Above the 49: Benching Schneider could haunt Canucks

The Vancouver Canucks seem to have no qualms right now about riding the hot goaltending of Roberto Luongo, but you have to wonder whether they'll come to regret that decision in the near future.

It's hard to argue with results, and given the fact Luongo's goaltending is producing wins for the team, it's tough to say the Canucks have taken the wrong course of action by giving the lion's share of the starts to their soon-to-be former netminder.

However, to leave supposed No. 1 goaltender Cory Schneider sitting on the bench for close to two whole weeks as they have done recently by giving Luongo four consecutive starts seems detrimental to the process of getting the former ready to carry the load for the team on a full-time basis especially in a lockout-shortened season.

As high as the Canucks are on Schneider - and it showed this past June when they handed him a three-year contract extension worth $12 million and thereby anointed him their goalie of the present and future - it's easy to forget that he came into this season with less than 70 regular-season games worth of NHL experience.

That's significantly less experience in terms of games played compared to some of the other newly anointed No. 1 netminders around the leagues such as Boston's Tuukka Rask, Edmonton's Devan Dubnyk and Washington's Michal Neuvirth - all of whom, not surprisingly, have enjoyed more games played this season than the four that Schneider has been given.

But even if the amount of games played for Schneider was not a concern and he's able to step in and reassume the No. 1 role at the drop of a hat, what this whole process has done for his confidence and whether it has created any ill- will between him and the club is anyone's guess.

At the very least, it should suggest to him that perhaps he might have to deal with a very short leash even when Luongo has exited the picture depending on who the Canucks bring in to be their new backup netminder.

At the extreme level, it might give him the impression that the team isn't sold on him being the heir apparent to the greatest goaltender in franchise history and that they may alter their long-term plans if the opportunity presented itself.

Right now no one is suggesting the Canucks are going to back away from that long-term plan of permanently handing over the No. 1 duties to Schneider, but you do have to question what the purpose of giving prime playing time to a player who isn't expected to be a part of their team for much longer is unless there is a thought of perhaps keeping that player around for the long haul.

The Canucks can quickly quash any thought they might be considering turning back to Luongo by returning Schneider to the net starting Thursday against the Minnesota Wild, but they'll need to afford him the same leeway that they've shown Luongo in the past, which means they'll need to keep playing him even if he struggles.

There might be some short-term pain for the Canucks when they finally make the transition back to Schneider, but if they don't do that soon, then they'll have even more headaches to deal with in the long run, including the possibility of having a starting netminder who is still fighting to round into form when the stretch drive toward the playoffs hits.

It's not a scenario the Canucks, who fancy themselves a Stanley Cup contender, will want to deal with.

They have the opportunity right now to make sure it doesn't get to that point.