He plays goal in a hockey-mad market. He is a former first-round pick. He signed an extension in the summer. He is a future star but has been a career No. 2. The man he has been backing up is presumably out of the picture.
But like Tuukka Rask, Vancouver’s Cory Schneider is in limbo because of unsettled negotiations between the NHL and the NHL Players Association.
It has been a peculiar summer for Schneider and Rask. Schneider, who signed a three-year, $12 million extension July 1, has seemingly replaced Roberto Luongo as Vancouver’s starting goalie. Schneider backed up Luongo for the first two postseason games against Los Angeles last spring. But after two straight losses, Schneider replaced Luongo for the last three games of the series, which the Canucks lost.
Both team and player have acknowledged that a trade — Florida and Toronto are possible destinations for Luongo — would serve both parties well.
Like the Canucks, the Bruins would prefer to trade their former No. 1 to clear cap space. Rask opted for a one-year, $3 million bridge deal. Once Tim Thomas declared his intentions to sit out 2012-13, Rask assumed the starting role in Boston.
It’s unclear, however, just exactly when either Rask or Schneider will occupy the crease.
“I’ve been preparing all summer as if I’m going to be the starting guy and play a lot of games,” Schneider said. “If we come back to some kind of shortened schedule, then we’ll have to adjust.
“It’s tough because I’m eager to get back, be a part of the city, and take a more prominent role on that team. Hopefully it will happen on time. If not, I just need to be patient, make sure I’m sharp, and that I’m ready whenever we do start.
“I can’t have a slow start or use any kind of stoppage as an excuse. Right from the get-go, I have to have a good start and use that momentum throughout the year.”
Schneider, a Marblehead native and three-year Boston College standout, lives in the North End during the offseason. His neighbors include several Bruins. Most recently, Schneider has been skating at Rockland’s Mark Bavis Arena alongside several ex-Eagles, including Brooks Orpik and Mike Mottau.
In the next few days, regardless of how negotiations proceed between the NHL and NHLPA, Schneider will travel to Vancouver for pre-camp training. Many of his teammates will do the same. They have been instructed to proceed as if camp will begin on time.
Schneider, 26, has yet to decide what he will do if an extended lockout takes place. He has never dressed for more than 33 games in one NHL season. But Schneider, who is on a one-way contract, will most likely not be eligible for the AHL if the league locks out the players. To stay sharp, he would have to seek employment elsewhere.
Schneider, more than other players, can influence negotiations. He is one of 31 players on the NHLPA’s negotiating committee, and has participated in bargaining sessions and meetings. The committee helped executive director Don Fehr draft the initial proposal submitted to the league.
Schneider began skating in June, earlier than his usual summer schedule, under the watch of longtime goaltending coach Brian Daccord. Schneider intensified his offseason workouts to prepare, physically and mentally, for a greater workload. In previous years, Canucks coach Alain Vigneault hasn’t hesitated to ride his starter. Luongo made 70-plus appearances in 2006-07 and 2007-08.
Last year, Schneider went 20-8-1 with a 1.96 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage. Eddie Lack, who projects to be Schneider’s backup, has never made an NHL appearance, so it’s possible that Schneider could double his 2011-12 appearances if there is a full season.
“Physically, I was just trying to condition my body to hold up to a heavier workload,” Schneider said. “Mentally, you have to have that attitude that you’re the guy. You want to take on that responsibility and take on that challenge.
“Especially in a city like Vancouver, where it is such a big deal. It’s more exciting for me. It makes it more fun. It’s a great opportunity that I’m hoping I can take full advantage of.”
That’s assuming a new collective bargaining agreement is in place.
“I’m sure there are things we can come to an agreement on that we didn’t consider at first,” Schneider said. “But we’re not going to say yes just to say yes.
“We’re united. I think the players are really prepared and really organized. Don’s done a great job keeping everyone informed. Nobody’s panicking. Nobody’s going to fall apart here just because we’re not looking so good a few weeks before camp’s supposed to start.
“I know every guy in the league wants to play on time. Every guy in the league wants to report to camp in 2-3 weeks and get the season going. It’s going to be tough on everyone. But I think we’ve all been prepared for contingency plans.”
Summer work paid very well
It has been a busy and lucrative summer for the Orr Hockey Group. Paul Krepelka and Rick Curran, two of Bobby Orr’s agents, have negotiated $160 million worth of new contracts. Of that sum, almost $140 million came in the form of three deals: extensions to Jordan Staal, Jeff Skinner, and Taylor Hall.
Clearly, Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford deserves at least a fruit basket in December.
The Hurricanes, who missed the playoffs the last three seasons, were committed to reloading. Their first move was a blockbuster (no, not the Joe Corvo signing, wiseguys). On June 22, Carolina acquired Staal from Pittsburgh for Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumoulin, and a 2012 first-round pick.
Staal has one more year ($4 million annual cap hit) remaining on his current contract. But before the trade, Pittsburgh offered him a 10-year extension. Staal declined. The Hurricanes, aiming to build on the trade’s momentum, signed Staal to a 10-year, $60 million deal modeled after Pittsburgh’s offer.
For the Hurricanes, acquiring and extending Staal wasn’t only a hockey operations move. It was about business and public relations. Carolina is a small-market club. It had to signal to fans, potential customers, and prospective free agents that it is committed to improving the roster.
Locking up Staal wasn’t enough. The Hurricanes pursued Zach Parise and Shea Weber in free agency. They struck out. So they turned to Skinner, the 2010-11 Calder Trophy winner. The Hurricanes could have waited until the next CBA, when second contracts, like the one due Skinner, might be subject to controls. Instead, Skinner agreed to a six-year, $34.75 million extension.
“Going into the CBA coming up, we’d rather do a long-term deal knowing and understanding the current landscape, not knowing what lies ahead,” Krepelka said. “It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the new CBA might not be worth it for the players.
“It’s not going to be better. It happens in every CBA, no matter what sport it is. The players always end up giving back.
“We’re fortunate the organization was great. Some organizations want to wait and see. But this wasn’t just the agent saying, ‘Hey, let’s do it.’ Those guys sat down and thought about the numbers and the term. It made sense for both the player and the organization.”
The Skinner deal helped set up an extension for Hall, the first overall pick in 2010. Like Skinner, Hall is entering the third year of his entry-level contract. The Oilers could have waited. But in the NHL, when one young player signs, a comparable is quick on his heels. Especially when the same agency represents those two players.
Former Hershey teammates Chris Bourque and Keith Aucoin have been skating together on the South Shore. Both forwards will be in tough spots if training camps are scrubbed. Bourque needs every chance to show the Bruins bosses that he’s worthy of a bottom-six job. Aucoin, who played a valuable fourth-line role for Washington against the Bruins in last year’s first round, is in a similar position. If camps are shortened, neither will get the look he deserves. Coaches will be itching to reduce their rosters to workable sizes. The result will be rapid AHL assignments. Bourque and Aucoin are on two-way contracts and must clear waivers to be assigned to farm clubs.
In hindsight, the NHL wasted more than a month of everybody’s time in labor negotiations. On July 13, the NHL submitted its first proposal to the NHLPA — one, it’s now clear, that was a downright insult. The proposal included components such as reducing the player share of hockey-related revenue to 43 percent; requiring 10 years of service before players are eligible for unrestricted free agency; and five-year limits on contracts. The NHLPA needed more than a month to study the proposal and counter it. On Tuesday, the NHL filed its second proposal, which should have been its initial offer. “The owners’ initial proposal was way out of whack,” Krepelka said. “It didn’t serve any purpose whatsoever. It was ridiculous and detrimental to the process. It set a bad tone to the negotiations.”
The sense around the league is that North American-born players will initially stay put if a lockout takes place. If an extended lockout is anticipated, only then would American and Canadian players consider playing in Europe. One of the biggest issues would be securing insurance in case of injuries. If a player suffers an injury while playing overseas, his NHL team would not be responsible to pay his salary when the lockout concludes. Each player must negotiate his policy — variables include age, existing medical conditions, and destination — with his new temporary employer. Depending on the variables, policies can cost up to $12,000 per every million dollars of a player’s NHL contract. In most cases, the club will pay for the insurance, which is usually offset by a smaller salary.
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Montreal’s P.K. Subban and Washington’s John Carlson are both mobile, right-shot defensemen. They have both played top-pairing playoff minutes against the Bruins — Carlson last year with Karl Alzner, Subban two seasons ago with Hal Gill. They are both unsigned and off their entry-level contracts. They will most likely continue in lockstep with their next deals. Subban (21 goals, 55 assists in 160 career games) and Carlson (17 goals, 58 assists in 186 games) are nearly identical comparables. Appropriately, they should receive similar extensions, with one signing shortly after the other. Subban plays a more in-your-face style than Carlson but takes more risks in all three zones. It will be interesting to see how the defensemen develop under new coaches — Michel Therrien in Subban’s case, Adam Oates for Carlson. While Subban struggled when Randy Cunneyworth was behind the Canadiens bench, Carlson became better once Dale Hunter replaced Bruce Boudreau in Washington.
Four members of the NHLPA’s negotiating committee are unrestricted free agents: Shane Doan, Mathieu Darche, Dominic Moore, and Chris Campoli. Doan is awaiting clarity on Phoenix’s ownership situation. He has multiple offers if he opts out of re-upping with the Coyotes. But the other three haven’t received offers to their liking. If negotiations turn sour, Darche, Moore, and Campoli might have trouble finding work, during or after a lockout . . . The NHL Alumni Association, based in Toronto, is scheduled to open a local office in Marlborough’s New England Sports Center. The Marlborough office will serve the heavy concentration of alums who have settled in New England . . . According to NHLPA director of communications Jonathon Weatherdon, none of the league’s French-Canadian players have asked for translations of negotiations. This service has been provided in previous years. Somewhat surprising, given the complexity of the proposals, that the Quebec lads have not sought translations . . . Nathan Horton was scheduled to return to Boston this weekend. Horton did not suffer any postconcussion-syndrome symptoms during his summer workouts. The question will be how he reacts to contact during camp. The season-ending hit Horton received from Philadelphia’s Tom Sestito last January was a love tap compared with the Aaron Rome cannonball that halted the right wing’s Cup run in 2011 . . . If both sides cared about their consumers, they would release details of their respective proposals. These are complicated documents drafted by lawyers and accountants. It’s just about impossible for fans to gauge negotiations based on leaked snippets and precise spin. Nothing like transparency . . . Later this month, Bob Ryan’s friends at the Globe will honor his achievements with a party at The Four’s across from TD Garden. In case a lockout affects the joint, we’ll have to line its pockets with a grand celebration. Ryan is a first-line talent with a fourth-liner’s grinding work ethic . . . Cecilia Giminez was the woman who claimed responsibility last month for a botched fresco restoration in Spain. The fresco, depicting Jesus, was transformed from icon to punch line under Giminez’s restorative touch. Turns out the French translation of “Cecilia Giminez” is “Pierre Gauthier.”