Philadelphia, PA – For years people have wondered what the New Jersey Devils would do for a No. 1 goaltender when Martin Brodeur finally decides to lay down his pads.
In a much bigger surprise than the Colorado Avalanche picking Nathan MacKinnon over Seth Jones at No. 1, the Devils provided the answer to that question at Sunday's NHL Entry Draft, landing Cory Schneider in a shocking deal with the Vancouver Canucks.
It was a moment made even more memorable because it happened at the home of the Devils, who were hosting this year's draft at the Prudential Center in downtown Newark. The crowd roared in approval when the deal was announced, but the trade will not be as well-received in Vancouver.
While the 41-year-old Brodeur, an obvious first-ballot Hall of Famer, still has one season remaining on the two-year deal he signed last summer, there is no doubt this move begins the passing of the torch in the Devils' crease.
Whether it will be a successful transition is another story completely.
Just like the New York Yankees will figure out after this season when they have to find a replacement for closer Mariano Rivera, it is no easy task to replace a legend. Guys like Brodeur and Rivera have set the bar so high during their careers that the players who attempt to fill the void are bound to fall short.
Schneider isn't the second-coming of Brodeur, but that's OK because neither is anybody else, and Lou Lamoriello, the Devils general manager since 1987, knows that better than anyone. Lamoriello has watched Brodeur shatter all sorts of NHL goaltending records while leading New Jersey to three Stanley Cup titles, and he'd be proud if Schneider can deliver a fraction of that success.
In Schneider, the Devils get a 27-year-old American who, until recently, was the presumptive No. 1 goaltender of the future in Vancouver. After all, the Canucks spent over a year trying to trade goaltender Roberto Luongo to any team that would listen, but now it seems Vancouver is willing to move forward with Bobby Lu as the top option in net.
Of course, that's if Luongo still wants to play with the Canucks. The former Vancouver captain said all the right things while Vancouver GM Mike Gillis was on a mission to deal him, but his desire to stay with the Canucks into next season is unknown.
Even if Luongo is fine with returning to his role as Vancouver's undisputed No. 1 netminder, this trade can hardly feel like a victory for the Canucks organization. After accepting defeat that Luongo's immense contract made it impossible to flip him for equal value, the Canucks were forced to deal Schneider instead.
Gillis and the Canucks were reportedly seeking not only a first-round pick for Schneider, but also an NHL roster player, In the end, they settled for the ninth overall pick of this year's draft, a selection that netted Vancouver centerman Bo Horvat.
Meanwhile, Luongo's initial thoughts on Schneider being traded suggests this deal could get worse for Gillis and the Canucks. Luongo spoke to TSN's James Duthie, who then revealed the goaltender's comments via Twitter. Let's just say Luongo left plenty of room for doubt regarding his desire to stay in Vancouver.
"Roberto Luongo: 'I'm shocked! I have to let this sink in and figure out what I'm going to do'" read Duthie's tweet.
If Luongo takes long to "figure out" his next step in light of the Schneider deal, this situation has the ability to turn into a nightmare for Gillis and his front office. The trade already looks bad because Gillis received less than what he was asking for Schneider. If Luongo refuses to play with the Canucks or demands to be traded, it will be hard for Gillis to pretend his strategy didn't blow up in his face.
Of course, the Canucks eventually could use a compliance buyout to erase Luongo's contract, a deal that carries an annual $5.33 million cap hit through the 2021-22 season, but it would be extremely difficult for Gillis to treat that scenario as a victory.
On the other hand, the only thing the Devils need to figure out is what kind of split Brodeur and Schneider will get in terms of starts next season. New Jersey still could plan on using Brodeur as its No. 1 in 2013-14 and utilize Schneider as a backup, or let the younger guy take the lead in his first season with New Jersey.
Either way, it would be surprising to see Brodeur or Schneider get well above 50 percent of the starts next season. Schneider was part of a successful goaltending tandem with Luongo in Vancouver and a similar scenario could work for one season with Brodeur.
Brodeur is one of those players who has become synonymous with the franchise he represented, and it couldn't have been easy for Lamoriello to admit it was time for a contingency plan.
Judging by the reaction from his fan base, Lou chose the right time and right place to make the move. Whether he chose the right player to replace Brodeur is a story for another day.