This article was originally published in April, 2014.
The night is Dan Cloutier just before the Jonathan Quick.
The Los Angeles Kings—for far too long before the ascension of their new career wins record holder—have had the wool pulled over their eyes by false goaltending idols like Cloutier, Stephane Fiset, and Roman Cechmanek.
But those kings of letdown mark just the edge of LA’s netminding black hole. Look into the abyss! You might recognize these Hollywood cliches: Fading stars—future Hall of Famers no less—seek to shine again. Young princes are told the sun revolves around them.
These are the most disappointing goalies in the history of Kings goaltending.
Kings Goaltending: Grant Fuhr
Acquired: Traded to Los Angeles by Buffalo with Philippe Boucher and Denis Tsygurov for Alexei Zhitnik, Robb Stauber, Charlie Huddy, and Los Angeles’s 5th round choice (Marian Menhart) in 1995 Entry Draft, February 14, 1995 Seasons in LA: 1994-95
LA fans were mystified. Why would GM Sam McMaster give up 22-year-old top-four defender Zhitnik for a “worn Fuhr,” especially with incumbent Kelly Hrudey enjoying a superb season? Nonetheless, the 32-year-old Fuhr had lifted five Stanley Cups with Edmonton. McMaster asked for patience: “We know why people are going to be upset. They just have to trust our judgment.”
Fuhr would eventually lose the most important game of the year, the season finale. Those two points would’ve earned Los Angeles a playoff spot. In all, he won only one game in silver, black, and white before bolting as a free agent to the St. Louis Blues. What’s forgotten is that he actually played quite well to close the campaign:
Grant Fuhr, LA Kings, 1994-95
Kings Goaltending: Terry Sawchuk
Acquired: Claimed by Los Angeles from Toronto in Expansion Draft, June 6, 1967 Seasons in LA: 1967-68
However, Sawchuk was still regarded as the key to Los Angeles’s playoff hopes. The “money” goalie led the Kings to Game Seven against the Minnesota North Stars, a berth in the West Division Semifinals (the equivalent to today’s conference finals) on the line. By the second period, the veteran had surrendered a half dozen goals, and hometown fans began chucking programs and wads of paper at him. Keeping in mind that such misbehavior was more the norm back then, LA GM Larry Regan actually stuck up for them: “The fans were all right. They were mad at us, but that shows they were interested…I’m glad to see it.” (Maher, Charles. “Fans Fit for Kings?” Los Angeles Times, April 20, 1968.)
Over the summer, Sawchuk claimed to be healthy enough “to win the rookie of the year award.” (Garrity, Chuck. “Kings Trade Sawchuk to Detroit.” Los Angeles Times, October 10, 1968.) But after being outplayed by newly-acquired Gerry Desjardins in training camp, the Kings’ first legendary disappointment was traded back to his original team, the Detroit Red Wings.
Kings Goaltending: Ron Grahame
Acquired: Traded to Los Angeles by Boston for Los Angeles’s 1st round choice (Raymond Bourque) in 1979 Entry Draft, October 9, 1978 Seasons in LA: 1978-81
After three years of watching Grahame lose ground to Lessard, Berry confessed, “I had lost a little confidence in him.” (Edes, Gordon. “Grahame Sold to Quebec.” Los Angeles Times, December 13, 1980.) Los Angeles then sold him to the Quebec Nordiques. On his departure, roommate Dan Bonar noted, “He seemed to be pretty sad.”
Kings Goaltending: Mario Lessard
Acquired: Drafted by Los Angeles, 9th round (154th overall), 1974 NHL Amateur Draft Seasons in LA: 1978-84
Lessard should’ve been Jonathan Quick. While not the anointed one like Grahame or Jonathan Bernier, he grew into a world-class keeper. Well, for one season. In 1980-81, the 26-year-old was a Second Team All-Star (like Vachon and Quick) and a Canada Cup alternate. Kings goaltending looked set in the crease for a long time.
The next year, Lessard’s wandering and a porous defense turned him into one of the league’s worst, his 4.36 GAA leaving him 33rd out of 37 goalies (25 GP minimum). Eddie Johnston, Pittsburgh Penguins coach and ex-netminder, remarked, “He’s really drifting. He’s not getting set.” (Edes, Gordon. “Lessard’s Fidgety Feet Betray Him.” Los Angeles Times, December 17, 1981.)
Jonathan Quick. Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr
Coach Don Perry wasn’t a proponent of this “flopping” style and Lessard was not Los Angeles’s opening night goaltender the next season. In fact, he didn’t even dress: “I didn’t like what they did the first game, not even suiting me up. That really hurt my confidence.” (McManis, Sam. “Lessard Waits His Turn and Wonders What It Is the Kings Have in Mind.” Los Angeles Times, October 29, 1982.) The Quebecois native would play sparingly. “In mid-December, told he was going to start in a game in Boston, Lessard asked to [see] a reporter’s notebook to make sure it wasn’t a joke.”
It was the worst season of Lessard’s life. Teammate Terry Ruskowski emphasized, “He never knew where he stood or what his situation was.” (McManis, Sam. “Kings’ Lessard Has Goal but Won’t Talk About It.” Los Angeles Times, September 29, 1983.) The former All-Star remained defiant: “A couple years ago, I was one of the league’s best. You can’t go from the best to the worst that quick.”
Lessard was wrong. After a couple minor league stints in Birmingham and New Haven, he was out of hockey at 29.
Kings Goaltending: Jamie Storr
Acquired: Drafted by Los Angeles, 1st round (7th overall), 1994 NHL Entry Draft Years in LA: 1994-2003
Murray probably felt like a broken record exactly two years later, repeating, “He hasn’t seized the No. 1 job.” After the season, Storr packed for the Carolina Hurricanes. The once-heir to the throne finished his career in Germany.