“It’s a business.” With the trade deadline approaching and trades happening, I’ve heard this from hockey people, and even a couple of players, over the past few days and weeks. The words are often accompanied by a shrug of the shoulders, because when a favored player is moved along, there’s a sense of loss. And helplessness. Of course someone new is coming in the door, so there’s expectation, too.
That’s exactly the week of the LA Kings. Fans and insiders alike were shocked to hear that Jonathan Quick, who won at least one of LA’s cups singlehandedly (as signaled by his Conn Smythe Trophy from 2012), is gone. At first, it looked like he was a member of the cellar-dwelling (Bedard hopefuls) Columbus Blue Jackets, because that’s where he was sent, in exchange for Joonas Korpisalo, a goalie, and Vladislav Gavrikov, a defenseman.
The move left the Kings and their world stunned, an effect that they are still getting over. The trade happened early on the morning of March 1st, but it was still on people’s minds later the next day, after the Kings beat Montreal. Defenseman Sean Walker said, “It’s tough, and the mood was obviously very off for a day or so. . . . At the end of the day you’ve got to bear down, put that stuff aside, and go out and win games. You can’t think on it; you can’t dwell on it; you’ve just got to move forward.”
So let’s get it out of the way: Why these two? Gavrikov has been described as a “rugged blueliner,” and who can’t use those, especially with the intensity of the playoffs and the way players tend to get injured. McLellan said a fair bit about him and his fit with the group after his first game Thursday, but his short summation, “Strength, power, we needed that,” sums up nicely what Gavrikov brings to LA.
For his part, Korpisalo is a strong netminder, though his numbers aren’t fantastic. The stats: 3.17 GAA and .913 save percentage. But this on a team (the Blue Jackets) that is minus-66 in goal differential and has allowed more goals than all but three other NHL teams. It’s kind of the John Gibson phenomenon. He can be as good as great, but when his team is lacking defensively in front of him, and when they don’t outscore that problem, they’re not gonna have highlight numbers in terms of defensive stinginess. Hence poor stats for the goalie, no matter how well he plays.
Anyway, why did they need a netminder, with Pheonix Copley playing so well? His numbers are a bit funny in the save percentage area at .899 (coming into Thursday night) and good in the GAA at 2.82, but look at his record: 18-4-2. Korpisalo is 11-11-3. Again, on a team that finds a way to lose most nights. And Copley was just signed to a one-year extension. Quick, by the way, sports a 3.50 GAA and a .876 save percentage this year. His career is obviously much more sterling than that, at 2.46 and .911.
So what’s with the acquisition? Is Korpisalo there as a secure second option? One person who knows the team well told me that he’s there to play. I’m not quite sure what this is based on. McLellan was asked about the two netminders after Thursday’s 3-2 win over the Habs. He reported that he said to Copley, “Hey, you’ve done a real good job, and you’re going to continue to do a real good job. And it takes a full team to win. And right now, he’s got what, 19 wins, 20 wins, and it’s hard to argue with that. We haven’t come in and said, ‘Hey, Korpisalo is our number one guy.’ What we’ve said is ‘Korpisalo is part of our team. Copley is part of our team,’ and they’re both important, and they’re both going to play.” Note that what they didn’t say that Quick could carry the load.
As for leading the team to the Cup, neither Korpisalo nor Copley has any real playoff experience, though Korpisalo did get into the post-season with Columbus a few years back. So the new guy doesn’t have an edge, really. And the fact is, the new guy hasn’t ever carried the load during the season, never playing more than 37 games in any of his NHL seasons.
So how will the team divvy up and assign their play? Here’s the coach again: “I was asked the question this morning if it’s ten games apiece. I don’t know if it’s ten games or not. I just know that they’re both important.”
And so to the point you knew would come eventually: the adoration of Quick. Long time TV color commentator and former player Jim Fox was nearly in tears talking about the trade and reminiscing on what the goalie who wore 32 meant to the Kings. Captain Anze Kopitar looked stunned when he talked about the loss. He and Drew Doughty now remain the only links to the 2012 and 2014 Cup teams. And they might face their old buddy in the playoffs.
Playoffs? Columbus? If it’s any consolation, Quick won’t have to hang with a gang of losers as he finishes out this last of his contracted seasons, because the Blue Jackets quickly flipped him to Vegas. For what? Goalie Michael Hutchinson and a seventh-round draft pick in 2025. That’s a long time away and a long way down the draft board. Anyway, Quick will wear the sweater that many great netminders have—well, maybe one (Fleury)—the one that shows the Knight head. Will he play? Given the numbers, you might think not, but he’s a better bet than Hutchinson would have been, having been in the league a decade and played but 137 games. His stats, lest the goalie union object to their omission: 2.79 GAA and .905 save percentage. Actually not too shabby. He’s got to be a little let down given that Vegas has at least a fair chance of doing something in the playoffs but that he’s now with a team with no hope.
Vegas is desperate for netminding, by the way. Their first (Robin Lehner), second (Logan Thompson), and third (Adin Hill) string goalies are all either hurt long term or have had injury woes lately. Even their fourth-string call-up (Laurent Broissant) is injured. So they need a body.
Thus in some ways we’ve got a four-player, three-team round of goalies with little experience and almost no success on the big stage—except Quick. And he’s only here because he signed a contract that was about a year longer than his abilities held out.
But who knows? Maybe the body can still do it. The mind and fierce competitiveness have never been in question. One more magical run for Quick?
Vegas fans hope so. Kings fans, reluctantly I’m sure, do not. But just remember: Quick won more games than any other LA netminder (370). He won a Jennings trophy. He’ll likely have his number retired. He is a Hall of Famer. (You East-coasters just don’t know how good he was night after week after season.) He will be commemorated as a King.
In the end, despite the possibilities of a miracle for last go-round Quick, it’s a sad week for Kings fans. But not as sad as if they had to watch their boy languish in Columbus, Ohio for the next month and a half.
McLellan said that Rob Blake, the GM, and his staff have done a great job figuring out how to add the proper pieces, and he hinted that they might not be done, but he said, “We have our team, and if it does get better, great, but if it doesn’t, we have what we need.”
Brian Kennedy wrote the Canadian best-seller Growing Up Hockey. He has written or edited ten books.