing of Ilya Kovalchuk. But what now, with Luongo available?
Would Burke be willing to trade for a contract he would not have agreed to himself?
There are 10 years left on the Luongo deal. The problem isnít the salary cap hit. That comes in at a reasonable $5.33 million a year. What Burke historically has a problem with is the way in which the salary is structured throughout the deal.
Luongo would be paid $6.7 million the next six years.
Then $3.38 million in the seventh year; $1.6 million in the eighth year; and then $1 million in the ninth and 10th years. Luongo would be 43 years old at the conclusion of the contract ó should he play to the end of it.
Now, here is what makes the Luongo to Toronto proposition interesting. While on the surface it would be a no-go, just based on Burkeís history, consider that David Nonis is Burkeís right-hand man and confidant. The same Nonis who spent a year trying to get Luongo from Florida when he ran the Vancouver Canucks. Finally, he succeeded and the state of the Canucks changed significantly from that day on.
Before making the Luongo trade, Nonis happened to be speaking with Devilsí general manager Lou Lamoriello. He asked Lamoriello what it was like to have Martin Brodeur in goal almost every night. Lamoriello answered rather succinctly: ďI can sleep at night.Ē
The deal was made a few days later.
Now, expect there to be much conversation in the Leafs front office over the next few months about Luongo, with management being split on whether to take a run at him or whether itís worth it for the Leafs, in this case Burke, to pass up a possible opportunity in exchange for his own agenda, his own ideals.
Itís noble that Burke has his opinions. But it becomes something more than that when his ideals interfere with his ability to do his primary work, which is making the Leafs better.
If the Stanley Cup playoffs have proven anything in the first weeks, it has been the value of goaltending. The Red Wings outplayed and outshot the Predators and lost. The Blackhawks were outshooting ó 28-8 at one time ó and outplaying Phoenix Monday night, but the score was 0-0 and the Coyotes eventually took advantage of average Chicago goaltending to win.
The goalies in the second round of the Cup playoffs in the West are Jonathan Quick, Brian Elliott, Pekke Rinne and Mike Smith, all of whom have been spectacular in the season and the post-season.
Pittsburgh lost because Marc-Andre Fleury couldnít stop anything. Ottawa is going to a seventh game with the New York Rangers, thanks in some part to Craig Anderson. Just about the only reason the Stanley Cup champions have had difficulty in the first round is trying to figure out Washington goalie Braden Holtby.
The Leafs have James Reimer and a pending free agent in Jonas Gustavsson. When July 1 hit a year ago, they paid no attention to Smith signing in Phoenix or the phone call they got from Tomas Vokoun asking for employment and stayed the course in goal. The course didnít work.
Now they need a goalie. They need one badly. Tim Thomas, at 38, may be available. The free-agent list, other than Martin Brodeur, is spotty, the best choices being Josh Harding in Minnesota, Vokoun or Winnipegís Chris Mason. Luongo can still play. He wasnít the reason the Canucks lost in the opening round. But they canít keep him and Cory Schneider anymore.
The price for Luongo wonít necessarily be high. Not a lot of teams will want to pay that much, deal with that term or, in fact, have that need. There wonít be many suitors. And the Leafs, needy in goal, should be one of them.
Itís no time for Burke to value principle over winning. Itís time to get this deal done and move on with this five-year-plan that he doesnít have time for.