Who’s Next in the LA Net?

by | Jan 9, 2023

Who’s Next in the LA Net?

by | Jan 9, 2023

Remember when Roman Cechmanek was the LA Kings’ goalie? Of course you don’t, because Jonathan Quick’s outstanding performance in net, which stretches to nearly 15 seasons now, has erased memories—mostly bad ones—of almost every goalie who has put on the crown since, who? Kelly Hrudey in the 1980s and 90s? Rogie Vachon in the 1970s?

Cechmanek, btw, had a 49-game run with the Kings in 2003-04. He had decent numbers: 2.51 GAA and .906 save percentage on a team that was going nowhere. After his Kings stint, he departed for Europe and never played in the NHL again.

Why bring him up? Because the Kings, after a long and wonderful run with Jonathan Quick in the cage, are facing a dilemma about their netminding once more. A month ago, they put Cal Petersen on waivers after his numbers just didn’t come up to NHL standards and he let in some questionable goals. This wouldn’t matter much except that Petersen’s salary for this year and two more to come is 5 million bucks. For that price, the team rightfully expects better than a 3.75 GAA and a .868 save percentage. But sending him down to Ontario with an aging Jonathan Quick expected to hold down the starting spot just accelerates the need and intensifies the fear for new blood in the Kings’ net.

Why did this happen? One theory is that we’ve long passed peak Petersen. If you look at his NHL numbers, you’ll see that they go in the wrong direction, the GAA going up and the save percentage going down, every year he’s been in the big show (give or take a few ticks on the save percentage).

Perhaps he’s discouraged that, while it would have seemed that he was ready to take over the main netminding duties, Jonathan Quick had other plans. The veteran started most of the team’s first  quarter of games, appearing in 19 contests before Petersen’s demotion, 20 now (but none in a while, as will be discussed presently). Petersen made 10 appearances before he was sent packing to the Inland Empire with a 5-3-2 record.

Odd language was used in press release concerning the matter. After Petersen cleared waivers and headed to Ontario (California) to join the Reign, it was said that he was being “loaned” to the AHL team. (Never mind that “loan” is a noun, and what they really mean was that he was being “lent” to the minor-league team.) Why were they talking about a loan? Why not just say he went down to tune up his game? Maybe they don’t think he can. It will be interesting to see what happens as settles in there. In his first game, he allowed just one goal and had a .964 save percentage. In his first four games, he allowed just five goals, for a .941 GAA and a 1.70 GAA. Since then, he has aggregate numbers of 4-4-0 in the AHL, which should remind fans that he was never any great shakes in that league before his NHL tenure. For instance, in 2017-18, he went 23-14-2 and the next year, 17-15-4. So why was he the heir apparent? I have no answer for that. And if not him, who will fix this once-familiar problem once Quick retires, or even now, when his numbers and performance have been distinctly un-Quick-like of late.

After a game in late November, when asked about a particular play, with the question being, “Did you need that save?” Coach McLellan said without hesitation, “Yes, we need Cal to make that save.” Maybe that was the death knell.

To take a longer, view, it’s in some ways remarkable that Petersen is even at this level of income and position. He was a fifth-round draft choice in the 2013 entry draft. That makes him 28 years old already, and his NHL resume has but 101 games on it. Buffalo was his draft club. After being drafted, he stayed in the USHL for another year, then played three at Notre Dame University. That ended in 2017. He signed with the Kings in 2017 and immediately went to the Ontario club.

He got into 11 NHL games in his second season with the Los Angeles organization. The last two years, he played about half the NHL team’s games. Last year, it was 37 games with flat numbers of 2.89 and .895. Thus he came into the year on the bubble in some respects—or can one say that when this was also the summer he got paid?

Reverting to the long-time star, Quick has given the Kings reason for worry. He who flagged after starting the season well. He’s soon to be 37. Think about the netminders in that age group—there aren’t many, and they’re often heading towards backup status, or golf courses. Quick came into the season with the tag that he could still do it, but best-case scenario, he’s got—what? A couple of seasons. (He’s paid through the end of this season only, at $5.8 million dollars. Wow—only NHL pocket change more than Petersen.)

Petersen’s shaky play just accelerated, or redirected, the process that was going on anyway, of looking to replace a legend. Maybe it all seemed just a bit too easy when Cal was the anointed. Petersen played very few games before he was awarded the large contract, and a surprising one given that he was not a proven entity yet.

Quick has played, in case you’re wondering, 735 NHL regular-season games, with 57 shutouts and 367 wins. As is well known, he has two Stanley Cups and one Conn Smythe, in 2012, when LA won its first Cup. Of late, things are positively cool compared to his usual pace. In December, he played just six games, with one win, 5-3 over Arizona on the first of the month. Two games went to OT and thus garnered the team a point. Who played all the other games? Pheonix Copley. For more on him, see part two of this story, coming on Thursday January 12th.

Brian Kennedy is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association and the author of Growing Up Hockey, amongst other books.

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