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Quick's injury could make this a lost season for the Kings — and that's OK

More bad news for the Kings, as Jonathan Quick is sidelined indefinitely after suffering a torn meniscus in his knee. But there could be a silver lining here if Los Angeles is willing to accept its fate.

It would have been hard to believe the Los Angeles Kings’ situation could go from bad to worse. Yet, amid conversations about coach John Stevens’ job security, a recently snapped six-game losing streak and a closed-door meeting eight games into the campaign, the Kings’ misfortune has only grown.

Over the weekend, it was announced that Jonathan Quick, who had already missed five games after suffering a lower-body injury in Los Angeles’ season opener, had been sidelined once again with another lower-body ailment. The initial report, however, wasn’t all that bad. Quick was said to be day-to-day and the hope was he’d be back in the crease in short order. As it turns out, though, Quick won’t be back anytime soon. Matter of fact, there’s no definite timeline as to his return after Los Angeles announced Wednesday that the 32-year-old netminder is out indefinitely after going under the knife to repair a torn meniscus in his knee.

The specifics surrounding Quick’s injury and subsequent surgery are somewhat mysterious. Stevens said that the torn meniscus seemed to happen around the end of practice this past weekend, but couldn’t pinpoint a moment. And the exact nature of the injury, or the full extent of the meniscal tear, hasn’t been specified other than to state that Quick will be out indefinitely. But here’s the thing: meniscal tears can carry all sorts of recovery timelines depending on the degree.

Quickly peruse any number of recent injury reports regarding torn meniscuses. Taylor Hall was out a month with the injury in November 2016, Zac Dalpe missed little more than a month and prospect Michael McLeod likewise was sidelined on a four-to-six week timeline. There’s also, however, cases such as Steven Stamkos, Kevin Shattenkirk and Shea Weber. Stamkos missed 65 games during the 2016-17 season with a “lateral meniscus tear.” Shattenkirk was sidelined for the final 36 games last season after undergoing the knife to repair his tear. Then there’s Weber, who only recently began skating after it was announced in July he’d be sidelined five to six months after surgery to repair a meniscal tear.

So, the best case scenario for Quick is that he’s out a month, maybe slightly longer. Worst case is that he doesn’t return until Los Angeles is entering the home stretch of the campaign or, worse yet, at all. Make no mistake that despite Quick’s horrible season-starting numbers — he has an .845 save percentage and 4.55 goals-against average — he’s the Kings’ best bet in goal. Behind a Los Angeles roster that was much the same, Quick posted a .921 SP last season and a .949 SP at five-a-side. There shouldn’t be the same level of confidence in the tandem of Jack Campbell and Peter Budaj, even if the duo has combined for a .912 SP in Quick’s place.

If there’s not all that much confidence in the Kings’ new goaltending tandem, though, there should be even less in Los Angeles’ ability to stay afloat in the Western Conference until Quick returns. Nothing about this iteration of the Kings has been all that threatening this season and Los Angeles, truth be told, may have found its level at the bottom of the NHL’s standings. And maybe that’s reason enough to embrace failure this season.

No one is saying Los Angeles should intentionally tank, because, honestly, they may not have to. Consider for a minute where the Kings find themselves after the opening month of the campaign. Through 11 games, the offense is the most feeble in the entire NHL, clipping along at a meager two goals per game. That’s a rate that would be commensurate with one of the absolute worst attacks in the modern era. Despite his advanced age, we shudder to think where Los Angeles would be without Ilya Kovalchuk, who paces the group with three goals and eight points in 11 games. The power play, meanwhile, is the second-worst is the third-worst in the NHL, though maybe there’s hope yet in the return of net-front presence and first-line winger Dustin Brown.

Of course, offensive shortcomings are nothing new in Los Angeles. The lack of firepower and consistent goal-scoring has plagued the franchise for years now. It’s far more pronounced, however, when the possession game that had long been the team’s calling card has fallen to pieces. While still a slightly above average team in Corsi for percentage, the Kings rank 23rd in shots for percentage (48.7) and 21st in scoring chances for percentage (49.8) through the opening month of the season. The Kings have been hurt defensively by their penalty killing deficiencies, as well. At 77.4 percent, Los Angeles ends October with the 20th-ranked PK in the NHL.

Truly, there’s little for the Kings to hang their hat on right now. There are very few indicators of an imminent turnaround. Maybe the only thing Los Angeles can point to as a matter of anything other than luck is a nearly league-worst 6.98 shooting percentage at all strengths — at 6.34, only the Vegas Golden Knights have had less success shooting the puck. But one could even look at the Kings’ low shooting percentage and suggest it’s a matter of talent and systems, though. Los Angeles hasn’t ranked better than 15th in all-strengths shooting percentage in any of the past five seasons. Save last season, when they finished 15th, the Kings next-best finish was 21st in 2014-15. Only the Florida Panthers, Arizona Coyotes, Carolina Hurricanes and Buffalo Sabres have had a lower combined shooting percentage across the past five seasons.

So, why not use Quick’s injury as the catalyst for change? True, this isn’t a lost season yet, but maybe it can be the campaign in which the Kings make the tough decisions they need to and start to build toward the future. A year spent not playing the role of bubble team can be a year spent truly assessing talent and allow the Kings to enter the deadline for the first time in years not as a buyer, but a seller. Shop a Tanner Pearson or Tyler Toffoli. Trade an Alec Martinez or try to offload the remaining years of Dion Phaneuf’s contract. Offload some veterans for additional picks. Use the returns to inject speed into the roster, add talented prospects and secure some additional draft choices.

There are inklings of a next generation that can be led by Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty, but there’s still work to be done in surrounding the cornerstone players with bright, young talents. Scooping up NCAA free agents such as Alex Iafallo, who has been a success story in Los Angeles, is one way to go about that. That’s how Sheldon Rempal and Daniel Brickley and Cal Petersen have landed in the Kings’ organization, as well. But the best way for the Kings to accelerate the process is through the draft. It’s the fastest way for Los Angeles to beef up its prospect pool.

It was just last week we wrote that Los Angeles needs to let go of the glory days, stop believing they’re one piece away from stepping back into the NHL’s winner’s circle. That has never been more true than it is right now. Simply put, nothing the Kings are doing right now is working and there’s no reason to believe it’s going to anytime soon, especially not with Quick sidelined for the foreseeable future. So, if there was ever a time for Los Angeles to go all-in on retooling this roster, this could very well be it.

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