The Kings will host the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday, but like Tuesday’s exhilarating shootout victory and a four-goal outburst from captain Anze Kopitar, that event took a back seat to the stunning trade the Kings announced officially Wednesday morning.
Goalie Jonathan Quick, who’d played all his 835 combined regular-season and playoff games for the Kings, was dealt to the Columbus Blue Jackets along with a conditional first-round pick in the upcoming draft and a third-round selection in next year’s draft in exchange for defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov and goalie Joonas Korpisalo.
Kings general manager Rob Blake said the Kings’ competitiveness throughout the season, and on two daunting road trips that essentially flanked the All-Star break, motivated him to address what the team had identified as gaps in its lineup some time ago. While it may have been easy to reach the decision to bolster his roster near the March 3 trade deadline, making the call to inform Quick, who was a vital contributor to two Stanley Cups a decade ago and to the Kings’ return to the playoffs last season, was anything but.
“That’s personal, that call, but I will say that they’re never easy and that was probably the most difficult one,” said Blake, who had to break the news to Quick, Kopitar and top defenseman Drew Doughty by phone since he was not traveling with the team for its match in Winnipeg on Tuesday.
Blake described Quick as the best goaltender in franchise history and said the organization would be forever indebted to him. But that didn’t impede the move that likely precluded Quick’s retirement as a King and rocked the dressing room emotionally postgame.
So was there shock? Was there disappointment?
“Both. Both,” Blake said sternly, declining to elaborate amid reports that the links to the Kings’ only two Stanley Cups in franchise history took the news harshly.
While the Kings had been tied more closely to another left-shooting defenseman and potentially another goalie – Arizona’s Jakob Chychrun and Karel Vejmelka – Blake said there wasn’t “a pivot” toward Columbus per se. The Blue Jackets were one of a few potential partners that the Kings had been in contact with over the course of the season and this week talks intensified.
Though Blake mentioned that the Kings actually gained salary-cap space in the deal – they could fit a prorated cap hit of about $5 million under the cap if they make another trade before Friday’s deadline – he seemed to signal that there were no more headline-making transactions in the works.
“We’ve gained cap space in this to be able to look at different moves,” Blake said. “I’m not sure or certain there’s anything that’s going to happen, but there’s a lot of time left before the deadline and you start to see different moves or different players that may not have been talked about in the past couple days become available.”
Fluidity was a factor in Gavrikov’s case, as the Boston Bruins nearly snagged him in mid-February but shifted gears when the Washington Capitals identified themselves as sellers and made Dmitry Orlov available. The Blue Jackets were once believed to be asking for a first-rounder and a third-rounder in exchange for Gavrikov alone, and here the Kings acquired another option in net for essentially that same price.
In doing so, they addressed two areas of need.
First, they gained balance in their defense corps with a left-handed shot who can also contribute with stalwartness on the penalty kill and at even strength alike. The 6’3”, 221-pound Russian rearguard has medaled in every major international competition, including winning gold at the 2018 Olympics.
While Gavrikov’s production has tapered off from last year’s career-best campaign, injuries have thrust him into a top role that’s seen him log heavy minutes and placed him among the most frequently deployed players while shorthanded in the NHL. While Gavrikov isn’t overly physical, he has averaged around one hit per game this season and bumps and leans effectively while also utilizing his long reach and active stick.
“The mold of the player: a bigger player who’s very solid defensively, can play minutes, can do PK and can check top players,” Blake said.
The Kings also added a goalie who, despite a history of inconsistency, has performed well behind a poor team this season and particularly so in his past five games, over which he’s posted a .933 save percentage. The Kings’ trio of goalies this season – Quick, Phoenix Copley and Cal Petersen, who is presently in the minors – had posted a collective .881 mark, second worst in the league.
“With Joonas, the season he’s had this year, paired with Copley, going forward, you get that solid goaltending,” Blake said.
Gavrikov and Korpisalo were in transit to Los Angeles on Wednesday. Both are pending unrestricted free agents. Blake said that in the immediate future the focus would be on getting them acclimated and zeroed in on the stretch run, however he’s been loath to acquire rental players at a high cost in the past.
The newest Kings will speak to the media Thursday at the morning skate ahead of the match with Montreal, though it remains unknown if either will suit up in the evening. Blake also said forward Trevor Moore would be evaluated “over the next few days” and that they “fully expect him back healthy here within a short time.”
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Thursday’s meeting will wrap up the season series with the Habs, whom the Kings defeated 4-2 in Montreal on Dec. 10. Though they’ve won more titles than any other organization and were just in the Stanley Cup final two seasons ago, the Canadiens have plodded through a last-place campaign riddled with injuries.
Veteran leader Brendan Gallagher, recently acquired Sean Monahan, 2022’s No. 1 overall pick Juraj Slafkovsky, top goal-scorer Cole Caufield and former Vezina and Hart trophies winner Carey Price are all among the Montreal players fettered by long-term injuries. Captain Nick Suzuki leads the team in scoring with a relatively modest 47 points, and he’s one of just two Habs to have played in all 60 of their games this season.
Montreal at Kings
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Crypto.com Arena
TV/Radio: Bally Sports West/iHeart Radio