An icon stands between Moose’s Schneider and an NHL gig

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IMAGINE for a moment that you've trained pretty much your entire life to earn a specific job. You've matured, put in the countless hours to hone your craft and feel ready to finally take the next step to fulfil your dream.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/05/2009 (4856 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

IMAGINE for a moment that you’ve trained pretty much your entire life to earn a specific job. You’ve matured, put in the countless hours to hone your craft and feel ready to finally take the next step to fulfil your dream.

Only one problem: The guy who currently holds down the job you’re seeking just happens to be widely considered the best. In the world. Eeep!

Welcome to Cory Schneider’s world.

Indeed, as the concurrent NHL and AHL playoffs reveal themselves, here’s a question to ponder: How frustrating might it be for the Manitoba Moose netminder, his team’s undisputed MVP, to be in the fold of the Canucks, who just happen to employ Roberto Luongo, now viewed as perhaps this era’s pre-eminent goaltender?

Well, the short answer is, "Those are the breaks, kid."

"Schneider, it wasn’t his choice that he was picked by Vancouver (26th overall, 2004)," said Moose head coach Scott Arniel. "It’s the hand he’s dealt and he just has to keep proving to people that he can play at the next level."

And that’s exactly what the 23-year­old Schneider has done, and continues to do, with the Moose advancing to the second round of the AHL post-season.

But it’s not just Schneider, of course.

And, of course, scenarios can change dramatically with each series. But at the moment, the Canucks, now engaged in battle with Jonathan Toews’ Chicago Blackhawks, don’t look like a team with a "Help Wanted" shingle out at the moment.

The Nucks are deep and experienced on defence. They’re loaded with the likes of the Sedin twins, Mats Sun­din, Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows, joined by key contributors such as Kyle Wellwood, Pavol Demitra and Steve Bernier. They’ve got role players like Rick Rypien and Darcy Hordichuk out the ying-yang.

So where’s a young, ambitious Moose to go?

Well, pretty much anywhere, accord­ing to Arniel.

"The other side of it," he suggested, "with the (NHL) salary cap, you need more of those players that are making $475,000 or $500,000. You need those players if all of a sudden you’ve got a veteran guy on your third or fourth line or your sixth or seventh defence­man who are making $1 million or $1.5 million. Then you go, ‘Well, with the development of the guy in Manitoba, can we bring him in to be a piece of that puzzle next year?’ "Those guys gave them a lot of relief salary-wise," Arniel added. "Sure, when they become (proven) NHL players they’re going to look for the bigger dollars. But when you look at every NHL roster and see their third and fourth lines and their fifth, sixth, seventh defencemen I’ll guarantee you most of them are sitting at the minimum $475,000 or $700,000. And they’re going to be the guys that help you at cap time when you have to re­sign somebody that’s one of your top players or a free agent."

Hello, Mats Sundin. Hey, want to re­sign the Sedin twins in the off-season to a huge pay hike from $3.5 mil each? Great. But it will open the door for at least one prospect happy to draw a minimum wage.

"That’s kind of the evolution of the NHL now," Arniel said. "It’s scoop from below and feed them in. You look at all the teams, and they talk about all the good young players in the NHL right now.

"A lot of it has come because of the salary cap. It’s forced general man­agers — where they usually leave their kids for three or four years (in the minors) — now they’re taking them after two years. Now they’re taking them after one year in the minors.

"To me it’s hope for these guys. It’s all opportunity. They know this is hap­pening."

So Arniel’s message is simple and straightforward. "I always believe that if you go out and take care of your business, if you do what you need to do, your opportunity is going to come."

After all, the Canucks might be the Moose’s parent club, but adoption is always an option in today’s ever­changing, salary-sensitive NHL.

Reasoned Moose GM Craig Heis­inger: "As long as you’re in the Amer­ican Hockey League, whether you’re on a PTO (limited game contract), an AHL contract or an NHL contract, you’re always auditioning for the 29 other teams, not just the Vancouver Canucks. You’re trying to be an NHL player and there’s pro scouts jammed at all these playoff games. They’re not here for no reason. They’re watching everybody.

"There’s deals at the (trade dead­line), there’s deals at the draft. Every­body’s always looking for good players and if you don’t fit into one organiza­tion, you can always fit into another."

Which brings us, fittingly, back to the aforementioned Schneider. Will the Canucks, as expected, lock up Luongo with an ultra-lucrative contract exten­sion?

Will they deal Schneider on draft day if the youngster’s rising stock has peaked?

Or this long shot: Trade Luongo, bring up Schneider, and use the found cap space to ink the Sedins.

So there’s no end of options for the Canucks, many of them enviable.

Come to think of it, there’s a world of possibilities awaiting Schneider, too.

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

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