2017-18 Season Preview: Jonathan Quick and Darcy Kuemper, Keepers of the Puck
The Kings are hoping for a full season from Quick, but are better prepared this time around should he break down.
Jonathan Quick’s injured groin will forever be linked to the disappointment that was the Los Angeles Kings’ 2016-17 season. Sure, production-sapping injuries to Anze Kopitar, Tyler Toffoli and Marion Gaborik had arguably more to do with the team’s struggles. Meanwhile, journeyman goaltender Peter Budaj achieved cult hero status after his surprisingly good play all year kept the team in contention. Still, Quick going down in the first period of the first game of the season is what will surely be remembered as the moment that sealed the Kings’ fate last year.
As readers of Jewels From the Crown have come to expect, we pride ourselves in objective analysis, generally shying away from narrative-driven stories that focus on grit and heart over x’s and o’s. Jonathan Quick has been a bit of a poster boy for that divide over the years: hyped by Kings’ fanatics and “old school” analysts alike as a clutch goaltender and emotional leader, while being lamented by the numbers crowd for his oversized contract and middling production.
Even as someone who leans towards the “show me the numbers” side of the ledger, I admit that watching the Kings play upon Quick’s return last season felt different than what we saw while they played in front of Budaj. His overall numbers were in line with what we have come to expect the last few seasons: .917 save percentage (.925 at even-strength) and a 2.26 GAA, with two shutouts across his 17 games.
The players buy into his legend and certainly appear to play with more confidence with Quick behind them. Even though Quick’s dominance is more myth than reality, if it allows the guys in front of him to play a more assertive game, that carries some intangible value.
There is an argument to be made that the players are justified in their confidence in Quick. While his year-to-year save percentages do not scream “elite,” it is worth noting he has been roughly average in every season since his legendary 2011-12 campaign, while shouldering one of the heaviest work loads in the league. Here is where he stands over his last three full seasons:
Save Percentage Rank (minimum 40 games)
|Season||Save% Rank||Minutes Rank|
The only goaltenders in the league that have finished with a better save percentage than Quick in each of those three seasons are Cory Schneider, Henrik Lundqvist, Corey Crawford, Braden Holtby and Marc-Andre Fleury. Even if you throw in guys who did not make this list but are clearly among the best in the league (Carey Price, Sergei Bobrovsky, Craig Anderson, Matt Murray and Devan Dubnyk), that still slots Quick comfortably among the top 10 or so over the last four seasons.
With a team that excels at shot suppression like the Kings, having a goalie you can count on to be reliably average has value. His .917 SV% last year would have been 13th in the league among 33 qualifying goalies, had he reached the 40 games to qualify. Should he remain healthy this year, there is no reason to think he should not post his typical .916-.918 save percentage. That won’t earn him much Vezina love, but it will keep the Kings in most games.
If he is not able to shoulder his typical 60+ games this year, the Kings are as well-equipped as they have been since the Martin Jones era to weather the storm. The Kings quietly signed Darcy Kuemper to a one year, $650,000 deal on the first day of free agency. The 27 year-old had spent his whole career with Minnesota, never quite seizing the starting role over his five seasons.
Kuemper’s best season came in 2013-14, where he posted a .915 SV% (.933 at even-strength) in 26 games. For his career he has a mediocre .910 SV% over 102 NHL games. Kuemper beat out Jack Campbell in a competitive training camp, posting an impressive 1.97 GAA and .922 SV% in his three games. He put an exclamation point on the pre-season with a 1-0 shutout of the Anaheim Ducks on the final game before the regular season.
With the Kings intending to cut back on Quick’s workload this season, it is imperative that Kuemper find the consistency that alluded him in his time with Minnesota. Should he struggle with the opportunities he is given, expect him to feel youngsters Campbell and newly-acquired Cal Peterson nipping at his heels from Ontario. With a strong defensive unit in front of him and a coaching staff with a history of getting the most out of their goalies (Jeff Zatkoff excepted), Kuemper has a golden opportunity in front of him to elevate his status in the league and earn a bigger payday next season as a starter.