#EastCoastBias: Why Jonathan Quick is Still Underrated

The rumor mill says that Jonathan Quick may be on the move this summer. No matter what happens, he’ll always be the most important goalie the Kings have ever had.

Resume: 11 years, 9 quality … Conn Smythe (’12 Kings)… Jennings Trophy 2 times (’14, ’18) … Top 5 Vezina 3 times (’12, ’’14, ‘16) … Top 10 (’11, 15, 18) … 5-year peak/average per season: 30 W, 19 L, 7 OTL, .916 SV %, 2.19 GAA, 6 SO … ‘12 Playoffs: 16 W, 4 L, .946 SV %, 1.41 GAA, 3 SO, 4-0 in Overtime … Top 5 Hart Trophy 1 time (’12) … best player on 1 champ (’12 Kings) … 2 Stanley Cups (’12, ’14) …

Lately I’ve been a little obsessed (well, maybe a bit more than usual) about the Los Angeles Kings, Jonathan Quick and the rumors the team will trade their best goalie ever for draft picks and other assets.

I spent the last week poring over the last 25 years of Vezina Trophy winners trying to figure out which one these goaltenders I would rather have in net when it really matters. Here’s the list:

Dominik Hasek—6-time winner
Martin Brodeur—2-time winner
Sergei Bobrovsky—2-time winner
Tim Thomas—2-time winner
Jim Carey—1-time winner
Braden Holtby—1-time winner
Miikka Kiprusoff—1-time winner
Olaf Kolzig—1-time winner
Henrik Lundqvist—1-time winner
Ryan Miller—1-time winner
Carey Price—1-time winner
Tuukka Rask—1-time winner
Pekka Rinne—1-time winner
Jose Theodore—1-time winner

You might ask right away why I chose to compare Quick to Vezina Trophy winners when he has none (more on that later).

So, first let’s eliminate the goalies who never won a cup (Bobrovsky, Price, Lundqvist, Carey, Theodore, Kiprusoff, Kolzig, Rinne, Miller, and Rask). Sorry boys, thanks for participating.

Next, I‘ll eliminate any significant head-to-head advantages for Quick in the playoffs (Brodeur). Quick over the greatest goalie of all time? Take a look at these head-to-head numbers in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final:

Quick: 4W, 2L, 7 GA, 131 SV, 2 OT Wins
Brodeur: 2W, 4L, 15 GA, 128 SV, 2 OT Losses

Sorry Marty, thanks for suiting up.

Now, I’ll eliminate anyone with less Stanley Cup championships (Hasek and Thomas). Yeah yeah, I hear you, Hasek technically had two Stanley Cups in his trophy case (Detroit ’02 and ’08), but the 2008 Cup belongs to Chris Osgood. I have to tell you that Thomas vs. Quick was tougher than I thought for a few reasons. In Thomas’ 2011 Conn Smythe run, Thomas stood tall in three Game 7s (2 SOs and an OT win) and he was remarkable in the Final versus the Vancouver Canucks, allowing just eight goals in seven games. Nonetheless, sorry guys, take a seat on the beach in your baseball cap.

With all of the comparisons out of the way, I can get back to the only goalie in the last 25 years I want roaming the crease for me as general manager: Jonathan Quick. For years, the pundits dismissed Quick as a gimmicky goalie with amazing acrobatic skills. For me, he had one gimmick and one gimmick only: he willed his team to victory. He willed the living hell out of games. He annihilated them. He left them for dead, especially when it mattered.

And it wasn’t just about numbers, but about the unyielding way he attacked the puck and the way he reimagined the goalie position. Imagine this guy morphing the butterfly style into some Plastic Man anomaly: perfect instincts, light on his feet, incredibly tough, super hockey IQ, uncanny flexibility. Imagine this guy had all kinds of positioning tricks and always knew where the pucks were going (to the point that it always seemed unfair). Imagine this guy loved stopping the puck, lived for it, couldn’t get enough of it. Then imagine giving him a team that scored around a half a goal less than the league average and a penchant of giving up high quality scoring chances.

Now, imagine watching that guy do things you’ve never seen before. That’s the Quick we know. Quick does it out of pure instinct. That’s just the way he plays. He protects the crease with a ferocity unseen before by his teammates before. Three-time Cup winner, Justin Williams agrees:

“What’s special about him is his desire, his never-give-up attitude. Even in practice, when you feel like you have an empty net, he’s always striving to stop that puck. It’s just what he loves to do. I love it when you come out and score on a goalie in practice and he says something derogatory to you. It means he wants to stop everything.”

He is blessed with a supernatural quality that sets him apart and transformed his career and hasn’t been duplicated since: intuition and geometry. See, Quick figured out a loophole in the goaltender system and that’s where to be at all times. From his Player Tribune article (July 29, 2015):

“How many times have you heard this line before? ‘Aw come on, it wasn’t a great save. He shot it right into the goalie’s glove!’

“It always bothers me when people use this to discredit an amazing glove save, because I feel like it means that people don’t understand the beauty of my position. In the NHL, 90 percent of the save happens before the player shoots the puck. As a goalie, if you’re relying on your reaction time to make saves, you’re going to get yanked in a hurry. Keeping pucks out of the net is mostly about intuition and geometry.”

And over everything else, that’s how Quick pilfered two Stanley Cups. But, let’s talk about how Quick’s best chance at a Vezina was itself pilfered.

In 2011-12, Quick put together a season for the ages. It was probably his best chance to win a Vezina (and because of his recent issues with injury, he might not again have the chance to be able to put together a full season of stats to overwhelm the voting contingency). He finished second with this stat line:

35 W, 21 L, 13 OTL, .929 SV %, 1.95 GAA, 10 SO

The Vezina went to Lundqvist with virtually the same stat line:

39 W, 18 L, 5 OTL, .930 SV %, 1.97 GAA, 8 SO

Based on those even numbers, it’s clear this wasn’t an award that was actually stolen…until you jump in the numbers.

That season, the Rangers had 109 points (tops in the Eastern Conference) while the Kings had 95 points (8th in the Western Conference). The Rangers averaged 2.75 goals per game while the Kings averaged 2.29. The league average was 2.72, meaning the Kings scored a half a goal less than the average NHL team.

Let’s not leave out the support that Quick and Lundqvist were given:

Jonathan Bernier (Quick’s backup)
5 W, 6 L, 2 OTL, .909 SV %, 2.36 GAA, 1 SO

Martin Biron (Lundqvist’s backup)
12 W, 6 L, 2 OTL, .904 SV %, 2.46 GAA, 2 SO

So while the Rangers were able to give Lundqvist 20 games of rest, the Kings only gave Quick 13. The Rangers received 26 points in the standings from their back up, while the Kings managed just 12. That’s the difference between a number one playoff seed and a number eight seed.

The Vezina is where #EastCoastBias is evident:

17 first place votes, 11 second place, 2 third place

6 first place votes, 9 second place, 6 third place

Quick only received one first place vote and two second place votes from voters from the Eastern time zone.

In the Hart voting, only two Western Conference players gathered enough votes to crack the top 12 in the MVP voting: Quick and Henrik Sedin (despite being the leader of the President Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks). Lundqvist finished third.

In other seasons, Quick has seen some blatant bias against his in-season performances. Take his two Jennings Trophy seasons. In 2013-14, he finished fifth in the Vezina, receiving zero first, second and third place votes from the Eastern time zone. Last season, he received just one third place vote.

So why the East Coast bias? First and foremost, the Toronto- and Eastern-dominated media still haven’t embraced Sun Belt hockey. Besides the credit heaped on the Colorado Avalanche championship teams, the Cup wins for Dallas, Carolina, Anaheim, and then the Kings were seen as flukes. Sean McIndoe validated this sentiment in a half tongue-in-cheek article praising the Kings after their second Cup win in 2014. Maybe it’s because Quick is quiet in pre- and post-game interviews on the national stage, often seen in a hoodie, answering in short sentences.

Whatever it is, by the time the rest of the hockey world started to pay attention to the West Coast, his dominant stretch waned and injuries set in. Giant chunks of the 2016-17 season and this one were lost. Now, the injury-prone label has made itself at home in Quick’s bio. It didn’t help that he was outdueled in the most even playoff sweep of all time by Marc-Andre Fleury in last year’s playoffs, losing all four games by one goal, including two shutout loses. Now the media is happy to gush over John Gibson, Martin Jones, and Fleury. Quick is now the guy who could be a factor if he could just stay healthy.

And that’s how it is for Jonathan Quick. He’s always the best penalty killer on the ice, brings his fire every game, and always gives a damn. He’s the goalie you want in net when it really matters for one reason only: at his peak, Quick guaranteed you a title run.

If he’s on a team (the Kings or a new team come next year) that can figure out a way to score at the league average and make the playoffs, most will discover that he’s still at this peak.