Above the 49: Maple Leafs should target Luongo

At some point when the Vancouver Canucks are officially knocked out of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs - whether that comes as early as Wednesday when the Los Angeles Kings have a chance to complete the first-ever seven-game sweep in franchise history or in the several few days to follow - Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke should pick up his phone and dial the digits for his Vancouver counterpart, Mike Gillis.

The often outspoken Burke only needs to utter one word when Gillis picks up on the other end: Luongo.

Burke may have publicly given his goaltender, James Reimer, who still has two years remaining left on his deal with a cap hit of $1.8 million, a vote of confidence during his year-end press conference, but it is painfully obvious that what the Leafs need more than anything else is to solidify their netminding position with a proven starter.

There's no better candidate potentially available than the much-maligned Canucks goalie, who seems to be living on borrowed time in a Vancouver.

The Canucks seem open to walk away from Luongo more than ever now. They indicated as much this past week when they opted to give youngster Cory Schneider the start in their pivotal Game 3 first-round clash against the Kings while trailing two-games-to-none, despite the fact Luongo had arguably two solid outings in the two games of the series.

If the Canucks turn to Schneider again on Wednesday in Game 4 with their season on the line, you can almost be certain the Luongo era in Vancouver is at an end.

Moving from one hockey-mad market to another in Toronto might not seem like the ideal move for Luongo, but given his love-hate relationship with the fan base in Vancouver, it's one he would certainly be open to making.

In a city that continues to revere Richard Brodeur and Kirk McLean, the goaltenders who led the franchise to their first two Stanley Cup Final appearances in 1982 and 1994, respectively, there clearly isn't that same warm, fuzzy feeling from Canuck Nation when it comes to Luongo, who hears boos almost as often as "Looos" rain down on him at Rogers Arena.

After needing Luongo to agree to waive his no-trade clause, the biggest stumbling block for the Canucks in moving him would be finding a team willing to take on his massive contract, although the Leafs are certainly one of those teams that could seemingly find a way to make any contract fit within their budget.

The 33-year-old Luongo is signed through the 2020-21 season and has an annual salary cap hit of $5.33 million but will be owed just over $4.72 million per year in actual salary the next 10 seasons, starting in 2012.13.

The Leafs haven't had a dependable night-in, night-out goaltender since Ed Belfour and by the time he arrived in 2002-03 he was already well past his prime. Since his departure following the 2005-06 season, the Leafs have had a revolving door of mediocre netminders who they have attempted to pass off as No. 1 goaltenders, including Andrew Raycroft, Vesa Toskala, Jonas Gustavsson and, most recently, Reimer, although the jury is still out on the latter.

It's a far cry from the late 1990s to early 2000s when they were perennial contenders while backstopped by Curtis Joseph.

In fairness to Burke, he can't solely be blamed for all the Leafs' goaltending woes over the last half-decade. It was his predecessor John Ferguson Jr. who, in hindsight, made Toronto's biggest recent gaffe with regards to goaltenders when he traded away top prospect Tuukka Rask to the Boston Bruins for Andrew Raycroft.

When Burke arrived in Toronto, he inherited Vesa Toskala and Joseph from the previous regime and didn't exactly have a stocked cupboard at the minor league level with Adam Munro, Justin Pogge and Reimer. Only Reimer is still with the organization today.

If Burke manages to nab Luongo, he would be landing one of the best goaltenders on the planet and would transform his team from pretenders to contenders, much like the Canucks did when they initially acquired three-time Vezina Trophy finalist back in the summer of 2006 from the Florida Panthers.

It's a chance the Leafs' GM can't afford not to take.