Heirs to the Throne: Part One

A look at Jonathan Quick’s injury and how it could affect the future of the Kings.

Note from the editor: If you missed our introductions of our new contributors this season, then you may not know that in addition to covering the Ontario Reign and Manchester Monarchs, Colin is also a goalie with a degree in Athletic Training/Sports Medicine. In the first of two pieces looking at the Kings in net, Colin brings his unique perspective to help us unravel what’s going on with Jonathan Quick.

Additional note from the editor: This article was posted before Jonathan Quick’s injury was announced as a torn meniscus, for which he will be out “indefinitely”, but most likely somewhere in at least the three- to six-week timeframe.

When the news broke last Saturday that Jonathan Quick had again been placed on injured reserve (IR) for an unspecified lower body injury, the collective groan of Kings fan could be heard around L.A. county and beyond.  To date, we do not know what the injury is but it has been reported that is believed to unrelated to the injury Quick sustained at the beginning of the month that lead to him miss five games.  However, it is perhaps time to face the reality of the situation; Quick isn’t getting any younger, and it is time to start casting our gaze to a future that does not have Quick minding the crease for Los Angeles.

Part one of this two-part series is going to a take a look at Quick’s injury record, how these injuries could affect the Kings organization and Quick himself, and some plausible scenarios that could unfold.

Why look into this now?

Well, first and foremost, the starting goaltender is, again, sidelined with an injury that will prevent him from playing.  While it is illogical to expect that he would play all 82 games, or to expect that injuries would not occur, the absence of a starting goaltender, especially one of Quick’s caliber, is a heavy blow to an already struggling team.

With Quick missing 24 games in the 2013-2014 season, 59 games in the 2016-2017 season, and five games this season (so far), all due to groin issues, there is the sense that as Quick ages he might be becoming more injury prone.  This new injury is believed to be unrelated to the previous injuries, but it is worrying that he sustained another lower body injury so soon after his return.

Secondly, Jack Campbell has been solid in net in the absence of Quick, posting a 3-4-0 record with a SV% of .912. In the long term, however, Jack Campbell is not the answer to the goaltending issue. At 26 years old, he will likely want to look for a more substantial role when his current contract expires at the end of the 2019-2020 season. With Quick still on the books until 2023 it could be difficult to convince Campbell to play the backup role, when many successful backup goalies have moved on to starting positions. (Talbot, Hutton, & Raanta to name a few.)

Goaltending Styles and Groin Injuries.

Quick’s injuries, prior to the most recent one, have all been groin related. The adductor muscle group, which most people know as the groin muscles, lies on the inner part of the thigh and is responsible for the motions that bring your leg back to the centerline. Think if you were standing with your feet at shoulder-width apart and you want to bring your knees in to touch each other. The adductors are responsible for completing that motion.  Groin injuries are typically caused by either overstretching or dynamic overload during eccentric contraction.  Eccentric contraction is a fancy term for a muscle lengthening under tension or, for those into weight-lifting, the downward motion of the bicep curl as you set the weight down slowly.

Typically, depending on the severity of the injury, other muscles involved, and the exact mechanism of injury, groin injuries take two or more weeks to fully heal.  The length of this can also be determined by how the injury responds to rehab and treatment.  Being a professional athlete with access to some of the finest medical care on the planet, I don’t think that what is being done medically to help Quick is of any concern.

So how does this tie in to Quick’s style of play? Well, Quick is known as one of, if not the most, aggressive and athletic goalies in the game.  He generally likes to position himself at the very top of the blue paint with the back edge of his blades barely touching the crease. In many cases, he will be beyond the blue paint. Where this matters is if either a shot and if a rebound comes out to one side or there a pass across the crease, Quick has a significant distance to cover to re-center himself on the puck. This is where we see many of his amazing full splits saves or dives, or whatever insanely athletic thing he does to keep the puck out of the net.

Here, Quick comes out above the blue paint, but a pass down low causes him to slide to the stop the shot from the low circle.

As you can see Price starts a little deeper in the crease, but is able to fully rotate and make the save because he has a shorter distance to cover.

These large explosive movements put the adductor group at risk of overstretch, and, in some cases, where a second recovery movement is needed, causing dynamic overload. The biomechanics of modern goaltending already put substantial strain on the human body, and Quick’s style certainly adds more stressors on his body than do the styles of more conservative goaltenders, like Carey Price.  More conservative goalies start anywhere from right on the edge of the blue paint to having their toes at the edge of the paint, and while this opens up more of the net for shooters to pick corners on, it gives the goalies more control in their recovery movements, as they have less distance to cover.

Quick is naturally very flexible (understatement) which certainly helps to mitigate the likelihood of injury, but as he ages, and with an already proven injury record, it is possible we will see Quick sidelined a few more times with injury.

In a recent article in The Athletic by Josh Cooper, it was suggested that a change in Quick’s playing style to more conservative techniques might increase his longevity.  However, this could prove to be a double-edged sword, as any changes made to a goalie’s game could throw them off their game entirely. Just look at the start of Frederik Andersen’s first year in Toronto or Carey Price’s recent struggles to see how even small changes to a goalie’s game can throw them off.

Short Term Solutions

So what can the Kings do to alleviate Quick’s current and potential absences in the future? The only viable option at this point is Jack Campbell, as both Peter Budaj and Cal Petersen are having less than stellar starts to the year with the Ontario Reign. Campbell has proven he can handle the responsibility of starting in the NHL and he will continue to improve as he settles into the role.  As the season progresses, it might prudent to start Campbell more often even when Quick is healthy to give Campbell playing time and reduce Quick’s workload.

If a long term injury situation were to arise, the Kings could have a scenario very similar to the one that has developed in New Jersey for the last season and a half.  The Devils starter, Cory Schneider, went down with a hip-related issue mid-season last year forcing their backup, Keith Kinkaid, to play for the remainder of the season, and through the start of this season. Kinkaid, for his part, was something of a revelation for the Devils backstopping them to the playoffs for the first time in five years. The only difference between the Devils and Kings in this scenario is the Kings don’t currently have a Taylor Hall-type player to put the team on their back and drag the team into the playoffs.

Another option for the Kings could be trading for a goaltender, to fill in as a 1B starter alongside Campbell. However, that would require parting with draft picks and prospects that the Kings desperately need elsewhere in the system. While trading for a goalie is still plausible, it would be poor asset management by the Kings front office, as there are glaring issues with the lineup that need addressing before the goaltending problem is resolved. Claiming a goalie off waivers is another possibility, however, the goalies who would be available are not an upgrade over either of the goaltenders the Kings have playing in Ontario. So, for now, it looks as if the Kings have to continue to play with the cards they have been dealt and look to developing future goaltenders to eventually inherit the throne from Quick.

It should be said that Quick will still be able to compete at a very high level for some time, but it is prudent to assess the options as he begins to enter the later stages of his career.  Next week, in part two of Heirs to the Throne, we will look at all of the goalies in the Kings system not named Jonathan Quick and how they might fit in to the future framework of the Kings.  We will also take a brief look at the up-and-coming goalie prospects who might be available at this year’s draft.

Go Kings.