Reality check: Jonathan Quick has been bad during Kings run to the Final

by Jun 3, 8:52 AM

Jonathan Quick was terrible by just about any measure for the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Final, and indeed, throughout the entire playoffs.

The average save percentage in the NHL for the last several years is right around .912, and in the playoffs, when team quality and therefore goaltender quality tend to be better, it's usually up around the high .910s or even low .920s. Quick's this year, though, is just .906, because he's allowed a whopping 59 goals in 21 games. Again, terrible.

You cannot, however, just go ahead and say that.

Suggest to the average hockey fan that Quick hasn't been good in this postseason, and many will point to his competing in the Cup Final starting tomorrow as proof that you do not “watch the games.” You cannot base things on stats alone, they'll tell you. It doesn't matter how many softies you watched Quick cough up in this Western Conference Final, the fact of the matter is he won it (largely due to Corey Crawford being even worse than him), and that's enough.

The NHL has something of a cottage industry when it comes to making excuses for bad goaltending, even when it doesn't result in what could very well be two Stanley Cups in three years, which is the case for Quick — and to his credit, that .946 save percentage two playoffs ago is amazing. When you point out that a goalie, any goalie, has a low save percentage, people who choose to back them will point out that you are not seeing any number of things that they are: poor defensive play in front of the goalie, how often they're playing really good teams, higher-quality shots than the goalies to which you are comparing him, and perhaps most often his ability to make “timely saves.”

That's a thing you heard a lot in this Western Conference Final, which was an embarrassment to the art of netminding in general. Crawford and Quick combined to allow 49 goals on 420 shots in just seven games, good for a combined save percentage of .883. If hockey were a horse race, and the two ponies at a particular event did this badly, you would shoot them behind the nearest barn. Horses, however, do not have advocates so vociferous.

To listen to the analysis on the CBC and NBC Sports Net, you would have thought these guys were playing like Hasek in his prime, making “key saves” when they “needed” to make them. This ignored the fact that they only “needed” to make those saves — as opposed to the other ones which they could have let by them without incident, you see — because they did what Quick and Crawford did in Game 7's first period: Allow a combined five goals on 13 shots. You could make a very credible argument that if Quick had been at all competent in Games 5 or 6 (save percentages of .889 and .840, respectively) then there would have been no need at all for this Game 7 to have even taken place.

That's not to say Quick is bad, though. He's slightly better than average. Not that anyone will listen to that argument either. After all, he had one season of stellar hockey (.929 in 2011-12), one season of very good (.918 in 2010-11), two seasons of middling (.914 in 2008-09, .915 in 2013-14), one season of subpar (.907 in 2009-10), and one season of abysmal (.902 in 2012-13, which was luckily only 48 games). That averages out to “a little better than average,” and if 48 games had been 82 at the same level, it would probably come out to “roughly average.”

But we must keep in mind that he has won a Stanley Cup, and that's what is most terribly important here. He also went .934 last postseason as his team somehow didn't turn that into wins (Tuukka Rask can relate). That time he went .884 in his first ever postseason? Don't worry about it. That sub-playoff-average .913 in 2010-11? Not his fault. That .906 this year? Not great, but he's making timely saves.

Quick's contract also doesn't help dissuade people from thinking he's “worth it.” Dean Lombardi is typically a very shrewd manager, but when it came to Quick he held the economics textbook upside down: He bought extremely high, at $5.8 million per season for a decade. Quick was phenomenal for 88 appearances in that 2011-12 season, but the numbers don't show that he's worth a particularly lengthy deal; goalies who are even a little bit above average, say, by a single point, are extremely valuable just because of how much more they play the game than anyone else, and how incumbent success often is upon their performance (please, again, ignore his 12 wins these playoffs); but the Kings have no guarantee it'll hold up from one year to the next, let alone over the next nine seasons. He could go .920 next year, or he could go .908. He's been all over the map.

On the balance, that's probably a good contract for a while, but by the end you'd have to be dubious of the value delivered annually. But people are going to back these guys to the end.

So absurd is this wagon-circling that Jamie McLennan — a longtime backup in Calgary among other places and now a talking head for various outlets — and said yesterday morning that if he were playing a Game 7, he would rather have Jonathan Quick than Henrik Lundqvist.

This is of course an absurd statement to make, even discounting the fact that this came hours after Quick coughed up four on 41, and somehow still won. The fact of the matter is that Lundqvist is appreciably better than Quick. Lundqvist's career save percentage is currently five points higher than Quick's (.920 to .915), and in fact he's only had one season in his entire career that was worse than his Western counterpart's all-time average.

Goaltenders have a tremendous impact on any game in which they play, and you therefore want to have the best goaltender available to you at any given point. That's pretty straightforward. Lundqvist is notably better than Quick, and has been in literally every year of the two's careers. Even when Quick posted that .929 save percentage in 2011-12, the fact of the matter is that Henrik Lundqvist was still better, by a single point, at .930, on a worse team. A single point might not sound like much, but given the volume of shots Quick faced that season, it's about 18 fewer goals over the course of a season, which equals roughly three extra wins.

And in this postseason, Lundqvist has been magnificent, leading the league in save percentage at .928, winning 12 games of 20, and so on. That's 22 points more than Quick, and if he had gotten to even .918, he would have allowed eight fewer goals. In 21 games. At that point, the Kings might not have had to play three Games 7, nor would they likely have been forced to win three straight elimination games in each the first two rounds.

Not that it's going to matter. The Kings are just a better team than the Rangers, and by that token are more likely to win the Stanley Cup, and it might not matter how good or bad the goalies in this series are. But the chances that Lundqvist will continue to be better than Quick are high.

Let's put it another way: The Rangers are through to the Final largely because of their goaltender. The Kings are through to the Final largely in spite of theirs. Maybe this one comes down to “timely saves.” But wouldn't you rather have the guy who's more likely to be able to make them?