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When the NHL’s trade deadline passed on March 3, only two franchises — the Los Angeles Kings and Vegas Golden Knights — took significant steps aimed at improving in the crease. And given the Guardians involved, there’s plenty of storytelling to do.
LA added goaltender Joonas Korpisalo from the Columbus Blue Jackets, while the Golden Knights acquired Jonathan Quick after LA sent him to Columbus as part of the Korpisalo deal.
The best part? Both teams are in the Pacific Division. And there’s a good chance they’ll meet in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Imagine this: Quick, a two-time Stanley Cup winner with the Kings, faces his former team in the playoffs.
The plots write themselves. The potential match couldn’t be juicier. And if motivation was the ultimate determinant of the end result, Quick and the Golden Knights would beat the Kings in a four-game sweep.
The problem is that the motivation doesn’t go any further. He tends to be overplayed by fans and the media. And it even exists in the locker room. The players all talk about their motivation, unlike the other team.
Want to know what really matters to a goalkeeper? Control. Technical. Balance. Consistency. Strong minded. These are just a few buzzwords that carry so much weight when analyzing NHL goalie play.
So now that the 2023 NHL trade deadline has passed, are the Kings or Golden Knights in a better position to win the Stanley Cup? Will Korpisalo or Quick prove to be an upgrade for either team? I have a few thoughts.
At the end of the 2021-22 NHL season, I was unsure if Korpisalo would get another one-sided NHL contract. He’d lost the number one spot to Blue Jackets guarding partner Elvis Merzlikins, and his numbers weren’t pretty.
In 55 games played during the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons, Korpisalo had an .887 save percentage and a 3.63 goals-against average. His advanced stats weren’t much better. According to moneypuck.com’s goals recorded above the expected metric, Korpisalo ranked 53rd of all NHL goaltenders who played at least 20 games during the 2021-22 season.
But I don’t think it’s clear how badly Korpisalo struggled with nagging injuries. And on March 24, 2022, the Blue Jackets announced that Korpisalo would miss the remainder of the season and undergo hip surgery.
Recovery was expected to take six months. And Columbus did Korpisalo good by offering him a one-year, $1.3 million contract extension.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when Korpisalo returned to the Blue Jackets roster on Nov. 5, 2022. His past few seasons hadn’t been good, and I thought a lot of that was technical. Korpisalo liked to play outside of his crease. He was too dependent on post-integrations. And above all, the Finnish goalkeeper had a lot of trouble turning effectively. All of this led to him continuing to play and regularly rushing for the pucks.
Looking back, I can’t help but wonder how much Korpisalo was overcompensating for his injured hip. Because from what I’ve seen so far this year, he looks like the best version of himself. The one who was Sergei Bobrovsky’s heir apparent in Columbus.
In 29 games this season, Korpisalo has a .913 save percentage. He ranks 17th in goals saved above expectations. And most importantly, the eyesight test is really strong.
Korpisalo is staying closer to home. Pretty much the only time he ventures out of the blue paint is on rushing odds against, which makes sense given his exceptional skating ability. He prefers to have a rollback when the game comes his way.
But what I find really remarkable is Korpisalo’s level of control. It’s the best I’ve seen of him. And it’s not just because her hip is healthy. It’s pretty clear to me that Korpisalo decided to make technical changes during his recovery, and now it’s paying off.
With any goalkeeper, there are concerns. Korpisalo will sometimes overuse the reverse VH post-integration technique and get burned by it. And he still fails to reach the pucks rather than pushing into saves with both legs.
But the Kings are getting a solid goaltender with a knack for big moments. Korpisalo was huge for the Blue Jackets in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, including an NHL-record 85 saves in a five-time overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
So, are the Kings better in goal? Unequivocally, I think they are. Although Pheonix Copley has done a stellar job in the Los Angeles crease since being recalled from the AHL, there’s a limit to his effectiveness. Copley’s 19-4-2 record far surpasses his .899 save percentage.
To put it bluntly, Cal Petersen and Jonathan Quick were costing the Kings games. And there was no way Los Angeles would put a franchise legend like Quick on a waiver. He won two Stanley Cup championships as a member of the Kings and won the 2012 Conn Smythe Trophy as the NHL playoff MVP.
Quick’s number will be retired by the Kings. A statue will be erected. But his .876 save percentage in 31 appearances for Los Angeles this season was nowhere near enough. And it’s now been more than five NHL seasons since Quick’s save percentage was above the league average.
I wrote about some of the issues with Quick’s game last November here at Daily Faceoff. And frankly, nothing has changed since I wrote the play. While the majority of NHL goaltenders have updated their technique in recent years, Quick has stuck to his old-school approach to the position.
Quick little games by today’s standards. He kneels early and often. The Golden Knights guard breaks down at inopportune times. And he tends to reach for the puck rather than putting his whole body in front of the shot. Among others.
Luckily for Quick, he landed with a team that did a fantastic job of keeping opposing teams in the perimeter. According to moneypuck.com, Vegas has given up the second-fewest number of high-risk shots this season.
But the Kings are not far behind with the seventh minus. Despite a stingy team ahead of him, Quick was the weak link in Los Angeles’ defensive chain.
Ask any former teammate and they’ll all tell you Quick might be the most competitive person they’ve ever shared the ice with. And I don’t doubt it for a second. There’s a reason Quick is one of the most decorated American-born goaltenders and why he should be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The problem is that motivation and competitiveness cannot overcome technical shortcomings in today’s NHL. Quick is so exciting in goal because nobody plays like him anymore – and for good reason. He was always an outlier, a goalkeeper who couldn’t be copied. But over time, as the pre-scouts became hyper-detailed, opposing teams picked up on his tendencies.
Quick is still able to steal games from time to time. And he’ll probably be fine for Vegas for the rest of the regular season. If that’s the plan, for Quick to play a few games in tandem with Adin Hill until Logan Thompson returns from injured reserve, so be it. Spending a seventh-round draft pick for some insurance made sense. Although I think there were better goalkeepers available for a similar price.
But here’s the catch: Hill has been fantastic lately. His game continues to improve after a difficult period during the month of January. If the Golden Knights make it to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, will Bruce Cassidy and the Golden Knights front office hide Quick on the bench? Or even in the press box? There is a good argument to be made that they should. But will they?
What I mean is, it’s Jonathan Quick. His reputation precedes him. There will be a strong push no matter how he plays the rest of the season for the Golden Knights to launch him into Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Provided Vegas makes the playoffs. The team really has no choice: heads will roll in Sin City if the Golden Knights somehow fall out of action by the end of the regular season.
If that’s the path Vegas has chosen, I think it would be pretty bold. Thompson had a strong rookie campaign and will be a big part of the franchise over the next few seasons. He is the team’s most dynamic goalkeeper and he has already won 20 games in 35 starts. And like I said earlier, Hill continues to play quality minutes. He’s 16-6-1 this year with a .914 save percentage. Will Cassidy also put him away?
Conclusion: This all needs to be settled before the start of the 2022-23 Stanley Cup Playoffs. But I think the Kings hit a home run by bringing in Joonas Kopisalo. And I think the Golden Knights could have bought on reputation rather than performance.
Hoping for the best rarely works. But planning for the best is predictable. The Kings are solid in front of goal, while the Golden Knights could have a mess on their hands.
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