Goaltenders Jonathan Quick and Peter Budaj both skated in the optional practice and after the skate, Budaj spoke exclusively with Frozen Royalty, and it was clear that he had no idea that a trade involving him was coming down just a few hours later. Either that, or he put in an Oscar-caliber performance during the interview in which he spoke of what he was able to accomplish with the Kings this season.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “I’m very thankful for [the opportunities the Kings have given him since he joined the franchise last season]. I worked hard, but still, I had to get the breaks. Thank God I stayed healthy, that I was able to play and get a chance to play in as many games as I did. It’s just a great feeling. I’m very, very thankful for that.”
Indeed, after Quick was injured during the first game of this season, Budaj was recalled and quickly won the starting job from then-backup goaltender Jeff Zatkoff. Since then, Budaj earned a 27-20-3 record, with a .912 save percentage, a 2.12 goals-against average and seven shutouts—outstanding numbers.
In short, Budaj did more than help keep the Kings in the hunt for a playoff spot while Quick recovered from a long-term groin injury.
“I never thought, two years ago, that this would be the situation that I would be in, so this is amazing,” said the 34-year-old native of Banska Bystrica, Slovakia. “I’m very excited to be here. I’m enjoying every moment, trying to work hard. No matter what my role is, I’m here and I’m excited to help the team win games and try to be the best teammate I can be.”
“It’s just a great feeling,” added Budaj. “Hopefully, we can keep pushing. That’s what we want to do. We have a common goal—to make the playoffs. I want to contribute as much as I can in whatever role they put me in—whatever situation I’m going to be in, I want to help. It’s a team sport.”
“It was the same way with [Zatkoff]. He was very helpful to me. He was very positive and he worked very hard. He was s great teammate and he really helped me through his attitude and the way he approached the game, so I have to thank him, too. I want to be the same thing with whatever happens with [Quick]. I want to be there—whatever he needs. You’re playing for the logo in front, not the name on the back.”
Budaj earned high praise from his teammates and coaches alike.
“Obviously, having Quickie, we know we can trust him,” right wing Tyler Toffoli said after Quick returned to the lineup on February 25 to help lead the Kings to a 4-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks at Staples Center in Los Angeles. “We knew we could trust [Budaj], too. It doesn’t really make a difference.”
“Peter Budaj has given us a lot of quality starts this year,” said head coach Darryl Sutter. “When you look at it, we were fortunate to still be in the playoff race. If it wasn’t for his 27 wins in 58 or 59 starts, whatever he’s got—that hasn’t been a problem for us. The problem has been the other guy starting. Coming into tonight, we only have one win from another starter. This is our second one tonight [against Anaheim].”
Budaj has been humbled by the praise.
“It means a lot when your teammates and coaches say nice things about you,” he noted. “It feels good and I’m glad about the way things have gone and how they’ve worked out for me. It was a tough situation for everybody. We lost Quickie. He’s the backbone of this team. He’s arguably one of the top two goaltenders in this league.”
“When that happened with Quickie, it was a big blow for the team,” he added. “But we stuck together. The guys believed in me and fought hard for me. It takes all twenty guys. You win as a team and you lose as a team, so you’ve got to be thankful for your teammates, too.”
“It was great for me. I’m just enjoying this. It’s a huge blessing for me. I know this doesn’t happen often and I’m happy for the guys because this isn’t a reflection on one guy. It’s a reflection on the whole team.”
Despite the praise for his contributions, it appears his last eight outings played a significant role in the Kings decision to trade him, defenseman prospect Erik Cernak, a seventh round pick in the 2017 National Hockey League Draft and a conditional 2017 draft pick to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for goaltender Ben Bishop and a fifth round pick in the 2017 draft.
As reported by ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, the Lightning will retain 20 percent of Bishop’s salary.
Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi made it clear that he believes his team needed more than what Budaj could offer them in goal, and it seems logical to assume that, even though there was plenty of blame to go around, Budaj’s 2-6-0 record, 3.02 GAA and .904 save percentage in his last eight games—all rather pedestrian numbers—shook the Kings confidence in him for the big push for the playoffs that has to start tonight.
“It’s probably safe to say, going down the stretch here, we feel that we’d better have a number one goalie every night,” he said. “Peter did a good job for us, stopping what you’re supposed to stop. But I think, if you’re looking at these last 24 games, some of the things I saw, in particular, in the last couple of weeks, the thing was to make sure that we have a number one in there every night.”
Equally important, there are concerns about Quick’s durability after coming back from injury and trying to play as many games as he had earlier in his career.
“I think it’s not that complicated,” said Lombardi. “Obviously, we have Jon coming back. However, I think there’s a number of concerns. Number one, you’re never sure how well a guy who’s been out this long—is he going to have his A-Game, so to speak, or not? These types of injuries, which are fairly serious, the history of comebacks can go either way. That’s the first thing.”
“On the other hand, we all know that Jon’s a tremendous athlete,” added Lombardi. “He’s one of the top goaltenders in the game and most importantly, he’s one of the game’s top competitors. So you certainly don’t worry about Jon in that once he passes the mental part that ‘I’m capable of doing athletically what I have in the past’ that he’s going to be able to give his all.”
“I also think that, when you’ve been out this long, that to think you’re going to ride this like on a ratio of the past and playing Jon 70 games, I think that’s totally impractical. Number one, I don’t think it’s the best way to break in a guy who’s been out this long, and you look at the condensed schedule of three-in-four nights, and number two, quite frankly, I don’t think it’s good at any time. I think the days of playing Jon Quick 70 games, like we did two years ago, makes no sense in terms of not only letting him play at his best, but also making sure that you have a player of his caliber extending his career and not wearing him out so he’s at the top of his game and he’s able to get the proper rest. So that all kind of ties into that short window here.”
Bishop was Lombardi’s prime target all along.
“In terms of Bish, he was the number one target that we felt that this is not an insurance policy,” he said. “No. He needs to play, and like I said, we looked at the schedule here. Preferably, I would’ve been able to do this deal two weeks ago, but this is just the way trade deadline deals seem to work.”
“Best case scenario, assuming Jon is at the top of his game, what’s the best number of games to play him? We had sketched that out, and said, ‘you know what? It makes a lot of sense for him, but we better get essentially another number one,” he added. “So, like I said, this is not an insurance policy. It is a way that we think can make sure that Jon is broken in properly…and make sure we’re in position here to win every game, because every game down the stretch here is critical. Let’s face it, there’s not a lot of room here for error, and we just want to take that out of the equation by making sure that we have a number one goalie in there every night.”
LEAD PHOTO: Former Los Angeles Kings goaltender Peter Budaj (left) with Kings goalie Jonathan Quick during a recent practice. Photo: David Sheehan/CaliShooterOne Photography.
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