The Los Angeles Kings have a lot of question marks right now, but the biggest one might involve starting goalie Jonathan Quick and whether or not they can get him back to playing a winning brand of hockey. It is something he has not done since the start of last season when his play suddenly fell off a cliff in what would turn out to be — by far — the worst season of his career.
Things have not gotten any better this season where he has given up 19 goals in his first three starts (all Kings losses).
It is expected that backup Jack Campbell will get the start on Tuesday night when the Kings host the Carolina Hurricanes. It would be noteworthy because this is not a back-to-back situation. It is a home game against a top team — and one that is very dangerous offensively — and is the exact type of situation that you would expect a team to play their starting goalie.
But given the way their starter has played, that almost seems like an impossible option if winning is the primary objective.
Coach Todd McLellan recently expressed confidence in Quick, and it would also be fair to point out that the Kings’ defensive play in front of their goalies has been lacking for more than a year now. These are not the possession dominating, defensively smothering Kings that were winning Stanley Cups between 2012 and 2014. They are an older, slower team that is lacking in talent all over the ice. And while Campbell was in net for the Kings’ only two wins this season, he hasn’t exactly posted great individual numbers either.
But the fact remains that 19 goals against in three games to start a season is an almost unprecedented run of futility. The only other goalies since 1979 that have started a season that poorly were Wendell Young, Eddie Mio, Tony Esposito, and Grant Fuhr. And while the latter two names are Hall of Famers, it is important to remember all four of those performances came in the 1980s at the height of the NHL’s goal-scoring peak.
The Kings would almost certainly like to write this off as a bad slump and the perfect storm of circumstances to result in the worst stretch of Quick’s otherwise solid (and at times spectacular) career. If it were just these three games it might be easier to do that. That, however, is not the case. This has been happening for more than a year, while the other goalies on his own team (Campbell and Cal Petersen) have outperformed him.
So what can the Kings do here?
In the short-term, they have to keep playing the goalie that gives them the best chance to win, and right now that is Campbell.
But big picture?
The Kings have an interesting situation unfolding in net with Campbell and Petersen both signed for two more years after this one, while Petersen’s contract starting next year is a one-way deal. And while that only impacts the salary he makes if he plays in the AHL, it is still notable to see his contract structured in such a way.
With the Kings seemingly trying to rebuild (or needing to rebuild) a trade is something that should be explored. The problem is the market would seem to be extremely limited given the makeup of Quick’s contract. He is still signed for three more seasons after this one at a salary cap hit of $5.8 million per season, a steep price for a soon-to-be 34-year-old goalie whose best days are almost certainly behind him. What contending team is going to be in a position to take that on? The catch with that is after this season he only has $8.5 million in actual salary (over three years) remaining on his contract. But is that enough to entice a team to take that on?
If that does not get anywhere, there is the buyout option over the summer. According to CapFriendly the Kings would be on the hook for salary cap hits of $3.3 million, $3.8 million, and $4.3 million over the next three years, before $1 million cap hits between 2023 and 2026. The Kings already have a few million in dead cap money going to Dion Phaneuf’s buyout through 2023. If they bought out Quick, they would have more than $6 million in salary cap space going to plays not on the roster over the next three years.
The third option: Simply hope. Hope that he is fully healthy (an issue at times last season) and can get back to playing at an acceptable level for a starter so they can either move him, or give themselves a chance to win. That, however, would require a dramatic turnaround from what we have seen from him over the past 12 months.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.