The question itself seems incredulous. After all, the Los Angeles Kings are coming off of a Stanley Cup Championship season with a starting goalie that won the Conn Smythe Trophy and also received a Vezina nomination. Now that Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick has gone under the knife for a minor surgery, the Kings’ goalie depth must be examined.
It all begins with the only goalie that matters to Kings’ fans right now, Jonathan Quick. Quick recently signed a 10 year extension worth $60 million, cementing his future with the franchise. After an exceptional regular season and a Cinderella playoff run, Los Angeles could hardly do better at the starting goaltender spot.
One thing Quick has always had on his ascent to stardom is his health though. He has played in at least 60 games in each of his three full seasons in the NHL. Now a minor surgery to repair a disc fragment and an inflammatory cyst will keep him out until mid to late September at least. While it is a minor procedure and timed perfectly for a return at the start of training camp (lockout not withstanding), that’s news that the Kings certainly don’t want to see. If the injury proves to be a small bump in the road and nothing more, then the Kings are set at starting goalie, but what about beyond that?
Once upon a time, there was a fraction of the NHL that believed Bernier would slowly take starts away from Quick and become the starting goaltender of the Kings. However, with a Stanley Cup win, it appears Jonathan Quick has taken this fairy tale back from Bernier. Though he is unquestionably a dependable backup goalie, Bernier has fallen into a role of just that, a backup goalie. He saw a decrease in playing time last season and is cemented at no higher than #2 on this team.
After Quick signed his 10 year extension, Bernier pulled an expected move and requested a trade from GM Dean Lombardi. The request makes perfect sense as Bernier sees himself as a starting goalie, half the league believes he can be a starting goalie, and he will not get that chance any time soon with LA (barring serious injuries). With Quick’s minor injury though, what will Lombardi want to do? It would make sense for the Kings to hold on to Bernier as the ultimate insurance policy. This comes with the risk of upsetting him and hurting chemistry though. It would also make sense to trade Bernier while his value is high as a hypothetical starter right now. It is only a matter of time before Bernier turns from top notch prospect to regular backup goalie as he plays fewer minutes. Now, as Lombardi tries to decide what to do with Bernier, he must look at the 3 prospects he has in the system right now.
Jones is entering the last year of his 3 year entry level deal. He split time with Jeff Zatkoff, who has since signed with Pittsburgh, at the AHL level with the Kings’ affiliate Manchester Monarchs. Jones played in 41 games last season, going 18-17-2 with a 2.60 GAA and a .919 save percentage. At the current time, Jones is the most experience goalie in the pipeline for the Kings, but he has yet to get his feet wet in the NHL. At this time, it would appear the Kings want him to prove himself as a solid go-to starter for Manchester before moving him up to the next level. The fact that he has even made it this far, as an undrafted free agent, speaks volumes to his drive to get to the NHL at least.
Berube is entering the 2nd year of his 3 year entry level deal. He spent last season with LA’s ECHL affiliate, the Ontario Reign. In 37 games, he recorded a 17-13-3 record with a 2.87 GAA and .907 save percentage. After a full season in the ECHL, Berube is expected to move up to the AHL level this year and back up Jones. Berube is likely at least a couple of seasons away from the NHL level as he tries to make his mark in the AHL first. At best, he is hoping he can steal starts from Jones and prove to the franchise that he can rapidly improve.
Gibson was taken by the Kings in last summer’s NHL Entry draft. He spent last year playing junior hockey in the QMJHL and still requires plenty of work with his timing according to Kings’ goaltending coach Bill Ranford. It will still be a few years before Gibson is in the picture for the NHL team.
While the Kings certainly have solid goalies and prospects on their depth chart, it does not appear to be enough to withstand any subtractions. Trading Jonathan Bernier would lead to a lack of experience behind Jonathan Quick, which is not something a Stanley Cup caliber team should risk. Even an injury during the season to Quick could prove to be beyond detrimental as no one knows how Bernier may handle a full time workload or if the goalies behind him could handle a promotion. There had been talk that the Kings would pursue Cristobal Huet to increase their goaltending depth, but that ship sailed as Huet signed in the Swiss league.
With plenty of veteran goaltenders still available on the free agency market, it is probably time for Lombardi to find one that would be willing to take a two way deal. Otherwise, he’s handcuffing himself on possibilities for moving Bernier and hindering his team’s ability to survive any injuries at the position.