Going into the season, the Los Angeles Kings felt pretty good about their goaltending depth. Two groin injuries to Jonathan Quick and Jeff Zatkoff later, Peter Budaj and Jack Campbell, formerly of the Ontario Reign, are manning the pipes for the big club.
So what’s a purported Stanley Cup contender to do?
For now, according to LA Kings Insider, it appears that they’re content to ride their own horses. Budaj has been okay so far and Zatkoff should be back in the saddle in about a week. Should they choose to look outside the organization, whether due to more injuries or below-average netminding, there are plenty of options.
But before we explore the outer realms, let’s take a look in-kingdom:
In one respect, the Kings are lucky. Not many organizations have a third-string goalie as seasoned (127 NHL wins) and recently successful (2015-16 AHL goalie of the year) as the 34-year-old Budaj.
That said, he hasn’t been a full-time NHL goaltender since 2013-14, when he backed up Carey Price in Montreal; the last time he was a number-one was 2010-11 in Colorado.
Adj.FSv% stands for Adjusted Fenwick Save Percentage, which “shows if a goalie is saving more or less shots than an average NHL goalie would be expected to save if they faced the same quality of unblocked shots.” Budaj’s -0.21 isn’t a good thing, and suggests that since 2007, he’s underperformed compared to what would be expected from an average netminder.
HDSv% stands for High-Danger Save Percentage, or saves in the slot/low slot area. Budaj is 65th out of 67 qualified keepers in this department over the last decade.
RBA60 stands for Rebound Shots Against Per 60 Minutes. Budaj’s 60th-ranked 2.03 suggests that rebound control isn’t his forte.
The picture that we connect with these dots isn’t the prettiest. The hope is a Los Angeles defense which has protected Quick so well over the years can do the same for the Slovakian. So far, so good — look for Budaj on the far right:
— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) October 26, 2016
If Budaj’s numbers are troubling, Zatkoff’s will be even more unsettling.
Zatkoff ranks near the bottom in most of these categories. As with Budaj, the Kings will have to rely on their typically exemplary two-way play to spare their 2006 third-round draft pick.
Interestingly, however, Zatkoff’s rebound control, which has been cited as one of his flaws, doesn’t appear to be a problem here.
All said, Zatkoff has played just a shade over 1,610 5-on-5 minutes in his NHL career. The sample size is still relatively small.
Just signed to a five-game AHL contract and ticketed for Ontario, the 6’6″ UFA does have 130 NHL games under his belt.
Not a lot to see here. For a goalie who has a reputation for poor rebound control, his Rebound Shots Against Per 60 Minutes has been excellent though.
Budaj, Zatkoff, and Lindback’s pasts suggest that Los Angeles will need to look elsewhere for goaltending aid in the future. But hey, most of the skaters on this current Kings squad helped transform Ben Scrivens from a back-up to Edmonton’s starter, so there’s hope yet.
But if the Kings are going to bring in outside help, they’ll have to have some strict parameters on the netminder.
The Kings are unlikely to take on an expensive multi-year contract, as Quick is signed through 2023. They’ll be interested in expiring deals, which eliminates available keepers like Jimmy Howard and Antti Niemi. Salary retention and taking on LA’s own longer-term pacts like Matt Greene and Dustin Brown’s might make a trade offer more palatable for Dean Lombardi, but it’s hard to see a fit for both sides in such a swap.
Los Angeles will want to part with not much more than a low-end prospect or draft pick. There are a few reasons for this: First, Quick is set to return within three to four months. Second, the organization believes that their defensive structure and personnel will be able to protect most any goalie. Third, the system probably can’t afford to surrender more blue-chip futures.
LA’s remaining salary cap space must be considered. Assuming they keep Zatkoff as the back-up and send Budaj/Campbell back down, with no other moves, they’ll have a little more than two million dollars in space. Quick can go on LTIR, which will open up his 5.8 million dollar slot, but when he comes back, the potential new goalie will have to fit in limited space.
So who could they possibly be scouting?
In theory, a netminder who can handle all the low-danger shots and make the occasional high-danger save is all the team needs to tide them over. Somebody who can win a game by himself every once in a while would be a bonus.
This brings us to Pavelec and his 3.9 million dollar contract. First, Winnipeg will have to eat a significant portion (maximum allowed is 50 percent) of the remainder. As for the Kings, they can bury some of this cap hit in the AHL when Quick returns. Or they can run with Pavelec as the back-up, Zatkoff in the minors.
The Jets have the cap space to eat some of Pavelec’s contract and the motivation to dump him: They’re going young in net with Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson, having already sent the Czech veteran down to the AHL. The young tandem has struggled so far this season though.
Depending on where Winnipeg stands with Hellebuyck and Hutchinson, the cost to pick up Pavelec shouldn’t be high.
But why would Los Angeles want this cast-off?
For a netminder who has at times been considered the worst starter in the league, Pavelec’s career looks closer to average than anything. In fact, he’s outperformed the average starter in this period of time (0.45 Adj.FSv%), while his excellent LDSv%, which stands for Low-Danger Save Percentage, should fit well with a Kings squad which excels at keeping shots to the perimeter. Quick’s Avg.DISTA (Average Shot Distance Against) over the last two seasons was a league-best 38.51 feet.
Pavelec’s rebound control has been a sore spot throughout his career, and that 2.00 Rebound Shots Against Per 60 Minutes figure bears that out. Once again though, LA should be expected to cover up some of that weakness.
If you were surprised by the athletic 29-year-old’s average career marks, you might be shocked by the quality of his recent work. From 2014-16, only Price, Henrik Lundqvist, and Steve Mason have sported a better Adjusted Fenwick Save Percentage — Quick is 12th.
Vancouver won’t be motivated to move Miller as long as they stay in the playoff race — and while they’re up against the cap, they’re not under the gun to clear space. For LA, his six million dollar cap hit, even with maximum retention, will be a much tighter squeeze on Quick’s return.
The cost for the 36-year-old, if he becomes available, probably won’t be high, as he’s not considered a game-changer anymore:
The American’s reputation has suffered in recent years, but he still appears to be an adequate goalie. While his recent raw stats are down, conspicuously, he’s facing shots at a closer range than ever, which might also explain his spike in Rebound Shots Against Per 60 Minutes.
(Today’s Slapshot Note: Bernier left Tuesday’s game with an upper-body injury, but not much more is known at this time.)
Ex-King Bernier is well regarded by LA, while Anaheim desperately needs to clear cap space to ink top defenseman Hampus Lindholm. $4.15 million is a lot to pay John Gibson’s back-up.
That said, the freeway rivals won’t be motivated to help each other and the Ducks can make room in other ways without retaining salary. Bob Murray probably also feels better about having an experienced, high-ceiling back-up like Bernier as insurance for the oft-injured Gibson.
Bernier’s acquisition cost probably depends on how desperate Murray gets to clear salary.
It’s a tale of two goalies. The former Los Angeles first-round pick, once considered a Toronto franchise cornerstone, has been one of the worst in the league recently.
The 28-year-old still appears to have much of the talent which once made him so highly-touted, so a rebound wouldn’t be surprising. For what it’s worth, his Rebound Shots Against Per 60 Minutes has been stable through his struggles.
Already one of the most highly-regarded back-ups in the league, Greiss performed well as the main man in place of oft-injured Jaroslav Halak last year. At an affordable $1.5 million cap hit, there isn’t much reason for the Islanders to trade him at this point, unless the Kings overpay.
Los Angeles did show interest in then-UFA Greiss in the summer of 2015.
About the only criticism you can make about Greiss here is his Low-Danger Save Percentage…
But he’s improved in this department over the last couple seasons. While his Average Shot Distance Against has become more challenging, he’s maintained a solid Rebound Shots Against Per 60 Minutes.
About the only knock on the 6’1″ netminder is that besides last year, he hasn’t been much tested as starter. The German is a solid candidate for a raise and bigger role this offseason.
Mason wouldn’t even be on this list if it weren’t for an Elliotte Friedman report which linked him to LA.
His $4.1 million contract isn’t prohibitive for the Kings, but once again, it’s hard to see why a cap-strapped playoff team like Philadelphia would want to dump an excellent keeper (and retain part of his salary to boot) outside of an overpay. Even if the Flyers have decided to trot out fellow impending UFA Michal Neuvirth as their starter from here on out, there likely isn’t a trade here which would work for both sides.
Like Bernier, Mason’s career is one of extremes. For a stretch in Columbus, he might have been the NHL’s worst starter. But recently, he’s emerged as one of the league’s best.
In terms of ability, Mason might be the top potentially available goalie on the market. But like Miller and other established starters, the 28-year-old probably wouldn’t take well to sitting in favor of Quick later in the year or being buried in Ontario.
Again, it’s hard to see the Flyers’ motivation here. Neuvirth is one of the more capable back-ups around, so unless he is agitating to get out, there’s no reason for Philadelphia to let him go. The acquisition cost here will probably be higher than what the Kings would want to pay.
Neuvirth’s figures have improved recently despite facing tighter Average Shot Distance Against (blame Buffalo).
Ramo had knee surgery last February, and in theory, should be ready to go soon. The 30-year-old is also a UFA, so the cost will be negligible.
Throughout his career, the 30-year-old has been an average to below-average 1A starter. That said, his excellent recent Low-Danger Save Percentage, along with his challenging Average Shot Distance Against, might make him a reasonable buy-low candidate for Los Angeles. Like most keepers on this list, there’s hope that Ramo would benefit immensely from LA’s defense in front of him.
Pressed into service because of a season-ending injury to Price last year, Condon had his moments as Montreal’s starter. Picked up on waivers by Pittsburgh recently to take Matt Murray’s place, Los Angeles might be able to pick him up on waivers any day now, as Murray has just returned. The 26-year-old isn’t considered a goaltender with particularly high upside.
Florida grabbed Berra for Rocco Grimaldi last June, presumably to back up Roberto Luongo. Weeks later, they signed James Reimer to a five-year pact. Currently, most of the Swiss netminder’s 1.45 million contract is buried in the AHL, so his acquisition cost shouldn’t be prohibitive.
Two years ago, Colorado traded a second-round pick for Berra. So perhaps there’s some upside left here.
The 6’4″ netminder boasts an impressive High-Danger Save percentage despite a difficult Average Shot Distance Against. In all, Berra has performed slighty better than the average goaltender, but it should be emphasized that he’s played just 2,564 5-on-5 minutes over his career. He’s also never started regularly.
According to Friedman, the Kings have already passed on Berra anyway. They “didn’t see him as enough of an upgrade. If they were going to go out and get anyone, it had to be someone who clearly eclipsed Peter Budaj.”
Who Should LA Target?
Anyone of the aforementioned keepers, if acquired, could go on a hot streak like Condon did to start his career or cold à la Miller in St. Louis. Such is the volatility of goaltending in small samples and a huge reason why Lombardi shouldn’t invest too much in a stop-gap between the pipes.
With that in mind, the best combination of acquisition cost, upside, and stability is probably Pavelec. He’s an unwanted, proven starter whose recent performance is underrated by his current team.
But if Pavelec manages to duplicate that performance this season, he would surely find a far more appreciative audience in Hollywood, as such play, combined with a quality Kings team, will almost certainly lead to wins.