There are still a handful of significant names on the NHL's summer trade and free agent markets, among them wingers Bobby Ryan of the Anaheim Ducks (trade), Shane Doan of the Phoenix Coyotes and Alexander Semin of the Washington Capitals (free agents), but with the likes of Rick Nash, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Matt Carle having found new homes, Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo is clearly the biggest prize left on the board.
Unlike the uncertainty that existed around Nash (and continues to exist around Ryan), there are no illusions that Luongo will be in Vancouver when the 2011-12 season starts. Cory Schneider is the Canucks' starting goaltender, and Luongo is moving on. However, the Canucks still want to get the best deal they can for their former starting goaltender, and with the Florida Panthers, Chicago Blackhawks and Toronto Maple Leafs most prominently linked to Luongo, it's fair to ask which team makes the most sense as a destination for the All-Star netminder.
The Blackhawks are probably the least likely destination for Luongo, based simply on the fact that the Canucks don't want to strengthen a conference rival if they can avoid it, which they certainly can with the Leafs and Panthers in the hunt. It is worth noting, however, that Chicago has a pretty well-stocked prospect pipeline, with four of the top 60 prospects in the league according to The Hockey News, and since the Canucks are maintaining the nucleus of a team that won the President's Trophy last year, stocking for the future can certainly be a priority for Vancouver in any Luongo deal.
The problem for Chicago, however, is that Florida's system is even more stacked, ranked second in the NHL by The Hockey News and headlined by center Jonathan Huberdeau of the QMJHL's Saint John Sea Dogs. Huberdeau has been mentioned regularly in trade rumors surrounding Luongo, and Jesse Spector of The Sporting News opined on Wednesday that a package of a quality prospect, a backup goalie and a reliable NHL skater should be enough to pry Luongo from British Columbia.
Of course, the Panthers have a highly touted goaltending prospect of their own in Jacob Markstrom, which might affect their urgency in acquiring Luongo. The Maple Leafs are in no such position. Ben Scrivens is among the team's top 10 prospects, but he doesn't project as a goaltender on Luongo's level. The Leafs have also done a solid job getting their prospect pipeline in order with players like Joe Colborne, Tyler Biggs, Greg McKegg and Stuart Percy, and have enough talent up front that the addition of Luongo would be a huge difference-maker. Toronto can certainly put up a package every bit as attractive as what Florida can offer, and while the pressure-cooker environment at the Air Canada Centre may not be appetizing for Luongo, the fans will be so happy to get back in the playoffs that he can be forgiven a playoff meltdown or two before getting it together for good.
In short, Florida remains the public frontrunner, but don't rule out Toronto.