What do Jonathan Bernier and Martin Jones have in common? They both won Stanley Cups on the bench in support of Jonathan Quick. Even saying that, there’s Quick, as you’d expect, dominating the near- and middle-term memories of Kings fans. But there’s a new person in town, and he’s rising (from the ashes, is the joke based on his name)—fast.
Pheonix Copley (yes, his first name is spelled right, or wrong but right the way his parents spell it) began with backup duties after Cal Petersen was dispatched to Ontario, California, and the AHL. Copley’s first start was a 5-2 win over Ottawa. He made 33 saves. He’s done almost nothing but win since, leading questions to pop up—with Petersen having flagged (or failed) in the LA net, is Copley “the guy” to replace Quick?
Copley came over from Washington, signing with the Kings in July 2022. And he has caught fire. Including that initial win, he has found himself starting eleven times total), and losing only twice, to Buffalo on December 13th and Boston on January 5th. In that span, his numbers are 2.66 GAA and .901 save percentage.
Is he a sensible succession plan, despite the limited sample size? He is 30, and has 42 games of NHL experience with a record of 25-11-3-1. Most of his near decade in the pros has been served in the AHL. The most he’s played is 41 games in a season with the Hershey Bears, in 2017-18, so didn’t look like a guy who can shoulder an everyday load. But what do you know? He’s doing it, and, as was said, winning. Is he the next long-term LA goalie? That’s a more complicated question than it sounds like.
Jack Campbell probably should have been the fellow sitting there waiting to take over. He was drafted by Dallas in 2010 and wasted by them. The Kings got him in trade in 2016. Nick Ebert went the other way. He has never played an NHL game. It was too early to even think about Quick stepping aside at that point.
Campbell did play 31 games in 2018-19 with the Kings, and 20 in 2019-20. Then he was shipped off to the Leafs with Kyle Clifford for Trevor Moore and picks in February of 2020. The Leafs were going to make a playoff run, remember? Campbell is on a five-year, five million per year deal with Edmonton now. He’s 30, like Copley. Had the Kings held on, well, who knows what conversation we’d be having right now? The two five-million-dollar men wouldn’t have the name “Petersen” amongst them, though.
But none of this is new, if your memory stretches back a ways. Maybe people forget how fraught with problems the Kings’ netminding duties were in the era pre-Quick. The names of some involved barely ring a bell anymore. Or at least, they don’t bring back fond moments in most cases. Stefane Fiset. Jamie Storr. Dan Cloutier. Sean Burke. Those are the good ones. Peter Budaj. Jhonas Enroth. JS Aubin. Marcel Cousineau. We could go on. Fans (and certainly management) hope those days don’t return soon, and Copley is the person who can ensure that outcome, though it’s pretty early to say so.
IH asked Coach McLellan what his crystal ball told him about the team’s netminding after a recent game. He said he didn’t have a crystal ball, then gave a good, detailed answer about the goalies.
“Our goaltending situation is going to be fine. We have three or four really good goaltenders in our organization, starting with Jonathan. Copley we believe is a tremendously talented goaltender. We went out and we needed to fill that hole in the summer, and obviously Cal’s finding his game down there … in Ontario, so he’s got to feel good and confident there. Matty V, Matty Villalta, for those of you who don’t know Matty V, he’s had a good season. Goaltenders can’t just be evaluated on numbers, and I think sometimes that happens. They have to be evaluated on how they get to the number and how the team allows the number. I’m thinking goals against average and save percentage, those types of things.”
Could Villalta be the future? He was drafted in 2017 by the Kings with the 72nd overall pick, in round three. Even if the numbers don’t matter, his have gone in the right direction every year he’s been in the pros after coming from the Soo Greyhounds. Maybe he’s getting seasoned for a big run. But only if Copley falls down.
A few weeks ago, there was a rumour that the Kings might be in on Thatcher Demko. The Kings need goaltending. Demko was the most prominent possible candidate out there. Put two and two together, and you’ve got something to chaw over. But anyway, Demko went down with what’s likely to be a somewhat lengthy injury, and that puts paid to that for the moment. Even if he comes back mid-January, no GM would be fool enough to take him in trade until his health is proved, right? Reports differ as to when he may return, with the mid-January hoped-for date now looking more like February.
Don’t be so sure. Remember that these, too, have been LA Kings goalies: Milan Hnilicka, Cristobal Huet, Mathieu Garon, and Manny Legace. That’s not to say they all stunk. But most were decidedly shorter-term solutions. Quick has been the only one with staying power since years prior to his debut. And now, perhaps, Copley.
So some details on him to round this out. He comes from North Pole, Alaska, which is why he’s a big fan of Christmas. (Though you should address your letters to Santa to Canada, like this: Santa Claus/North Pole/Canada/H0H 0H0). The latter is not a joke. Don’t forget to use a Global Forever stamp, not a US one.
On the ice, Copley is the technical type, not acrobatic like Quick. He uses that little shuffle step to go from side to side in his crease while looking around screens. He’s willing to come out of the net for the puck, and is quite mobile doing it, and like all goalies these days, he’s big at 6 foot 4, though only 200 pounds.
He wears #29, which puts him in good company—Dryden and Fleury company. Plus Jim Rutherford, when he played goal for LA in the early 1980s. So far, his wins have come against good teams, like Boston, Calgary, Dallas, Colorado, and Vegas. His 4-2 loss against Boston this week was not chargeable to him. He faced relatively few shots (22), but at least one took a crazy deflection. Two were scored within a minute, and that’s usually a matter of the team not resetting and defending, rather that the fault of the netminder.
So to sum up: it will be interesting to see which direction Copley’s efforts go in. Will he be a reversion to the Kings goaltending science experiment of the early 2000s, or a guy who seizes an opportunity he probably had no idea would be his a year ago.
Brian Kennedy is a member of the PHWA and the author of a number of hockey books including Growing Up Hockey.