Jeff Zatkoff has been placed on waivers, as reported by Chris Johnston of Sportsnet this morning. In 13 games and 550 minutes this season, Zatkoff has a record of 2-7-1 with a 2.95 goals-against average and an .879 save percentage. His last start came on January 23 and resulted in a 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers.
The decision to waive and potentially assign Zatkoff was expected to happen at some point in the lead-up to Jonathan Quick’s activation, but the timing of this is curious because Quick, in the most likely scenarios, isn’t expected back for another two weeks or so. Keep in mind that just because a player is placed on waivers (and hypothetically clears), he doesn’t have to immediately be assigned to the American Hockey League. There are numerous options at this juncture as to what the Kings could do, but a hockey operations source tells LA Kings Insider that Zatkoff will remain with the team should he clear.
In January, LA Kings Insider had reported through multiple team sources, including GM Dean Lombardi, that the Kings were considering replacing Zatkoff with Jack Campbell, who now has started 32 straight games for AHL-Ontario and owns a 23-10-5 record with a 2.56 goals-against average, .913 save percentage and one shutout. Campbell also appeared in the final period of Los Angeles’ 4-0 loss to Anaheim on November 1 and stopped all five shots he faced after replacing Peter Budaj.
Based on correspondence earlier this week, it was likely that option had been tabled, Campbell would remain in Ontario, and that the Kings were going to ride out the Peter Budaj train until Quick was able to return. I wrote about this on Monday and spoke about it on FOX Sports West last night. Circumstances change, but that still remains the the most likely of an array of options. Still, the team is trying to gauge the exact recovery timeline with Quick – the most likely scenario still remains an early-to-mid March return – and this Zatkoff move provides flexibility for a number of options. While both Quick and Darryl Sutter have expressed confidence that he’s on track for his March return, the team still must go through with due diligence to make sure every option and scenario is considered. Were Zatkoff still on the Kings roster within 10 games or 30 days, he would not have to clear waivers again should the team decide to assign him to AHL-Ontario.
And that brings in the possibility that the team could look outside the organization for goaltending reinforcement. The Kings aren’t going to be inclined to share hypothetical transactions before they become imminent, but there are other options available, including the potential to add a goalie via a trade. Speaking on TSN’s Insider Trading yesterday, Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com noted that Los Angeles is one of five teams that Vancouver’s Ryan Miller would consider waiving his no-trade clause for, and that the Kings are the “only real possibility that would potentially make sense.”
There is also the thought that because there are teams that could be in the market for a back-up goalie, that Zatkoff could be claimed and that Los Angeles would not be on the books for his contract any longer (or, if a hypothetical trade involving Zatkoff were to be worked out, that the Kings could work out a salary-splitting agreement that would divest them from the full financial impact of the one remaining year on his contract, which is $900,000). Zatkoff was signed to a two-year, $1.8-million contract on July 1 to back up Jonathan Quick but was unable to seize a greater share of the goaltending workload when Quick was injured and Budaj played his way into full control of the team’s reins in net. This isn’t based on team correspondence, but I don’t see a claim or a trade of Zatkoff to be first and foremost among the most likely options.
But, were the Kings to lose Zatkoff by any means, Campbell would still fulfill the team’s need of having to expose a goaltender to expansion.
It’s all somewhat interesting, and there’s no clear-cut, definite action the team is taking at this time. More clear is that the Kings didn’t receive a great deal of return from their low-risk (and, ultimately, low-yield) summer free agent investments of Tom Gilbert, Michael Latta, Zach Trotman, Teddy Purcell and Zatkoff. Latta and Trotman were long shots to make the roster and more of insurance investments targeted for Ontario; the real disappointment amongst the group, based on their expected role and ultimate output, is Purcell, who was waived after having logged two assists through November 20. I don’t consider Devin Setoguchi, who attended training camp on a PTO and earned a role through a strong training camp and, after Marian Gaborik’s World Cup injury, fulfilled the need for some speed on the skill on the wings, to illustrate any shortcomings in L.A.’s off-season free agency approach. His story and ability to earn a spot on the team was among the most positive stories in hockey this year, though he, too, was waived earlier this month before reporting to Ontario.
It’s not fun to write this about Zatkoff, who has been extremely well-liked in all of the dressing rooms he’s been a part of as a professional. Perhaps the character and camaraderie inherent in his persona partly influences another team to take a chance on him on via waivers, though given the additional year in his contract, the gut feeling says that the probability of a claim is less than 50%.
More to come over the coming days. Wednesday is a recovery day for the team, which will return to the ice Thursday for a morning skate prior to their game that night against the Boston Bruins (7:30 p.m. / FOX Sports West / FOX Sports GO / KABC 790 / I Heart Radio).