One week ago, the Los Angeles Kings got yet another reminder of what ailed them in 2016-17.
So to recap - Jack Campbell was scratched, Jeff Zatkoff injured in warmups, Jack Flinn starts, and then Jack Campbell comes in for relief.— Ontario Reign (@ontarioreign) May 3, 2017
The Kings spent the entire season scrambling to protect their net, and when finishing 21st in the NHL in save percentage feels like a win, you know you had issues. Even if Jonathan Quick stays healthy this year, the Kings still do have goalie issues, because there’s no obvious choice for his backup this season. Last year LA had a choice between their 2015-16 backup, their 2015-16 Ontario starter, and an unrestricted free agent, and they chose door #3. The same three doors are available this season. Let’s see who could be behind each one.
Jeff Zatkoff, 29. It is guaranteed that John Stevens likes Jeff Zatkoff more than Darryl Sutter did. It is also guaranteed that Zatkoff will not start the year as Jonathan Quick’s backup.
Ben Bishop, 30. Scott Darling, a less proven but more exciting goaltending option, netted Chicago a third-rounder via trade a couple weeks back. Bishop, similarly, is an unrestricted free agent who is definitely one of the best 31 goalies in the league, but isn’t going to unseat a starter with multiple Cups. Jon Rosen has been informed that the trade market for Bishop is open, and as nice as it’d be to keep Bishop, this cap-crunched team needs to send Bishop on his way.
[EDIT: 37 minutes after this article was posted, the Los Angeles Kings traded Ben Bishop to the Dallas Stars for a fourth-round pick.]
Jack Campbell, 25. Campbell is not the next Peter Budaj. For one, Budaj put up a .932 with 9 shutouts in 60 games for Ontario in 2015-16, while Campbell merely posted a .914 with 5 shutouts; good, but barely average for an NHL goalie, let alone an AHL one. This shouldn’t be a knock on Campbell, whose health and consistency saved the organization from a world of trouble last year, but I’m not sure that this proves Campbell is ready for a backup gig. Of course, the other difference between Budaj and Campbell is nine years of age. Campbell could yet be a quality backup, but I’d like to see him get one more year of Reign seasoning as LA’s third-string option.
Ryan Miller, 36. Seven straight seasons between a .910 and a .920 save percentage, and even at his age, you could see the Kings handing him a two-year deal. Too expensive, right? Miller’s wife is an actress in Hollywood, which might give LA a shot at a “hometown” discount, but asking him to take a pay cut AND a backup job might be a bridge too far.
Chad Johnson, 30. Had a great season for Calgary while their starter figured himself out. Due a slight raise from $1.7 million.
Brian Elliott, 32. Had a terrible postseason for Calgary after seemingly figuring himself out. Due a slight pay cut from $2.5 million.
Darcy Kuemper, 27. Mike Condon, 27. Anders Nilsson, 27. Keith Kinkaid, 27. Four very similar profiles here; each has fewer than 100 career NHL starts and a career save percentage between .908 and .912. They should all cost in the area of $1 million. If the prior description didn’t also fit Jeff Zatkoff, I’d feel much better about grabbing one of these four.
Peter Budaj, 34. He ain’t looking our way, methinks.
Curtis McElhinney, 33. Risky. Like Budaj, he had a revelatory 2016-17 season, but the season before was really bad for ol’ Curtis.
Jonathan Bernier, 28. Jhonas Enroth, 28. Jean-Francois Berube, 25. All former Kings backups, all unrestricted. But! Bernier will be expensive, Berube is Zatkoff II, and Enroth didn’t endear himself to the organization in the San Diego Gulls’ first-round win over Ontario.
If none of those names are satisfying, LA can always go to Door #4: the trade market. The Vegas Golden Knights present an interesting wrinkle here; some teams might be willing to trade a goaltender to avoid losing said goaltender for nothing through the expansion draft. Who might fit the bill?
Eddie Lack, 29. Cam Ward, 33. Darling inked a deal with Carolina, meaning one of these two netminders is on the outs. Now, many of Carolina’s key pieces aren’t even eligible to be taken, so Vegas might stay away from their skaters. (Lee Stempniak or bust!) For that reason, Carolina might not want to trade a goalie until post-expansion draft, but if the Golden Knights don’t take a goalie, LA might be a landing spot for the odd man out. Both are good fits based purely on the Kings’ history; Lack is an enticing reclamation project, while Ward brings Veteran Experience and Playoff Heroism. Both are signed for one more season in the neighborhood of $3 million, though.
Joonas Korpisalo, 23. Korpisalo is going to be enticing for George McPhee out in Vegas, and Columbus may not risk losing Bobrovsky’s backup (a restricted free agent) for nothing. LA would have to beat out teams who can offer Korpisalo a chance at their starting role, though, and going after an unproven backup with the team in win-now mode would be... odd. Plus, fans of some other squads are particularly interested in his services. Hello, Dallas.
Philipp Grubauer and Antti Raanta are similarly positioned backups, but they both have a longer track record (which favors LA) and are less likely to settle for another pure backup role (which does not favor LA). Look for Vegas to get at least one, maybe two of these three.
Carter Hutton, 32. Jake Allen finally grabbed the starting job this season with St. Louis, but Hutton was quite serviceable for the Blues. Hutton costs $1.125 million, and in a perfect world, he’d be great for the Kings. St. Louis doesn’t have a great third option in the system, but much like Carolina, their backup goalie is as appealing to Vegas as anyone else would be. Maybe they get a low-round pick for Hutton and grab a younger free agent.
Richard Bachman, 29. I only put the Canucks’ third-stringer on this list because he’s 3-0-1 with a .968 save percentage against LA in his career. (The Kings do need that AHL depth, though, as they could have zero other goalies beyond Quick and Campbell going into next year. It sounds like the Kings will exhaust all options to do that.)
Who do you think Rob Blake and the Kings will go after this summer? Tell us in the comments.