Jonathan Quick made his return to the Los Angeles Kings’ crease on Saturday in grand fashion. Facing off against the rival Anaheim Ducks, Quick turned in a sound performance, stopping 32 shots in his first full game of the campaign and slamming the door shut for the final 40 minutes as the Kings’ offense came to life to lift Los Angeles to a 4-1 victory. It was Quick’s first action since the Oct. 12 groin injury that has cost him almost his entire season, and his return couldn’t have come at a better time with Los Angeles fighting to earn a playoff berth.
No matter how well Quick may have played, though, the Kings aren’t about to let their playoff hopes rest solely on the veteran netminder’s shoulders. Los Angeles GM Dean Lombardi made that abundantly clear Sunday evening when he went out and pulled the trigger on a deal few saw coming, acquiring goaltender Ben Bishop, one of the hottest free agents to be, from the Tampa Bay Lightning. The deal also saw the Kings receive a fifth-round pick, while the Lightning landed Peter Budaj, prospect Erik Cernak and a seventh-round pick in return.
At first blush, the deal itself is somewhat puzzling. Goaltending hasn’t exactly been the missing piece in Los Angeles this season, and one would assume that finding some offensive punch would have been the first thing on Lombardi’s to-do list with the deadline approaching. And it’s bizarre that Bishop landed in Los Angeles, of all places, when there are a number of clubs that could have used a goaltender of his calibre now and in the future. But despite how odd the trade may seem, it’s clear that there’s a method to the madness here.
Groin injuries for goaltenders can be a tricky thing, and the Kings learned that first hand this season with Quick. But it’s also something the club was familiar with when a similar injury sidelined Quick during the 2013-14 campaign. That he has suffered two groin injuries in the past four seasons, both of which put him on the shelf for a significant period of time, has to be concerning for Los Angeles down the stretch, especially with the fight the Kings are in to sneak into one of the Western Conference wild-card spots or earn a divisional playoff berth.
At this juncture, the last thing the Kings can afford is losing Quick again, because for as well as Budaj had played, there was no telling when he might come crashing back down to earth. And a pedestrian Budaj and injured Quick would almost assure the Kings weren’t heading to the playoffs. After missing the post-season in 2014-15 and exiting in the first round in 2015-16, the Kings clearly weren’t about to let goaltending fail them when they need it most. This is to say that the acquisition of Bishop is, in effect, an insurance policy, and a 6-foot-7, 216-pound insurance policy at that.
As far as getting goaltending help goes, the Kings could have done much worse than netting themselves Bishop, too. This season hasn’t been nearly as kind to him as the past few and Bishop’s 2.55 goals-against average and .911 save percentage are some of the worst numbers he’s put up since landing in Tampa Bay, but he has proven time and time again that he can get the job done in the post-season. During the 2014-15 playoffs, he was one of the backbones of the Lightning on their run to the Stanley Cup final, and his 1.85 GAA and .939 SP had the Bolts within a win of the Stanley Cup final in 2015-16.
There’s no doubt then that if disaster strikes and Quick goes down, Bishop is more than qualified to take over. And having both goaltenders allows Los Angeles to ride the hot hand, a situation they haven’t really had in any season prior. Quick’s return to the crease was excellent, to be sure, but one game won’t tell the story. There are still 21 contests left on the Kings’ schedule, and if Quick shows any signs of rust, Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter doesn’t even have to hesitate when thinking about a change between the pipes. It’s not a knock against the likes of Budaj, Martin Jones or any of the backups who’ve played behind Quick in recent years, but Bishop’s resume, with an Eastern Conference title and two finishes in the top three of Vezina Trophy voting, speaks for itself.
Sitting three points out of the wild-card and 10 points back of the third spot in the Pacific Division, Los Angeles is doing everything they can to ensure they’re not just in the post-season, but competing with the West’s best. Getting Bishop gives the Kings a safety net down the stretch and the ability to ride a proven playoff performer if Quick happens to stumble at any point. So while it’s not the first major deal we thought we’d see coming from the Kings at the deadline, there’s plenty of reason the trade makes sense. Whether or not it works out, though, is still to be seen.