By Sarah Kwak
NEWARK, N.J. — The Devils fans gathered in the Prudential Center for the NHL Entry Draft on Sunday afternoon were relentless in their disapproval, booing every other team in the soon-to-be-defunct Atlantic Division, breaking out into a “Rangers suck” chant, and even reminding new Avalanche coach Patrick Roy that “Marty’s better.”
But the most consistent object of their derision was NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who heard a chorus of boos every single time he opened his mouth — from his opening remarks to introducing the next team to select.
When he went up to the stage for the ninth pick of the draft — New Jersey’s — his words were drowned out by a cascade of scorn, but instead of powering through, he stopped and told the fans: “I think you’re going to want to hear this.”
Bettman then delivered the biggest shock of the day. The Devils had traded the ninth pick of the draft to Vancouver for goaltender Cory Schneider, a move that left plenty of observers a bit shocked. It ended a long and tortured saga in Vancouver, but in a way that no one had really expected — at least, not during the last two years.
By moving Schneider, who played in 30 of the Vancouver’s 48 games this season, the Canucks have effectively committed to embattled Roberto Luongo. The 34-year-old goalie, who has been on the trading block since last spring, has an albatross contract that left Vancouver GM Mike Gillis with limited options. Luongo is signed through the 2021-22 season at a sizeable cap hit of $5.33 million per year. With the cap dropping to $64.3 million next season and stricter contract rules in the new collective bargaining agreement, Gillis knew it would be more difficult to move the veteran net minder.
“The salary cap has been set at a point much different from what it was,” Gillis said. “[But] we had a situation we didn’t want to drag into the summer and continue on, and we just felt this was our best opportunity to get a couple of good young players out of the first round of the draft.”
The Canucks selected Bo Horvat, a 6′-0″, 206-pound center out of London, Ontario. He’s a solid two-way player who may not quite be ready for the NHL in October, but Gillis believes Horvat isn’t too far off. With the 24th selection, Vancouver picked Hunter Shinkaruk, an offensive talent who surprisingly dropped to the bottom of the first round.
For that ninth pick, the Devils received a potential answer to the franchise’s biggest long-term question: Who will succeed their Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur?
With two years at a relatively cap-friendly $4 million left on his contract, the 27-year-old Schneider will likely share time in the crease with Brodeur, who has another year left on his deal. Devils GM Lou Lamoriello indicated that Brodeur will remain the team’s No. 1 goalie, but questioned the goalie’s durability.
There is no question that Lamoriello hopes Schneider will fit into the Devils’ long-term plans and take the reins from the 41-year-old Brodeur. Lamoriello said he hadn’t talked to his starter or current backup goalie, Johan Hedberg, who could become a buyout target with only one year remaining on his contract at $1.4 million.
“I’ve been a huge fan of Marty Brodeur,” Schneider told The Star-Ledger. “I started watching him when he first came into the league. For a guy like me to have played with, first, Roberto Luongo and now to get a chance to play with Marty Brodeur, a lot of goalies would kill for that opportunity to learn from those two guys.”
Luongo, fully expecting to be traded out of Vancouver, was reportedly shocked by the deal. Gillis said he didn’t anticipate that any “mending” of relationships with Luongo would be necessary, but said he’d need to speak with his goalie and explain the situation.
Luongo knows exactly what happened.
He acknowledged it in what seemed like a farewell press conference that he held at the end of the season, when he bluntly acknowledged that his contract “sucked.” Ultimately, that deal was an immovable beast, and the Canucks had no choice but to move Schneider instead.
“Three years ago, we had planned for this, and then Cory just became a great young goaltender, and there were circumstances,” Gillis said. “Roberto took us to the seventh game of Stanley Cup Final, won the gold medal. I mean, his resume is impeccable. Our plan three years ago was to develop Cory and move him for a high pick, and that’s what we ultimately did.”
When the Canucks signed Luongo to that massive, long-term contract, they said they were committed to him for the rest of his career. And well, now it looks like they really are.