Exploring the goaltending trade market for the LA Kings
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the LA Kings are in dire need of a solution in goal.
By now, you’ve probably seen the Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx) table from MoneyPuck.com. But just in case you haven’t:
And if you’re buying into Pheonix Copley being the savior, it hasn’t exactly been roses, despite his 15-3-1 record:
If anything, this shows how much better the LA Kings have performed with just below-average goaltending as opposed to league-worst goaltending.
Because of this, the Kings are the only team currently in a playoff position with a negative goal differential. This would be extremely rare for a team with a negative goal differential to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
So, surely the Kings will acquire a goaltender at the NHL Trade Deadline, right? Well, I’m not so sure. Here, I’ll look at goalies who might (or, worth nothing, might not) be available. And a reminder, this is strictly for the March 3rd deadline. We’ll worry about any potential off-season trades later.
Unrestricted Free Agents
Cam Talbot, Ottawa Senators
The Ottawa Senators are an improving team, but they’ll be on the outside looking in at this year’s playoffs. 35-year-old Cam Talbot is an Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) at the end of the season and is a likely candidate to be dealt by the deadline. In 28 games this year, Talbot is 12-13-1 with a 2.90 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage. He’s been ever-so-slightly better than Copley in terms of GSAx (0.8 to Copley’s -0.016) this season. For context, Talbot ranks 39th in the statistic (among goalies with ten games played), while Copley is 43rd.
I wouldn’t expect Talbot to be expensive, but given the number of teams looking to shore up the position, the price could be higher than you’d want to pay. For me, any goalie coming in has to be definitively better than Copley because I do not see the Kings trading, waiving, or scratching Jonathan Quick.
Is Talbot definitively better than Copley? I’d say no. Pass.
Semyon Varlamov, New York Islanders
Yes, Semyon Varlamov is on an expiring contract. No, I don’t expect the New York Islanders to trade him. Varlamov’s name has been swirling around the Twittersphere lately, and I’m not sure why. Ilya Sorokin is the clear number-one goaltender on Long Island, but we’ve seen the need for a competent backup in the NHL. He’s a target of mine for the LA Kings in the offseason, but I don’t expect him to be available for a trade by the deadline.
Antti Raanta, Carolina Hurricanes
Personally, I want nothing more than for Antti Raanta to have a healthy couple of seasons because I think he’s a talented goalie. Unfortunately, that just hasn’t been the case. His career has been riddled with injuries, which inevitably hurt his play. This season, the 33-year-old has a 2.46 goals-against average and a .902 save percentage with the Carolina Hurricanes. The reason he could be available where Varlamov wouldn’t be is the fact that Carolina has a very capable goaltender in the AHL ready to step in and play. Pyotr Kochetkov had a good start to the season (10-4-5, 2.33 GAA, .913 SV%) in Frederik Andersen’s absence. With the oft-injured Andersen back (for now), Raanta has handled backup duties. But with Kochetkov ready, perhaps Raanta is available.
As much as I like Raanta, I go back to my question, is he definitively better than Copley? No.
James Reimer, San Jose Sharks
I will direct you to the beginning of this article. Pass.
Joonas Korpisalo, Columbus Blue Jackers
The raw numbers for Joonas Korpisalo are not good: 3.35 GAA with a .906 SV%. But in reality, he’s been better than I had initially wanted to give him credit for. That .906 save percentage is about league average, and he ranks in the top 20 per MoneyPuck’s GSAx with 3.1. That puts him ahead of Marc-Andre Fleury and is right in line with Tristan Jarry.
Consider me warming to the idea of a mid-round pick for Korpisalo.
Others worth mentioning
Craig Anderson (Buffalo Sabres), Kevin Lankinen (Nashville Predators)
Goalies Under Contract
Thatcher Demko, Vancouver Canucks
This is probably the biggest name on the trade market right now, but unfortunately for potential buyers, he has been out with a lower-body injury since December 1st. The downsides to a potential Demko acquisition were laid out here. There’s no question the injury situation is a tough one to buy into. There would need to be some confidence that he’s ready to play and can contribute for the remainder of the season; otherwise, this is an off-season move.
If healthy, I’m in. I put almost zero stock into his poor 15 games at the start of this season. He ended last season with an injury, didn’t have a full offseason, and was hurt again early in his one. Not to mention how bad Vancouver has been. All that said, 15 games is just too small a sample, especially when his previous 100 NHL games were among the NHL’s best.
Health is the big question for me. Whether it’s the deadline or the offseason, I would want the LA Kings to be kicking those tires.
John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks
While I’m willing to pay for 27-year-old Thatcher Demko’s remaining three years at a $5 million AAV, I can’t say the same for 29-year-old John Gibson’s four remaining years at a $6.4 million AAV. I think Gibson is a good goalie; I’m passing on the contract.
Elvis Merzlikins, Columbus Blue Jackets
Things certainly haven’t gone as planned in Columbus. Elvis Merzlikins has been one of the league’s worst goaltenders (see above), and while he may be available, that $5.4 million AAV for the next four years is about as ugly as his 2022-23 stat line.
Jake Allen & Samuel Montembeault, Montreal Canadiens
The Montreal Canadiens have been a better team than I would have expected this season, and I think part of that is because of the play of their netminders. Or perhaps more accurately, netminder.
While Jake Allen hasn’t been very good (3.58 GAA, .891 SV%), Samuel Montembeault has been excellent. The 26-year-old is 10-10-2 with a 3.19 GAA and .909 SV%. Don’t let those numbers fool you; the save percentage is slightly above league average, and his GSAx/60 ranks sixth in the NHL (ahead of the likes of Connor Hellebuyck and Andrei Vasilevskiy). You could argue Montembeault has single-handedly kept the Canadiens out of the Connor Bedard sweepstakes.
Allen, 32, is signed for two more years at a $3.85 AAV. It’s not a terrible contract, and Allen has been a “fine” NHL goaltender in his career. I just don’t think it’s worth paying for.
Montembeault is signed for one more year at just $1 million. While Montembeault has been very good this year, it was just last season that he was among the league’s worst (fifth worst GSAx). Given how he’s played this season and only has one year left after this year, I don’t hate the idea. But I can’t say I’m confident he’ll be that much of an improvement on a per-game basis than Copley the rest of the season.
Karel Vejmelka, Arizona Coyotes
Ok, I think I made you all wait long enough for what you came here for. If you’re a Kings fan, you know Karel Vejmelka’s contract situation by heart – two years left at $2.725 million AAV. And yes, he’s been really, really good this season. The 13-17-4, 3.19 GAA and .909 SV% may not leap off the screen, but he’s eighth in GSAx and 11th in GSAx/60.
Things get complicated with Vejmelka because the LA Kings are also heavily linked to his teammate, left-defenseman Jakob Chychrun. Would they come as a package? Or would LA pick one or the other? And make no mistake; the Kings will have plenty of competition here. This would be a pricey move.
The other thing to consider with Vejmelka is his track record. There’s no question that he’s been one of the better goaltenders in the league this season. But just one year ago, he was among the worst. In the 2021-22 season, he had the third-worst GSAx in the NHL. Is the real Vejmelka the 2021-22 version? The 2022-23 version? Or, most likely, somewhere in between? And if he’s in between, is that a big enough upgrade considering the likely acquisition cost to what Copley has given the Kings this season?
Others worth mentioning
Eric Comrie (Buffalo Sabres)
That’s the list of players I see as potential options for the LA Kings by this trade deadline. Of course, they may go out and acquire someone who isn’t on this list or simply stand pat and ride out what they have. It could make a lot more sense to wait for the offseason when Quick’s contract officially expires, and they have a slightly cleaner slate to work with.
Lastly, I wouldn’t rule out Cal Petersen being considered. Since being waived and assigned to the Ontario Reign, Petersen is 10-8-1 with a 2.64 GAA and .918 SV%. His save percentage ranks eighth among qualified AHL goaltenders, for what it’s worth.
(Main Photo Credit: NHL.com)