Jonathan Quick is not an elite NHL goaltender.
There are many who would contend that he is, and with good reason. When we look back to the 2012 Stanley Cup win that elevated the Kings from nearly failed rebuild to perpetual contenders, Quick’s contribution is spectacular, even Herculean.
It’s easy to forget now, but that team nearly missed the playoffs; if not for Quick’s 10 shutouts and 0.929 save percentage it likely would have. He followed that up with a Conn Smythe win after a postseason performance that was so incredible it defied belief even at the time (16-4-0, 0.946 save percentage).
So there should be no question that Quick can dominate a game, a series, even an entire playoff run. And for some commentators (and doubtlessly some of the readers who comment on this article), that’s enough. It’s enough to know that Quick has the ability to carry a team on his back to the postseason and even to the Stanley Cup.
The problem is that while he has the power to carry a team, he also has the power to sink one, and that’s what we’ve seen recently. The Kings sit three points out of the playoffs, despite having won the Stanley Cup last year, and the single-biggest reason for that is Quick’s implosion in the back half of the season. It’s remarkable how bad he’s been:
- First 23 games: 12-7-4 record, 0.931 save percentage, three shutouts
- Last 22 games: 7-8-6 record, 0.880 save percentage, zero shutouts
The NHL’s proclivity toward awarding points for losses obscures the issue somewhat, but over his last 22 games Quick has been twice as likely to record a loss instead of a win. In only three of those 22 contests did he deliver a league-average performance; in 12 of 22 games he allowed three or more goals.
And while Quick is certainly not as bad as he’s looked of late, subpar performances are getting to be a trend.
He’s played in 131 regular-season games since winning the Stanley Cup in 2012; over that span his total record is a middling 64-45-18, meaning he’s been in the net for one more win than loss despite playing for a team that is demonstrably one of the best in the NHL. His save percentage, a modest 0.910, comes in below the league average.
It’s not like this is a problem with the team defence, either; his backups have not had these problems. The trio of Jonathan Bernier, Ben Scrivens and Martin Jones combined for a 32-17-7 record and 0.926 save percentage over those same three seasons.
Those are all solid goaltenders, obviously; teams have pursued two of the three for starting jobs elsewhere and the third is a fixture in trade speculation. Even so, an elite goalie shouldn’t find his level of play so far below that of the men he’s sharing the crease with.
For those who would argue that Quick is at his best when it counts, it’s worth remembering that the Kings aren’t so good that they can just coast through the regular season. Los Angeles finished just four points ahead of the ninth-place Columbus Blue Jackets in 2012-13; if not for Jonathan Bernier’s excellent play the team might well have missed the playoffs.
At the moment the Kings are on the outside looking in, and a large portion of the blame for that must fall on the shoulders of Quick.
Quick is capable of going head-to-head with any goaltender, single-handedly pushing his team to victory in a game or a playoff series with his superlative play. But that isn’t all there is to being an elite player; an elite goalie also needs to be the solid backbone of his team year-in and year-out over an 82-game regular-season schedule.
Quick certainly reached that level in 2011-12, but in three seasons since he’s been more problem than solution. That matters, because regular-season play dictates which teams make the postseason and how difficult the road to the Cup is. A truly elite goaltender can be counted on all the time, not just when the playoffs roll around.
Until Quick proves that he can be a rock-solid starter for Los Angeles each and every season, he can’t truly be described as an elite goalie.
Statistics via NHL.com.
Jonathan Willis covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter for more of his work.