LOS ANGELES — No matter how one feels or thinks about the big trade, for fans of the Los Angeles Kings, and for those who are, in any way, associated with the franchise, this one hurts.
Indeed, when the ice chips finally settled after the Kings 6-5 shootout win at Winnipeg on February 28, now-former Kings superstar goaltender Jonathan Quick ended up, not with the Columbus Blue Jackets, the team he was traded to by the Kings, but with the Kings’ Pacific Division rival, the Vegas Golden Knights.
The Golden Knights acquired Quick from the Blue Jackets in exchange for draft picks on March 2.
While there are hockey fans on both sides of the big trade, the outcry from opponents has been deafening, extremely bitter, even vitriolic, and in a few cases, threatening.
There is no question that Quick is a legendary, superstar goaltender who will go down in history as the greatest goaltender in Kings franchise history, up to this point. He was the first goaltender to win the Stanley Cup with the Kings, and he won it twice. He has a solid reputation as a great teammate and leader. He will undoubtedly be a first ballot Hall of Famer when he becomes eligible. Indeed, the achievements and accolades could go on and on, and this is what many fans are pointing to, claiming that he should never have been traded to any team…ever.
Kings General Manager Rob Blake spoke to the local media on March 1, and had nothing but praise for Quick.
“Jonathan Quick is the best goalie to have ever played in this organization, let alone the league,” he told the local media. “He’s taken this organization, along with a handful of [other] players, to the highest level, two different times. Throughout his career, we’ve been so thankful for what he’s been able to do for this organization, as a player and as a person—him and his family. We’re indebted to him for what he’s been able to do for us.”
Despite the tough circumstances, Blake knew that he had to make the deal to improve the team.
“We’ve been identifying needs as the season has progressed, and in certain areas,” he said. “We felt that the conversations near the trade deadline, particularly this year, you see a lot of movement prior to [the deadline] in the last week, so there have been lots of discussions. We felt that this type of move addressed the two situations we thought that needed to addressed on our team.”
“The team directed us in that,” he added. “They’ve played hard, they’ve been very competitive, and in different situations. Two very difficult road trips in the last month put us in a position that, as a staff, we needed to address needs we had identified to help this team push to the playoffs.”
As understandable as the tough circumstances are, and yes, Quick no longer wearing a Kings jersey still hurts, the fact is that Blake would be under just as much heavy fire if he failed to make a deal to upgrade the goaltending and defense to help the team during the current playoff push, which is exactly what the trade with Columbus is likely to do. After all, if they went into the post-season with their goaltending situation, they would likely make a very quick exit, heading for the golf courses.
In short, Blake was, as National Hockey League general managers often are, damned if he did, and damned if he didn’t.
As tough as it might be to look at right now, the fact is, Quick has not played well since the beginning of the season. To be sure, the Kings were a complete mess defensively during the first couple of months of the season, often hanging their goaltenders out to dry. But as the team improved defensively, the goaltending remained an issue. That resulted in Cal Petersen being placed on waivers and then being assigned to the Ontario Reign of the American Hockey League, where he continues to work to get his game back.
Quick remained with the team, while Pheonix Copley was called up from Ontario and has been very effective, while Quick continued to labor in goal.
In 31 games played (27 starts) Quick earned an 11-13-4 record, with a lofty 3.50 goals-against average. But the most telling statistic is Quick’s abysmal .876 save percentage.
Plain and simple, the fact is that Quick was simply not even close to getting the job done for the Kings this season.
In the trade with Columbus, goaltender Joonas Korpisalo joins the Kings with an 11-11-3 record (28 games played, 26 starts) on a bad team that’s well out of the playoff hunt. He earned a 3.17 goals-against average, but as with Quick, the most notable number is his save percentage, an excellent .917.
The save percentage, along with the fact that he was able to earn a .500 record on such a poor Columbus team that is ranked near the bottom of the league defensively this season, are strong indications that Korpisalo should be a solid upgrade in goal for the Kings, something they desperately need.
“The stability of Joonas, the confidence in his game, not dissimilar to the way Pheonix has been playing—the two will give us a good chance every game,” said Blake.
The Kings also filled their hole on the left side of their defensive core with the big, stay-at-home, very capable Vladimir Gavrikov, who will play the left side on the third defensive pair and probably on the second pair, as well.
“We’ve been looking over the different situations with right-handed and left-handed [defensemen],” Blake noted. “But the mold of the player—bigger, solid defensively, can play minutes, can play on the penalty-kill, and can check top players. When you talk about the West, as we go forward here, the teams all have good players. We rely on checking through a very structured system. [Korpisalo and Gavrikov] both come in and give us some added depth in those different areas.”
One potential drawback for the Kings would be if Korpisalo and/or Gavrikov do not sign contract extensions and become unrestricted free agents. But Blake didn’t seem to be too concerned.
“We understood that risk,” said Blake. “Last year was a little different scenario. We knew that the probability of the [contract] extension with [Kevin] Fiala, for moving that first [round draft pick]. We just felt that the team has put themselves in the position to be very competitive and challenge [for a playoff spot], and we wanted to help them do that.”
“There’s lot of time to work on different things with these players as the season progresses,” added Blake. “But there’s also the flexibility in the summer, and there’s also the unknowns with [next season’s] salary cap. We would like [to have] the ability to adjust that, if needed, as we move forward. But the main point is that the team has played very well, they’ve been very competitive, and they’ve put themselves in a position that, as a staff, we wanted to help them.”
“We haven’t had any of those conversations yet. We’ll see how things go. There are so many different variables. We’re more focused on getting [Gavrikov and Korpisalo] acclimated to our roster, in their spots, and to push for the playoffs.”
With the trade deadline fast approaching at noon PST on March 3, the Kings might not be done tinkering.
“We’ve gained cap space that will enable us to look at different moves,” said Blake. “I’m not certain anything [else] is going to happen, but there’s a lot of time left before the deadline, and you start to see different moves and different players who weren’t being talked about over the past couple of days become available. So we’re going to explore different options, as long as we’re pushing forward to make our team better.”
“Depth is the key word here…depth in different areas is what we’re looking at,” added Blake. “But it has to be the right fit, and it has to allow us to get better.”
LEAD PHOTO: Former Los Angeles Kings superstar goaltender Jonathan Quick, shown here during a 2019 practice at the Toyota Sports Performance Center in El Segundo, California. Photo by Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net.
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Refreshing. A level-headed and logical analysis of the JQ trade without allowing emotion to cloud the end result: Kings got better with this trade.
It’s true, Quick had been struggling the whole season. It unfortunate, because as a die hard Kings fan you realize how much he did for the team and organization. On the other hand you don’t want to cheat the players currently on the team but not making them better. A tough decision that had to be made.