Every now and then goaltender Jonathan Quick would flash his glove or kick his leg out or push an intruding opponent out of his fold with a spirited shove and it felt like the kings’ best years again.
Yet those moments had become all too rare over the last few seasons for Quick, who was the most valuable player in the Kings’ surprise 2012 Stanley Cup playoff round and rose to the challenge of working even harder to help them achieve a second championship over a grueling 26 postseason games in 2014.
No athlete has beaten the times and the humiliations that come with the years gone by – the slower reflexes and longer recovery periods, the eager, young challengers who had your poster on their bedroom wall or grew up watching videos of your technique.
Even Quick, a Connecticut native who is among the best American goalkeepers to wear the mask and pads of the profession, couldn’t stop time. He also couldn’t even pause it so he could be part of the Kings’ next championship round.
In this, the final season of his 10-year, $58 million contract, it became painful to watch him slow down, almost immeasurably but enough to become vulnerable. Quick, 37, couldn’t intimidate shooters anymore, couldn’t make big saves when the Kings needed them most.
He was the franchise leader among goaltenders in games (743), wins (370) and shutouts (57), but he couldn’t return the Kings to the level he and she had once enjoyed. A man of few words and little respect for anything but winning, he must have hated that.
There’s little room for sentiment in business or hockey, but there was a breathtaking finality in a report from highly regarded Hockey Night in Canada personality Elliotte Friedman late Tuesday that the Kings were finalizing a trade that saw Quick and a first-round draft pick to the Columbus Blue Jackets for goaltender Joonas Korpisalo and defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov.
The trade will continue to close the door on the Kings’ most successful era, a few weeks after the team unveiled a statue honoring Cup team captain Dustin Brown.
And in a bit of uncanny timing, news broke the same day that the Chicago Blackhawks — who alternated Cup titles with the Kings from 2012-15 — traded franchise cornerstone Patrick Kane to the New York Rangers.
Only center Anze Kopitar and defenseman Drew Doughty remain with the Kings of the two Cup-winning teams, both of whom are still vital contributors to a team that is second in the Pacific Division despite a negative goal difference for much of the season.
But if a third championship team ever comes along, the Kings had to move on and improve their goalkeeping and defense. General Manager Rob Blake had to make decisions based on common sense, not dim memories of triumphs in days gone by.
Quick, averaging 3.50 goals against and a save percentage of .876 in 31 games, didn’t get the job done. Pheonix Copley, a free agent found last summer, is a great story, but he’s never played an NHL playoff game.
Cal Petersen, who squandered several chances to become Quick’s successor, remains in the minor leagues after Blake’s ill-advised decision to sign him for three years, $15 million. Who knows when or if Petersen will wear a Kings uniform again.
The Kings’ defense, which focused too heavily on right-handed shooters, needed another left-handed shooter and an element of physicality. Gavrikov, 5’8″ and 220 pounds, should be able to provide that. He and Korpisalo have contracts that expire after this season, making them eligible for unlimited free agency.
Blake had upgraded the team’s talent ahead of time by signing Phillip Danault in 2021 to a six-year, $33 million contract as a free agent. Blake upgraded again last summer by trading for winger Kevin Fiala, signing him to a seven-year, $55,125 million contract. Fiala leads the Kings in scoring.
Now it became imperative for Blake to improve their defense and goalkeeping, and by trading away a first round pick, he showed his faith in his team and his willingness to give his players the best resources possible to get deep into the playoffs to go.
The Kings were involved in negotiations for esteemed Arizona defenseman Jeff Chychrun, but Blake may have decided the price was too high and that Gavrikov could bring the same kind of advantage at a lower price. More could happen before the NHL trade deadline hits Friday at noon Pacific time.
What’s sad is that Quick didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to Los Angeles, skate off after a big win and raise his cane in tribute to fans who watched him grow up from a kid whose work habits were questioned to a husband, husband, father, playoff MVP, and two-time Jennings Award winner as the goaltender of the team that conceded the fewest goals.
One day, a statue of Quick will stand next to Brown’s newly installed effigy. He deserved that and more. But he couldn’t stop or pause time, and the Kings’ path back to the top of the hockey world won’t include him.