Last month’s column regarding Kings tough guys and the resulting Twitter-storm (aka l’affaire Dan Maloney) got me thinking of possible follow-up columns. One obvious topic was top goalies in Kings history. I grew up manning the nets. Thus I was confident in my knowledge of the subject. Admittedly however, those that follow either my sports-writing career or my legal career already know that I say that about most things.
Naming the top two netminders in Kings history is easy. You have a two-time Cup champion at number one, and a Hall of Famer at number two. You also need not look too hard to find number three. He backstopped the squad to a Finals appearance. (damn, you Marty McSorley.) But who else among the 68 other men who have manned the crease for Los Angeles deserves recognition for their service between the pipes?
As always, I set some ground rules. There are several reasons for this. One, I’m a lawyer (have I mentioned that?) and lawyers like rules; two, eligibility would be limited to those who played at least 50 games for the Kings. I chose 50 games because NHL teams have historically relied on one “starting” goalie. Since Martin Brodeur won the 2003 Stanley Cup for New Jersey after playing 73 regular season games, the average number of regular season starts for the Cup-winning goalie is 46. Additionally the Jennings trophy (and until 1981, the Vezina trophy) is awarded to the “the goaltender(s) having played a minimum of 25 games for the team with the fewest goals scored against it … based on regular-season play.” Thus 50 games seemed the right cutoff. This minimum game requirement also had the intended effect of excluding Terry Sawchuk (36 games) and Grant Fuhr (14 games) both of whose Hall of Fame careers were built playing for other teams. (Fun fact #1: The Kings chose Sawchuk first overall in the 1967 expansion draft after he was left unprotected by Toronto despite having just turned away 40 of 41 shots in that season’s Cup-clincher against Montreal. The Leafs of course have not won the Cup since. “Curse of Terry Sawchuk”, is that a thing?)
“Coincidentally” the 50-game requirement also had the “unintended” effect of keeping current San Jose goalie Martin Jones off the list. (Sorry, not sorry.) Jones played 34 games for the Kings over two years and holds the Kings franchise record for lowest career goals against average for goalies who appeared in at least 20 games (1.91). He played 19 games for the 2013-2014 Cup champions, posting a record of 12 wins against six loses, an impressive goals against average of 1.81, and a save percentage of .934. Thus, with those rules in mind I present you my list of top six all-time Kings goalies.
6. Gary Edwards (1971-1977)
Edwards played for seven different NHL teams after being drafted in the first round (sixth overall) by St. Louis in the 1968 Amateur Draft. After appearing in only two games for the Blues, he was selected by Buffalo in the 1970 Expansion Draft. (Fun Fact #2 – Although Toronto holds the longest active Cup-drought at 52 years and counting, at least Leafs fans have experienced a championship parade, albeit apparently in black and white. Vancouver, and Buffalo, which came into the league together in 1970 are the oldest franchises to have never lifted Lord Stanley’s chalice.)
After a year in the Sabers organization during which he did not appear for the big club, Edwards was acquired by Los Angeles prior to the 1971-1972 season in something called the “Interleague Draft”. He was named Kings Rookie of the Year that year, appearing in 44 games.
Edwards’ best year with the team was 1974-1975, when he was named the team’s “unsung hero” after playing 26 games behind Rogie Vachon while posting a record of 15-3-8 for what is still the Kings all-time best squad in terms of points — 105 points in 80 games. His 2.34 goals-against average that year placed him third in the league among goalies who played 25 or more games, and his three shutouts placed him eighth.
Finally, Edwards and Vachon lost out on the Vezina Trophy that year (based on what is now the criteria used to award the Jennings Trophy) by only four goals to Bernie Parent of the champion Flyers. (Fun fact #3: I had the great fortune to sit next to Parent at the NHL-hosted brunch prior to the 2017 All-Star game. Bernie is a very friendly, unassuming guy who was happy to share stories of the old Broad Street Bullies.)
Edwards ended up playing six seasons with Los Angeles, finishing his Kings career with a record of 54-68-22, a goals-against-average of 3.39, and a save percentage of .890. He still ranks seventh among goalies on the franchise’s all-time list for games played, as well as eighth in wins.
5. Jamie Storr (1995-2003)
Storr played nine seasons with the Kings, after being drafted seventh overall in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft. Despite the fact he played from 1994 through 2003, it’s almost impossible to find video online of Storr actually making saves for the team. I spent hours scurrying the internet and was left with two choices. I could either post the “highlights” above from a 1995 7-7 tie with Vancouver, or post Geoff Courtnall’s infamous cheap shot on Storr during the 1997-1998 playoffs.
Storr holds the unusual distinction of being the only player in NHL history to be named to the league’s All-Rookie team twice. Although he made his Kings debut in January 1995, he failed to play 25 or more games in a single season until 1998-1999. Thus, he was named to the league All-Rookie Team in 1997-1998 after playing 17 games for the Kings, and then again following the 1998-1999 season when he played 28 games for the club.
Storr finished his Kings career with an 85-78-21 mark, a 2.53 goals against average, a .910 save percentage, and 16 shutouts. He ranks fifth on the Kings all-time franchise list for both career wins and games played, as well as third in shutouts. His career save percentage of .910 places him fifth on the franchise’s all-time list among 50-game qualifiers.
4. Mario Lessard (1978-1984)
Lessard was drafted in the ninth round by the Kings (154th overall) in the 1974 Amateur Draft. He was the winning goalie in the infamous 1982 “Miracle on Manchester”, although he nearly blew that game in overtime by coming way out of the net attempting to beat Mark Messier to a loose puck, only to have Messier miss an open net.
Lessard spent his entire six-year career with the Kings, playing 49 or more games in each of his first four seasons. His appearance on my list despite a career record of 92-97-39, a goals against average of 3.75, and a save percentage of .874, might cause younger fans to conclude I took too many pucks to the head during my own goalie career. However, it was a much more wide-open up and down game with more scoring until Jacques Lemaire and the Devils nearly ruined it in the mid-nineties with the neutral zone trap, a dark period for hockey from which the NHL has spent the last 15 years tying to emerge.
Thus, to truly appreciate Lessard’s career, one must note that in his first full year with the Kings he placed fifth in Calder Trophy balloting (NHL rookie of the year) after going 23-15-10, with a 3.11 goals against average, and a .892 save percentage. (Fun Fact #4: Ron Grahame, the Kings other goalie that year, was acquired from Boston just a few days before the season opener in exchange for the Kings first-round draft pick the following year. Whom did the Bruins draft with the Kings pick you ask? Well, none other than … wait for it … Hall of Famer Ray Borque.)
Lessard’s best season with the Kings was 1980-1981. He played in 64 games, going 35-18-11 as the Kings posted the NHL’s fourth-best record overall. Moreover, his 35 wins not only led the league, but according to Hockey-Reference.com also led the NHL in goalie point shares, which is “an estimate of the number of points contributed by a player due to his play in goal.” (For comparison’s sake, Jonathan Quick has never placed above fourth in single-season goalie point shares.) Lastly, Lessard tied for 11th in Hart Trophy balloting that year (league MVP) just ahead of Habs legend Guy LaFleur and the aforementioned Borque.
3. Kelly Hrudey (1988-96)
Hrudey was acquired from the Islanders in February, 1989. He would become a mainstay in the Kings net, playing at least 36 games in each of the seven full seasons he spent with the team. He holds second place among Kings goalies in all-time playoff appearances behind only Jonathan Quick (no surprise there) and is the only goalie other than Quick to appear for the Kings in a Stanley Cup Finals game (damn you, McSorley). Hrudey is third among goalies on the Kings all-time goalie list for regular season games played (360), wins (145), and ties (55).
While his career 3.45 goals against average and .897 save percentage with the Kings might seem inconsistent with such a high ranking, those stats must be analyzed within the era he played. For example, Hrudey ranks second behind only Quick on the Kings all-time list of number of shots faced. However, according to LAKings.com Hrudey faced 31.48 shots per game during his Kings career while Quick faces only 24.49. That’s 28% more rubber per 60 minutes. By extension, that means both more goals allowed per game and a lesser save percentage over the course of a season due to fatigue on both the goalie’s part and by his teammates who must exert more energy on a nightly basis in connection with a wide open up-and-down game.
Interestingly, Hrudey’s best season with the Kings was not the 1992-1993 Finals team (damn you again, McSorley). His best season in Los Angeles was 1990-1991 when he went 26-13-6, with a goals against average of 2.90 (sixth in the league) and a save percentage of .900. He was fourth in Vezina balloting that year, which by then was awarded as it is now, to the best goalie in the league. Hrudey followed up with another good year in 1991-1992, finishing seventh in Vezina balloting, going 26-17-13 with a goals against average of 3.37 and a save percentage of .897. He also placed third in goalie win shares that year, the second time among the four times in his seven years was with the Kings he ranked in the top 10 in that category league-wide. Lastly in 1994-1995, Hrudey’s final year with the Kings, the then 34-year old placed 11th in Vezina balloting, and fifth in goalie win shares after posting a record of 14-13-5, a 3.14 goals against average and a .910 save percentage.
Lastly, as far as I can tell he is the only King ever honored with his own song:
2. Rogie Vachon (1971-1977)
Chants of “Rogie, Rogie, Rogie” often echoed through the Fabulous Forum during the seven seasons Hall of Famer Vachon spent in Inglewood after being acquired from Montreal early in the 1970-1971 season in exchange for four players. Rogie was the first player in Kings history to have his number (30) retired, and remains one of the most beloved players in franchise history. Standing 5’7”, Vachon was a full foot shorter than the tallest goalie in Kings history, current Dallas netminder Ben Bishop. (Fun fact #5: According to gooddeedseats.com, the average height for starting goalies today is 6’3”, with eleven starters listed at 6’2”. Jonathan Quick is tied for shortest starter, standing 6’1”.)
Rogie ranks second on the all-time franchise list behind only Quick in many goaltending categories, including games, wins, and shutouts. His career goals against average of 2.86 places him tenth among those goalies who played 50 or more games with the Kings, and his .901 save percentage places him eleventh. In 1974-1975 Vachon went 27-14-13, with a 2.24 goals against average, six shutouts, and a .927 save percentage, coming in second for the Hart Trophy (league MVP) behind only Flyer captain Bobby Clarke.
He led the league in multiple goaltending categorizes that season including save percentage and goals saved above average (61 – defined as how many goals an individual goalie prevented over the course of a season compared to a league-average goalie). In the latter category, he far outdistanced future Hall of Famers Parent, Ken Dryden, Tony Esposito and Billy Smith, all of whom placed in the league top-10 that season.
Vachon had another stellar campaign in 1976-1977 when he finished second among goalies league-wide in shutouts (8), minutes, and goalie point shares, in addition to top-10 finishes in goals against average, save percentage, and goals saved above average. In recognition he was voted third in MVP balloting, trailing only winner Guy LaFleur of the Cup-champion Canadiens as well as Bobby Clarke again.
1. Jonathan Quick (2004-present)
Really, was there any question? Drafted by the Kings in the third round of the 2005 Entry Draft (72nd overall) the UMass-Amherst alum has backstopped the team to two Stanley Cup championships, while all other goalies in the history of the franchise have combined for a whopping one Finals appearance and zero rings. His number 32 is guaranteed to hang from the Staples Center wall as soon as he retires. When that happens he will join Rogie Vachon as the only goalies in team history to be so honored.
Quick is a past winner of both the Conn Smythe and Jennings trophies, and holds every significant franchise mark for goalies, including games played (633), playoff games played (89), wins (320), playoff wins (46), shutouts (51), save percentage (.913), and goalie point shares. He is also even with Vachon in career “ties” (66 – including overtime/shootout losses). Finally, as for showing up in big games – the ultimate bellwether for goalies in my opinion — Quick did not win the 2012 Conn Smythe simply because he got hot at the right time, his career playoff goals against average and save percentage are actually better than his career regular season numbers.
That’s my list. Do you agree or disagree? Is there anybody you think Is more deserving, should be ranked higher, or have been omitted entirely? Felix Potvin? Mathieu Garon? Stephane Fiset? Glenn Healy? How about Roland “Rollie the Goalie” Melanson? Leave your comments below or reach out to me directly on Twitter @MarkDevoreNHL and I will respond. Everybody rest up over the break. Let’s hope for a Blues-like turnaround, and as always GO KINGS GO!