By Allan Muir
Roberto Luongo wasn't asking anyone to feel sorry for him.
But it's kind of hard not to, right?
Just minutes after being pulled of the ice from practice, only to learn he hadn't been traded, the reluctant Canuck opened up about his disappointment in a painfully human post-trade deadline press conference on Wednesday.
It made for riveting theater as he grappled with his emotions about remaining with a team that won't play him but couldn't find anyone willing to take him off its hands.
Not that there wasn't interest. Talks with the Maple Leafs went right to the final minute before breaking down when the Canucks reportedly refused to assume a portion of Luongo's remaining $40 million in salary.
If a part of him had held out hope that there was a way around that massive hurdle, it was gone by the time he stepped in front of the gathered press.
"My contract sucks," he said. "That's what the problem is. It's a big factor in trading me. It's why I'm still here.
"I'd scrap it if I could right now."
It had to be a humbling admission. That 12-year, $64 million deal he signed in September 2009 has already given him a boatload of dough and will give him boatloads more. It's enough to buy anything but the one thing he wants most: a chance to earn it.
Luongo has been beaten fairly by Cory Schneider for Vancouver's starting job. That stings, but he can accept it. And maybe he can handle the smackdown of the minimal return the Leafs offered for him -- back-up Ben Scrivens and a pair of second-rounders.
What really hurts is that the line of suitors that were hoping to secure his services never materialized in the off-season. And that teams facing obvious needs at the deadline decided to go with younger, cheaper options.
He's certainly not the first to feel that particular rejection in this economy. But that doesn't make it any less humiliating.
To his credit, Luongo has handled the situation perfectly, publicly putting team success first and, by all accounts, privately as well. He's won over hockey fans with a self-deprecating wit that he's displayed on his Twitter feed and on television. He's become the player everyone wants to have a beer with.
But at this moment, it was impossible not to think, "Geez, poor guy." Because unless the Canucks are willing to pay money for nothing by buying him out, this may be it for him.
It's not that he can't help another team...it's that they can't afford the risk that he might retire early.
There's a clause in the new CBA that specifically punishes players like Luongo, Ilya Kovalchuk and Henrik Zetterberg who signed front-loaded deals that were designed to circumvent the cap.
Pierre LeBrun explains it in great detail here. In a nutshell, the team that originally signed the player to a contract that runs longer than six years and the one employing him when he retires before the end of it will be left holding a significantly large bag. If, for example, Luongo were to retire at age 39 with three years left on his deal, the Canucks would be on the hook for $6.056 million and his new team would be responsible for a "cap recapture" penalty of $6.356 million spread across those three final years.
Now there's no way of knowing what the cap will be at that point, or if this particular penalty will still be in place. There are out clauses that could lead to the CBA being brought up for renegotiation before the end of some of these contracts.
But can any team afford to take that chance?
That's why Toronto needed Vancouver to hold onto some of the money. Probably a significant amount. And any other team looking into Luongo would ask the same. There was just too much risk involved, and Luongo,who is 34, now ends up in goaltending limbo with Rick DiPietro, 31, whose long injury history and eight years remaining on his 15-year, $67.5 million deal made him untradeable and costly to buy out. So the Islanders parked him in the AHL and are using his $3.6 million hit this season to reach the cap floor.
Luongo is hardly a DiPietro, and the Canucks aren't the Isles. Maybe something will come together for him this summer. You hope so. But if it does, you have to think his pride will take another hit in the process.