Pheonix Copley has righted the ship in net for the Los Angeles Kings. He's a great story and someone the Kings can ride right now, however, they're still in choppy waters and need a lot more help.
Outside of Copley, the Kings have nothing. Father time has caught up to Jonathan Quick and Cal Petersen looks nothing like the heir apparent he was heralded as.
To put into perspective how dire things are in net for the Kings. Quick has lost five straight starts and only won two of his last 10 starts. He's allowed -10.6 goals scored above expected according to Moneypuck.com and has a .884 save percentage.
Petersen is 4-4 with Ontario, posting a .917 save percentage. These aren't bad numbers by any means, but you want dominant numbers from someone who's supposed to be an NHL number one.
There's a feeling amongst some, even Todd McLellan has mentioned it, that the team plays better in front of Copley, but I don't believe that. Looking at the numbers, Copley faces a similar number of high-danger chances against and overall shots against. There are a few big outliers, Vegas to start the season and Toronto a few weeks back, where Quick was shelled and stood no chance. But generally speaking, the numbers don't back up that claim.
There's also a lack of quality goalie prospects in the team's pipeline. None of Matthew Villalta, David Hrenak, Lukas Parik or Juho Markkanen appear to be anything more than future backups at best. Rob Blake has done a good job rebuilding the Kings, but not getting a top-end goalie prospect is looking like a blunder right now.
That leaves them with just one option to fix this issue. Looking outside the organization.
This is where it gets tricky for the Kings. Every team in the league will know how bad their situation in net is and will adjust their asking price accordingly. The Kings have the necessary assets to "overpay" and survive, but it's not an ideal situation.
If they want to make a big splash it's going to cost them. And they have a few division rivals they should talk to.
This deal might not be possible, as Wolf is one of the brightest goalie prospects in the league. Ranked as the number four goalie prospect by The Athletic this summer, he's posting stellar numbers in the AHL again this season. Still, everyone has their price.
He's a goalie the Kings' front office is very familiar with. He was set to attend King's development camp after the 2019 draft before the Calgary Flames drafted him late in the seventh round. Wolf played youth hockey with Blake and Nelson Emerson's sons.
Outside of his on-ice quality, Wolf's cost-controlled contract through next season would be huge. It would give the Kings more freedom with Cal Petersen.
Back to the price of acquiring him, if the Flames would even pick up the phone, it would take a massive haul. I would guess some package of a first-round pick, quality prospect and a roster player would be the minimum to get that conversation started.
This deal might be unrealistic, but Blake should at least test the waters on a move for Wolf.
This is a potentially risky play from Blake and would be out of character from the historically conservative general manager, but the payoff could be huge.
Demko had a monster 2021-22 season, earning himself Vezina Trophy votes in the process. However, the 2022-23 season has been a disaster. He's posted similar numbers to Quick and Petersen this season, but you can make a fair argument they're a byproduct of the team he's on. It's been a terrible year for the Vancouver Canucks and a change of scenery could see Demko return to his best.
Another SoCal hockey and Jr. Kings product, bringing Demko home could fix the King's goaltending woes for years to come. It could also blow up in their face and make the situation worse.
Given his track record, I think it's a safe bet he'd bounce back in Los Angeles. Making the deal work would be difficult. The Kings would have to send Petersen the other way and eat some cap on his contract. And it's difficult to gauge where the Vancouver Canucks sit on moving Demko. They're in a weird spot after extending J.T. Miller to a big contract.
Bo Horvat is reportedly not re-signing and the team's future is unknown. They won't want to tear everything down, but a center prospect like Alex Turcotte could interest them. They also need help on defense, particularly the right side, and the Kings have plenty of prospects that fit the bill.
As with Wolf, Vancouver might not be interested in this deal, but Blake should be throwing out feelers in their direction.
Turn to Buffalo:
This is a drum I've been beating for a while. The Buffalo Sabres have three quality goalie prospects and can't keep all of them.
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen appears to be turning a corner for them, while Devon Levi and Erik Portillo are both having dominant seasons in college.
Any of the three would be an improvement for the Kings. Levi is likely the one untouchable from Buffalo. He's seemingly separated himself as the future number one in Buffalo and it's unlikely they move him.
That leaves Luukkonen and Portillo as options. Portillo should be the most enticing one for Blake. He will be a free agent this summer and would likely prefer coming into a weak prospect pool in Los Angeles instead of a stacked one in Buffalo.
Like Wolf, Portillo would come in as a cost-controlled option, giving the Kings more freedom with Petersen. Portillo would likely need a season of seasoning in the AHL, meaning the Kings would need to find a stopgap next season, but Portillo could be worth the wait.
The price would also be lowest on Portillo. There's no guarantee he signs for Buffalo and they're stacked with goalie prospects.
Something Must be Done:
Whatever the Kings decide to do, it has to be something. They cannot rely on what they have within the organization to solve their issues in net. There isn't much in the way of long-term solutions in the upcoming free-agent market, leaving a trade the most viable option. Whether it's one of the goalies listed above, or someone completely different, help is desperately needed.