In the end, they circled back, as the whole hockey world knew they would. The standoff that began months ago came down to one last hour of dramatic back and forth.
The Vancouver Canucks lowered their demands in a Roberto Luongo deal in the final 60 minutes before Wednesday’s 3 p.m. ET trade deadline, but apparently not enough to persuade the Toronto Maple Leafs to swallow the star goalie’s massive contract.
Sources tell ESPN.com that the Canucks were willing to unload Luongo on Toronto for goalie Ben Scrivens and a pair of second-round picks in their final, final offer before the minutes ticked away.
The answer was still no by Toronto, which thought all along that no other team in the NHL was even remotely interested in Luongo and, because of that, the Canucks essentially should be giving him away.
Not that Vancouver’s last offer wasn’t close. I suspect that if the Canucks had been willing to retain a bit of Luongo’s salary in the trade -- a new feature in this collective bargaining agreement -- the Leafs might have pulled the trigger.
So they were somewhat close to a trade, which is why the Canucks pulled Luongo off the ice in Vancouver before the end of practice just in case they got a deal done and needed the netminder to sign off on waiving his no-trade clause.
But there was no deal.
And now both franchises have a gamble in front of them:
• Toronto, because it heads into the playoffs without experience in goal.
• Vancouver, because now it must figure out what to do with Luongo in the offseason, when there will be more competition on the goalie market. Ryan Miller most likely will be on the trade block, ditto for Jonathan Bernier and perhaps Mike Smith will hit free agency.
The failure of the Canucks and the Leafs to reach a Luongo deal, however, will no doubt fuel bigger-picture conclusions and storylines from many.
Let’s face it, Leafs GM Dave Nonis and Canucks GM Mike Gillis don’t like each other, the latter replacing the former as GM in Vancouver.
Which no doubt will lead some people to wonder whether Nonis always wanted to string the Canucks along, only to leave them holding the bag on deadline day. Leafs sources vehemently denied that.
After all, it was pointed out by a Leafs source, they actually had a tentative deal in place with the Calgary Flames to get Miikka Kiprusoff, only to have the veteran netminder decide he just wasn’t up to moving to Toronto. The Leafs found out from the goalie Wednesday morning. The Leafs will tell you that they really believed "Kipper" would have been the perfect solution, a veteran who could have come in and helped bring James Reimer and Scrivens along.
Luongo just wasn’t Plan A, Toronto says.
And we got this far into this story without touching on Luongo himself. I feel for this guy. He’s a fierce competitor. The hurt in his eyes and his voice was obvious to anyone watching his news conference Wednesday. When he said he wished he could rip up his huge contract, I can tell you that he meant it.
He asked for a move last summer because he respects Cory Schneider and felt it was time for his younger teammate to take over in net for Vancouver.
Now Luongo has to hang in for the rest of the season, way longer than he probably ever anticipated his stay in Vancouver to last when he asked the Canucks to try to move him last summer. And he faces an uncertain future that no doubt worries him greatly.
So, in the end, not a whole lot of people happy in this equation on this day:
• The Leafs didn’t get a veteran goalie.
• The Canucks still have too many goalies.
• And Luongo, who has been nothing but the pro throughout all this, has to show a brave face for the rest of the season while dying inside.
Oh, and this story is far from over. See you in June.
Other nuggets from deadline day:
• Ben Bishop generated a ton of interest, with a half-dozen teams calling Ottawa on Wednesday. The final three contestants, sources say, were Edmonton, Philadelphia and Tampa Bay.
The Oilers, I’m told, offered Ryan Jones and a draft pick -- not good enough for the Senators. The Flyers? They balked when the Sens asked for young center Sean Couturier straight-up for Bishop. When Philly said no thanks (and somewhat surprisingly later dealt for Steve Mason instead), the Senators had their deal -- and a good one -- in Cory Conacher and a fourth-round pick from the Lightning. This is a win-win for both clubs. The Sens get a promising top-six rookie forward, and the Bolts add another potential No. 1 goalie to go along with Anders Lindback. Tampa doubled its chances of finding at least one No. 1 goalie between them. Brilliant move by Tampa GM Steve Yzerman.
• Raffi Torres generated sizable interest on this day. The Canucks and Montreal Canadiens were among several clubs that made offers on the gritty checking winger, both hoping to add his physical presence in their bottom-six forward group. But the Phoenix Coyotes liked San Jose’s offer best, a third-round pick that is actually Florida’s pick (sent to San Jose in the Ryane Clowe deal from the Rangers the previous day).
• People will be perplexed by the Marian Gaborik deal from a Rangers angle but I think it’s a good move. By taking Gaborik’s $7.5 million salary off the books for next season, the Rangers gained payroll flexibility to not only help re-sign some of their key restricted free agents (such as Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh and Carl Hagelin), but also give themselves a better shot at affording a re-signing opportunity with pending unrestricted free agent Clowe.
And, let’s face it, Gaborik might very well become a dangerous goal scorer in Columbus again, but it wasn’t going to happen under John Tortorella in New York. Those two could no longer share a bench.
Finally, as it turns out, quite a busy day in the final two hours. Whenever we think it’s going to be a quiet deadline day, NHL GMs still find a way to make it interesting.