Vancouver & Tampa Bay: A Tale of Two Trade Requests

By: Ryan Kiray (@RyanK_THG)

It begins with a superstar. An elite talent, beloved by his fans, one of the best to ever don his team’s jersey. The superstar enthralls, inspires, and endures. Times passes, and the superstar begins to age. He is still great, to be sure, but he begins to yield ground to his younger counterparts. Then, one day, those counterparts supplant the superstar. His ego is bruised, his temper inflamed, and his mind set; it is time for the superstar to move on. However, legend and loyalty have combined to grant the superstar the power to control his own fate; he decides where he is to be traded, and his team is bound by his decision. He holds the cards, and his team’s leverage is diminished as a result.463507957_slide

The parallels between Martin St. Louis and Roberto Luongo, the aging superstars that departed their long-term homes earlier this week, are many. Both, in a fit of bruised ego after seeing their managers increasingly rely upon other options, requested moves away from their team. Although the full story surrounding St. Louis’ trade request likely has not been and will never be told, conventional wisdom is that it had something to do with Tampa Bay and Team Canada General Manager Steve Yzerman passing him over for the Olympics; Luongo’s own trade request dates back to former Canucks goaltender Cory Schneider taking over the starter’s reigns in Vancouver in 2012. Both Luongo and St. Louis used their no trade clauses to force moves to the teams of their choice. Both left their teams with limited leverage, and both left a permanent black mark on their legacies with those teams. However, the trades that sent these two players away left very different tastes in the mouths of their teams; the differences between the two situations are ultimately more striking than the similarities.

Yzerman, admittedly, had more to work with from a value perspective than Canucks GM Mike Gillis did; St. Louis may be older, but he is a year removed from winning the Art Ross Trophy and has only two years left on his current deal. Luongo has been inconsistent this season and is under contract until age 43, to say nothing of the fact that it might have been impossible to get him in a room with John Tortorella again. However, it is likely that Yzerman also had less leverage in trade talks than Gillis did over the last two years; most reports agreed that St. Louis refused to accept an attempt to accommodate his trade request to any team other than the Rangers, while multiple teams have kicked tires on Luongo since his original trade request. Yzerman was fortunate enough to find a trade partner in Glen Sather that has never encountered a big name player for whom he would not overpay, but Yzerman’s shrewd return despite the limitations of the situation marks the biggest difference between the St. Louis and Luongo sagas.

That it took two years for Gilis to trade a former Olympic gold medalist, Stanley Cup finalist, and Vezina Tropy finalist says everything that needs to be said about how Gillis handled Luongo. Gillis repeatedly insisted that he would not give Luongo away, preferring to view Luongo as an elite player rather than an aging veteran with an albatross contract. Gillis refused to acknowledge that the flexibility achieved by shedding Luongo’s long-term contract, a deal that would eventually hammer the Canucks with cap recapture penalties, was an asset in and of itself. He eventually opted to trade the younger, cheaper, and better goaltending option presented by Cory Schneider for pennies on the dollar because he could not accept that Luongo was not worth what he thought he was. The saga then proceeded to drag out for another eight months before Gillis finally caved and traded Luongo for what he should have dealt him for to begin with. Yzerman, on the other hand, hamstrung simply because of a bad reaction to a situation that was utterly unrelated to Yzerman’s performance as the General Manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, identified a trade partner and the value of his asset and reacted quickly to maximize his return. The differences essentially boil down to Yzerman properly valuing his asset and refusing to allow his pride to handcuff him. Gillis refused to acknowledge that Luongo had robbed him of leverage with his no-trade dictations, and that Luongo’s contract erased much of the value that he possessed as a player. Yzerman’s quick and dispassionate thinking netted a solid contributor and two high-round draft picks. Despite the respectable-if-disappointing return that Luongo finally netted, Gillis’ pride cost Vancouver their goaltender of the future, and ultimately their status as a true Cup contender. It should also cost Gillis his job.

Bruce Bennett – getty images

It ends without a superstar. A gaping hole where once stood an icon. For one team, in that hole stands an adequate replacement, and a chance for future glory. For the other, there stands only a question mark; an enigma that may become an icon in its own turn, or fall away into the void of the forgotten failures. For the former, the wisdom of its venerable manager allowed the best end to a bad situation. For the latter, chances are that pride has preceded the fall.

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