Darn those Canucks. Didn't Vancouver's coaches know the Lightning was casting a covetous eye at goaltender Cory Schneider? Didn't they know Schneider was going to solve all the Lightning's problems?
Schneider during the Western Conference quarterfinal with the Kings has been elevated to No. 1, and reports out of Vancouver indicate the Canucks want to trade Roberto Luongo instead.
At the least, the cost of prying Schneider away has become prohibitive, which means Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman has some thinking to do as he tries to find Tampa Bay's first legitimate No. 1 — save for the five months in 2011 provided by Dwayne Roloson — since Nikolai Khabibulin backstopped the team to the 2004 Stanley Cup.
Is Luongo the answer? He was in net when Canada, a team assembled by Yzerman, won 2010 Olympic gold. Would the Kings' Jonathan Bernier be better? How about Nashville's Anders Lindback? And how will teams also pining for a No. 1 affect price and availability?
As for the commodities themselves …
Luongo: Never say never, but this seems the least likely option for Tampa Bay. He would provide a veteran presence and good stats: a career 2.52 goals-against average and .919 save percentage. But Luongo, with a no-trade clause, is 33 and two years into a 12-year, $64 million deal that pays $6.714 million the next six years and has a $5.33 million cap hit. Adding Luongo would mean he, Vinny Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos, Marty St. Louis and Ryan Malone would eat up more than $30 million in cap space, seemingly too much for a team needing major upgrades on the blue line and another top-six forward.
Bernier: He is the right age (24 on Aug. 7) to grow with the young stars, and his price ($1.525 million next season) is right. But is he ready after just 48 NHL games to carry the No. 1 load? His stats — 20-17-5, 2.50 goals-against average and .910 save percentage — say, well, maybe.
Lindback: With just 38 NHL games under his belt (16-13-2, 2.53, .914), Lindback, 24 on May 3, carries the same red flags as Bernier. But at 6 feet 6 (compared to Bernier's 5-11), his net coverage is a bonus. A pending restricted free agent who made $737,500 this season, he also would require a trade.
Free agents: A non-inspiring group includes one semi-intriguing option if Yzerman wants a stopgap until something better comes along. Josh Harding, 28 on June 18, has a career 2.65 goals-against average and .916 save percentage in 117 games, though in four full seasons with the Wild has not been able to elevate to the top spot.
In the system: Dustin Tokarksi of AHL Norfolk proved this season he is not ready for the NHL. The Lightning owns the rights to Russian Vasily Koshechkin and Finland's Riku Helenius, on whom it used the 15th overall draft pick in 2006. Neither seems to be in Tampa Bay's immediate plans, and as assistant GM Julien BriseBois noted, the NHL at present does not have transfer agreements with either country.
All of which brings the Lightning back to the original premise: Darn those Canucks.