Goaltender Jonathan Quick never complained while he carried the Kings on his back and became the most valuable player of their Stanley Cup championship run, but he paid a steep price for toting that heavy burden.
A herniated disc that doctors didn’t immediately diagnose began pinching his sciatic nerve in March, while the team was making its playoff push, but Quick played through it stoically and superbly. Game after game he kept the low-scoring Kings competitive, boosting them into the final playoff spot in the West and then repelling shot after shot as they rampaged through the playoffs and to a six-game victory over the New Jersey Devils in the Cup final.
Never did he hint at the ache that accompanied him almost everywhere.
“If you’d sit on a plane, get in a car, driving to the rink, driving home, sitting down for dinner, whatever,” he said of when he felt discomfort. “But when I was playing, that’s when I’d get the least amount of pain. It was manageable on the ice.”
Rehabilitation, the preferred option, failed to remedy the problem. When the disc developed a cyst he had no choice but to undergo a microdiscectomy in August. The procedure removed herniated disc material, cleaned up an inflammation and left him facing a tedious recovery.
“The toughest part was getting in and out of bed. My wife was helping me for a bit,” Quick said. “Trying to put my socks on. I needed her help for that for a little bit too.”
Had the season started in October as scheduled, Quick would not have been ready to lead the Kings’ defense of their title. The delay caused by the labor dispute between the NHL and the players’ association — which was tentatively settled on Sunday but hasn’t been ratified — will allow Quick to be in goal when the Kings are set to open the season with an afternoon game at Staples Center on Jan. 19. It’s fitting that he will be able to stand alongside his teammates while their Stanley Cup banner is raised and they receive their championship rings.
“I feel great. I do. It’s the best I’ve felt probably since last February,” said Quick, who signed a 10-year, $58-million contract extension in late June. “There’s no pain, and I get to just play.”
He got medical clearance to play Monday and wasted no time in putting on his gear for an informal practice Tuesday in El Segundo with several teammates and other NHL players who live in Southern California. It was only a brisk cross-ice game with none of the pressure he faced while compiling a 16-4 record, 1.41 goals-against average and .946 save percentage during the playoffs, but Quick’s teammates were delighted with his effort.
“It was nice to see some of those cross-crease saves he always makes and rob me a couple times out there,” forward Trevor Lewis said. “So it looked good. It was good to see him back out there.”
To Jarret Stoll, it was as if time had stood still.
“He looked like he was moving just like he was in June,” Stoll said. “Hopefully that’s the case. He looked good.”
Which is a good omen for the Kings because he, they and the rest of the NHL won’t have much time to reach peak form.
Training camps are expected to open Sunday, but first the league and union must approve a memorandum of understanding that will lead to a formal collective bargaining agreement. The NHL’s Board of Governors will vote Wednesday, but the NHLPA isn’t likely to vote until Saturday. The league won’t release a full schedule until the union gives its expected approval, but it’s known that each team will play 48 games within their respective conferences.
The Kings will hold a news conference at Staples Center on Thursday to kick off the season and, likely, to thank fans for their patience during the lockout. Top club executives and Coach Darryl Sutter are expected to attend the event, which will be aired live on FOX Sports West at 4 p.m.
Quick, who spent most of the last two months working out with the Kings’ farm team in Manchester, N.H., said he’s not sure what to expect in a condensed season but he’s ready to plunge in.
“I’m happy with where I am right now,” he said. “Obviously there’s work to be done. That goes without saying. So we’re going to focus in the next week to get ready for camp. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us after that.”