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February 14, 2012 | 3:30pm ET


Not a Quick journey
 With little help from his teammates, and even less fanfare, Los Angeles Kings netminder Jonathan Quick has emerged as one of the NHL's elite.

LOS ANGELES -- Next time you're at a casino, here's a reason to play the long shot and put a few dollars down on 32 on the roulette wheel.

Emerging from the nuclear winter that was the NHL lockout, the league conducted their first Entry Draft a few weeks after returning to normalcy in Canada's national capital of Ottawa, Ontario.

Unlike the usual custom of showcasing the restocking of the NHL shelves, the draft was conducted out of the public's purview at the Westin Hotel; ironically the same venue where an international media gathering interviewed some of the same selections six and a half years later about their All Star weekend experience.

Though 2005 was the year Sidney Crosby matriculated to the NHL, other than his pre-determined selection there was zero fanfare that accompanied other first round selections like Bobby Ryan and Anze Kopitar. The latter was likely the finest selection of then-GM Dave Taylor's career, a wunderkind out of Slovenia, not Slovakia or Czechoslovakia.

Kopitar had the benefit of playing two seasons in the Swedish Elite League and although he came from a small country without a hockey legacy, he arrived on the Pacific shores already a man and showed it in his first rookie and then NHL training camp. Anze never spent a day in the North American minor leagues and has become a two time All Star and a vital cog in the Kings' championship hopes.

When one scrolls down the list of Los Angeles selections post-Kopitar that year, the record wasn't pretty. There's T.J. Fast and Dany Roussin, best known for scoring a bushel full of goals on Crosby's line for the Rimouski Quebec junior major team. Roussin's failure at the highest level of hockey is a minor footnote to number 87's greatness and furthers the argument that I could pot double digit markers on if placed on his flank.

With his fourth pick in the third round, Taylor selected a player that shows although the Kings Hall of Famer may have had challenges building an organization, his eye for talent is among the keenest in the game.

At the time, Jonathan Quick was a record setting prep goaltender for Old Avon Farms School in his native Connecticut. His record was a sterling 47-3 over two seasons with his senior season being the finest. He fashioned nine shutouts in combination with a 1.14 goals-against-average and .956 save percentage with the goose egg total still a New England prep record.

Quick declined to go the professional route, preferring to enroll at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, at last check not one of the Boston area powerhouses among NCAA's sextet. Continuing the credo of low fanfare, high performance, Quick led the Minutemen to their first NCAA Ice Hockey Championship appearance in 2006 in his sophomore season. His first NCAA tournament appearance was a shutout victory over Clarkson, a 33 save affair and while a championship was too daunting a task given the lack of top talent on the team, Quick departed Amherst as the holder of numerous records that still stand.

While those numbers were impressive, to say that his future professional employers were impressed would be a bigger stretch than one of Quick's own acrobatic saves.

He joined the organization not one step away from the big time with the Manchester Monarchs, but debuted with the Reading Royals of the ECHL, with the only similarity to the varsity being the consistency of monarchial nicknames. Determined to make team executives take rapid notice, his first pro game was memorable. While a win and shutout is not unusual, Jonathan became only the second player in ECHL history to also record a goal in his first game along with the victory and whitewash.

The season was a success and the solid numbers he put up were worthy of promotion to the logical next step and New Hampshire was the next stop to further develop his craft. At the top of the food chain, the winds of change blew in and the organization that drafted him bore little resemblance to the crew that stood on the floor in Ottawa.

Los Angeles was unable to make the playoffs in the 2006-07 season, Taylor was relieved of his managerial duties in favor of Dean Lombardi and Andy Murray morphed into Marc Crawford behind the bench. Lombardi, knowing he was managing a franchise with little organizational depth on or off the ice, signed seven free agents in an effort to keep the wolves from the door.

Predictably, it wasn't going to work, "people made a big deal of me signing all those guys but you know you're in trouble when you sign that many free agents in one off-season," Lombardi recanted a couple of seasons ago.

Though not knowing it at the time, the switch in the executive suite was a defining moment for Quick. As he had done successfully in San Jose, Lombardi knew the key to winning was building from the back end; Job One was developing an air-tight defense with puck moving defenseman and reliable goaltending. The second part of the job was easier said than done as the Kings netminder to achieve All Star status at the time was Mario Lessard in 1981.

The team had made infrequent playoff appearances and only traveled once to the Stanley Cup Finals, so it was little surprise that almost three decades had passed since they had developed a legitimate NHL goaltender. Though Lombardi and his scouts whiffed badly on their first draft, selecting Thomas Hickey with the fourth-overall pick, his selection of Drew Doughty and Colton Teubert in the 2008 Entry Draft first round combined with the acquisition of the draft rights to University of Michigan stud Jack Johnson could only encourage a goalie that was ticketed to be the starter in Los Angeles into the next decade.

And although that goalie was named Jonathan, he was not the subject of our story. A year after selecting Quick, Taylor's critical eye had already targeted the Kings' goalie of the future; an almost technically perfect one in Jonathan Bernier, out of the hotbed of the QJMHL where the likes of Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy started their legendary careers.

The Kings first round selection in the 2006 draft was a clear signal that Bernier was the chosen one and when the Kings started the 2007-08 season in London, England, Bernier was on the varsity. In the days leading up to their European vacation, Crawford dared to draw a comparison to the aforementioned Roy and 500 or so Kings fans that made the transcontinental trip were high with the anticipation that their goaltending problem was solved.

There were only two problems.

The Kings were bad.

Jonathan Bernier wasn't ready.

Only four games in his NHL career, Lombardi wisely sent Bernier back to his junior team in Lewiston, Maine. It's hard enough to develop into an NHL goaltender while still in your teens and when the team in front of you is destined to finish last in the conference; the risk of crushing a netminder's confidence far outweighs the handful of additional wins that could accrue. So with his main rival dispatched back to junior hockey and with a solid start to his AHL season, one would think the door was flung wide open for an NHL opportunity.

Not so Quick, my friend.

The record shows that the Kings used seven goaltenders that season, including the notorious Dan Cloutier (Crawford's anointed guy) and Jean Sebastien Aubin (only one of two players ever to be involved in a Kings-Ducks trade). I have a vague remembrance of Quick's December 6, 2007 debut at Staples Center against Buffalo, a resounding 8-2 win for the home side and was the initial and lone NHL victory for him that season. I'm sure looking at his pedigree and record from the game night notes I said to myself, "another Barry Brust or Daniel Taylor into the bargain."

Though Quick's personality and demeanor allows observers a limited glance at his personal side, it can't mask the intensity he brings to the ice every game. He's never been THE guy, never the ones fan's hopes were pinned to, even his 32 jersey number is a statement that he's doesn't care about what the norm is.

When he played well enough to start the 2008-09 season in the NHL and Terry Murray sent him back to Manchester in favor of Erik Ersberg and Jason LaBarbera, it only served to build an even greater fire inside of him. He was recalled on Dec. 16, 2008, a day that would mark the final time he would earn a minor league paycheck. The Kings were only marginally better than their prior bottom feeding season but Murray's installation of an effective defensive system gave Quick the confidence to become the starter by season end, finishing three games over .500 for a team that ended three games under. His play was encouraging to such an extent that the Kings were able to harbor Bernier in the juniors for an additional season, a true reversal of fortune for the two Jonathans.

Even with Bernier's graduation to the professional ranks, Quick's improving play allowed the former first round pick to continue his development in the AHL. Having been told he was 'the one' for years only to see his spot taken by a less heralded goalie didn't sit well with Bernier, who spent most of the 2009-10 dealing with maturation issues as well as fine tuning his game. Ever the good teammate, Quick minimized the strife between teammates.

"It's hockey, there's always going to be competition for jobs, so our relationship is fine," the American Olympic Silver Medalist explained.

Bernier surfaced after the All Star break and won three important games down the stretch but it was Erik Ersberg who served as the main caddy for Quick. His 72 appearances and 39 wins are Los Angeles single season records and his 2.24 goals against (likely eclipsed this season) tied Kings Legend Rogie Vachon as a season best.

Through it all, Quick has never rested on his laurels; he's as great a perfectionist as we've ever seen¸ thinking that he could and SHOULD have stopped every puck that gets by him and when critics point to gaps in his game, he takes it to heart and uses it as motivation.

When he first appeared in the league, his gangly frame had some wonder that even if his skill level turned out to be NHL caliber, he couldn't stand the rigors of heavy use playing three times a week against grown men.

Observing him at the All Star game, he's become one of the most athletic goalies in the NHL and there's far more muscle on his frame than the kid from Milford who showed up six years past.

Two seasons ago, fans and media would cringe when he left the crease to handle the puck. He quietly took the off-season to work on his stick-handling skills and while he's not yet Ron Hextall-like, he's no longer a liability outside the blue. While he grew up a big New York Rangers fan and admirer of Mike Richter, "every goalie has their own style; I didn't really pattern myself after anyone in particular."

With most of his games starting at 10:30PM Eastern time, majority most fans don't know what style of goaltender he is. He plays from an extremely low crouch as to help locate the puck in traffic. Lateral movement is one of his biggest assets as his hands and feet move rapidly covering the 4 foot by 6 foot area. His flexibility and athleticism, while responsible for highlight reel saves will need to yield to better positioning to cover the top part of his cage as he searches for perfection. You can count on at least one spectacular save a night and those often get the Staples Center faithful going most nights given the limited opportunities to cheer the offense. His emotional style of play and excess movement allow for more rebounds on average and while it's difficult to criticize a goaltender with a sub 2.00 GAA and whose statistics improve every season, there are opportunities for improved technical play.

Off the ice, there's far more work to do if the Kings want to develop a star. Like most goalies, Jonathan won't talk to you after a morning skate of a game he'll play in but you won't get too much more from him on the non-game days either.

Earlier this season TFP did a feature with his more vocal teammates like Kopitar and Drew Doughty looking for 10 Essentials they couldn't live without. When Quick was asked to contribute his first response was, "you probably have the wrong guy." With further encouragement, he started the list but then stalled halfway through, so there's no BizNasty 3.0 in the making at his stall.

Like his teammates, he's matured into adulthood in Los Angeles, now married to Jaclyn, his childhood sweetheart from back home from the tony enclave of Greenwich, Connecticut and have a darling daughter Madison Mychal, who often seen wearing her daddy's 32 sweater while waiting with mom in the bowels of Staples Center after a game.

We got a more personal look at Quick during the All Star weekend, our mindset was that he would be uncomfortable in the spotlight, hindering the enjoyment of the moment but he was quick to disagree (had to use it once, you know).

"I'm enjoying this right now, it's not something I'll have to wait to look back on and appreciate it later," he admitted in the glare of spotlight.

While sitting on a media riser he even threw in some humor about being selected (and subsequently winning) for the speed skating competition against Detroit's Jimmy Howard.

"Henrik (Lundqvist) told me he picked me because of my last name," he jokingly conveyed in his accustomed monotone voice.

While he's on Twitter, there's never anything earth shattering in those precious 140 characters, the occasional chirp at Kopitar or his brother-in-law and former teammate Matt Moulson of the New York Islanders and he's not on Facebook although there are accounts that bear his name.

There's a friendly but intense rivalry between the brother-in-laws. "I love scoring goals but even more or so on Quickie," his former teammate conveyed while the goalie chirped back, "he's an mediocre uncle," when asked about Matt's interaction with his daughter.

"There's a personality inside there, we're trying to extract it," said Jaclyn while the couple enjoyed a free vacation in Ottawa courtesy of the NHL.

That personality doesn't extend to his post-game comments, perhaps still focused on the 60 (and more frequently 65 minute) battle just completed, it's the same cliches about how he takes one game at a time, needed to stop that goal or how he could have done it better. This quote after an early season victory over the San Jose Sharks could be recycled after any win this season... or next.

"Tonight was a big win. Everybody battled hard. A hard-fought game. They battled too, on their side. It was a huge two points."

The biggest rise I got out of him was over the past two months when we asked about his hometown New York Football Giants' unlikely march to a Super Bowl championship. Only he and Mike Richards are Big Blue supporters in the room, he predicted victory over the last month accurately weekly and even ventured to give a score for each subsequent playoff game against a wave of naysayers, par for the course for the man.

What makes Quick's performance this season even more amazing is the lack of support given by his teammates offensively. After Richards fell into Lombardi's lap by virtue of a changing of the guard in Philadelphia, the thought was that with the additional of former Flyer Simon Gagne and Dustin Penner motivated to perform in a contract year would position the squad for a Pacific Division crown and high seed come the spring.

That best laid plan has gone far awry, as the Kings are safely nestled in the 30th and last spot in goals scored for most of the season. Those that put the blame at the feet of deposed coach Terry Murray haven't seen much better with Darryl Sutter and only this team's airtight defense, led by Quick has kept this team in the top eight of the Western Conference in 2012. The big picture concern is that with Sutter's penchant of riding his starter hard and with every goal surrendered a possible game winner, Quick's resolve must be steelier than any other netminder in the league.

"When you've got a clear-cut No. 1 goalie, and he's fresh and sharp, then he's going to play," were comments uttered by Sutter on the Kings current six-game road trip that set the tone for the final 30 games of the regular season.

When Lundqvist slips on Broadway, he's got Marian Gaborik or Brad Richards coming to the rescue; if Jimmy Howard whiffs, Pavel Datsyuk or Johan Franzen can return the favor on the next shift. Kopitar is the leading goal scorer on this team, but only projects to a total of 25 over a full season, giving most Kings' fans to assume they'll see a 2-1 shootout loss when they settle in their seats on an average night at Staples Center.

Legitimate goal scorers like Rick Nash, Jeff Carter, Ray Whitney and Ryan Malone have been rumored to be California-bound since Thanksgiving but the Kings have stood pat despite the fact that Gagne has likely played his last game this season with concussion issues. Unless Lombardi pulls a rabbit out of a hat at the deadline and extracts two goal scorers from other rosters, Quick is going to be life and death with every goal surrendered through early April and hopefully, if they enter the post season.

While this season's stats have placed him among the league's elite, those hoping for a Vezina win or an even less likely Hart nomination will go by the boards due to the lack of support that have resulted in ten overtime losses this season.

Last year, the deadly combination of Quick and Jarret Stoll's wrist shot made the Kings virtually unbeatable in the shootout and was a major contributor in a return to the post season for a second consecutive season. Not so the case this season, the same shootout magic hasn't been found in Jonathan pads and the lack of W's combined with East Coast bias will likely see King Henrik raise the Vezina in Las Vegas in June. Quick will acknowledge a Vezina nomination gracefully but the only hardware he's really concerned with has a first name of Stanley.

A far greater concern sits with his employer and more specifically, his employment status in two seasons from now. Quick's contract, presently an undervalued $1.8 million cap hit, actually pays him less in its final season, graduating down to $1.7 million. The NHL collective bargaining agreement doesn't allow contract extensions to be signed until the final year of the deal, but there's already significant concern in the Kings front office that a continuance of his current sterling season will yield to contract demands that will be in the neighborhood of Pekka Rinne's $ 49 million, 7 year extension with the Nashville Predators.

Quick's only 26 years old and entering the prime of his NHL career, with the only chink in his royal armor being the inability to win a playoff round, he's suffered first round eliminations against Vancouver and San Jose the past two seasons. If the Kings don't get out of the first round this season, the lack of post season wins will be brought to the negotiating table while his representatives will likely draw parallels to Vezina nominee Rinne, who was 29 on the day he inked his big money deal and possesses only four more lifetime playoff victories.

Adding to the intrigue are Quick's East Coast roots, he's clearly uncomfortable when discussing the transition to life in Southern California and gives non-descript answers when pressed about California living. While he's visible during at team events and visits to local children's hospital, he's not aligned himself with any local charity like Captain Dustin Brown and keeps a very low profile off the ice. While it may be a function of his introverted personality, it's a lock that the Quick won't be residing in Los Angeles after his playing days are over.

On the Kings' trips back to the east coast, he's been known to take the entire family with him and with the connection to the Moulsons on Long Island through his wife (sisters are also best friends) there are strong family ties to the New York metro market.

"When we play the Islanders, the bigger rivals are our wives more than me and Matt," the goalie admitted.

While the Rangers are set for years for two more years contractually (and likely beyond) with Lundqvist and the Islanders have an albatross of a Rick DiPietro contract likely blocking any interest in another big money goaltender deal, the third metropolitan area New York teams presents a unique future opportunity.

The New Jersey Devils current goaltenders, first ballot Hall of Famer Brodeur and able backup Johan Hedberg both hit unrestricted free agency this summer. It's not too far-fetched to think that GM Lou Lamoriello would offer either or both a one year deal to either goalie as a bridge to a Quick offer two summers from now. While the Devils are likely to lose Zach Parise due to ownership (read: cash) issues, one figures they get their house in order over the next 18 months.

While there's no guarantees in life, you can bet that the Devils recruiting visit would include a tour of his Giants home, Met Life Stadium and probably a private meeting with Eli Manning (salsa dancer/WR Victor Cruz's alma mater is UMass too but he and the goalie have never met).

Though some inside the Kings locker room think that Quick would take less, perhaps $25 million over five years to stay at Casa del Staples, management resistance on dealing away Jonathan Bernier is more about Quick than about Bernier's ascendance to the starter spot between the pipes. As the rumors about a Jeff Carter trade increased in Los Angeles, an insider gave more credence to the Quick exit strategy.

"You're last in offense, you're offered a 35+ goal scorer for a goalie who will play no more than five games more this season and you don't make the trade? The Kings are worried that Quick will price himself out of the market or wants to go home and play in the New York area."

Dennis Bernstein is the Senior Writer for The Fourth Period Magazine. Be sure to follow him on Twitter.


 

 

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