The Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames proved this summer that no contract is immovable.
When Ken Holland shipped forward Milan Lucic to Calgary for James Neal, the hockey world took notice. Two rivals with two of the worst contracts in the league scratching each other's backs will have that effect. Of course, Neal is stunning the entire NHL this season, scoring at a whopping (and completely unrealistic) 115-goal pace early in the season. Lucic, on the other hand...sorry, Flames fans.
That the Neal-Lucic swap happened, though, offers another rival fanbase hope that they, too, can rid themselves of what is quickly becoming an albatross of a contract. We're speaking of the Los Angeles Kings, of course, who might want to start thinking about how they're going to rid themselves of the final four seasons of Jonathan Quick's 10-year, $58-million deal.
While Quick's goals-against average and save percentage improved after his third game of the season, a 5-2 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, the bad news it that as we enter into the third week of the NHL campaign, the 33-year-old netminder possesses a 6.43 GAA and .793 SP. Even though that's a small sample size, it's one of the worst starts by a supposed No. 1 netminder in some time. And those are just the simple surface numbers. His .818 SP at 5-on-5 ranks last among the 37 goaltenders with at least three games played, his .632 high-danger SP at five-a-side is third-last among the same group of netminders and Quick's minus-6.25 goals-saved above average is the worst among all goalies. For comparison, the only other starting goaltender with a GSAA near Quick's this season is Braden Holtby's -5.33 in Washington. At the other end of the spectrum, Anaheim Ducks netminder John Gibson has a GSAA of 4.94, meaning he's playing well above average. Last season, Quick's minus-21.53 GSAA in 5-on-5 play was better than only the terrible -32.7 GSAA posted by the San Jose Sharks' Martin Jones.
Making Quick's numbers all the more concerning is that this isn't some one-off, slow start. He's coming off of his worst season in the NHL, finishing with an .888 SP and 3.38 GAA on a bottom-feeding Kings team in 2018-19. Despite the play of the team in front of him, though, Quick's numbers raise some red flags when backup Jack Campbell (.928 SP in 31 games) and third-stringer Cal Petersen (.924 SP in 11 contests) are outplaying the two-time Stanley Cup champion. And Quick being outplayed by Campbell in particular, is starting to look like a trend.
In his first two starts this season, Campbell took down two Western Conference giants, the Flames and Nashville Predators. And while a significant percentage of his wins last season came against non-playoff teams, he had a few dandy performances against the Flames, Dallas Stars, Columbus Blue Jackets and Tampa Bay Lightning along the way, too. Quick, meanwhile, has allowed 14 goals against to the Oilers and Vancouver Canucks, two teams currently in the midst of rebuilds, and hasn't allowed fewer than five goals against in any single start in the young season.
It's his numbers and his ineffectiveness against some projected mid-standings clubs that pose a problem when it comes to moving Quick. His trade value has declined to the extent that it's going to be very, very difficult to net a meaningful return. Teams don't typically line up for a player with a $5.8 million cap hit and four years of term, particularly not when that player is a netminder on the wrong side of 30. Making matters worse for the Kings, only five teams have the projected cap space to realistically take on Quick's contract without Los Angeles retaining salary, but not one offers a realistic fit. Further, there's little reason to believe that a change of scenery is going to lead Quick back to top-tier NHL netminder status given his recent output.
It does seem as though the Kings are prepared to look at a future without Quick, though. Signing Campbell to a two-year extension with Petersen already inked until 2022 raised some eyebrows. Certainly, the Kings want to give Petersen, 24, an opportunity to prove himself as the team's goaltender of the future sooner rather than later, but keeping the current backup, Campbell, around for the same length suggests there's potential for a new one-two punch in Los Angeles. And it might be time to turn to that new duo sooner rather than later.
The Kings have the Carolina Hurricanes, Buffalo Sabres, Flames, Winnipeg Jets and St. Louis Blues on tap across the next five games – and how can Los Angeles justify giving Quick the majority of the starts when he's struggled so mightily? Sure, the Kings are in a rebuild and the defeats are to be expected, but what good does it do anyone to have a goaltender that's struggling leading the charge? Los Angeles has nothing to lose this season, so rolling with a Campbell-Petersen tandem could be a welcome change. Figuring out what to do with Quick and his contract, though, might end up being the bigger headache for Kings GM Rob Blake.
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