When star goaltender Jonathan Quick went down with an injury during the LA Kings’ season opener this year, many thought it would be backup Jeff Zatkoff who’d take the reins until Quick returned.
Soon the team discovered that Quick’s recovery would take months. Kings head coach Darryl Sutter decided to rely on the tandem of Zatkoff and Budaj until Quick was healthy. It was Budaj, however, who would go on to win the starting job and excel while doing so.
Peter Budaj put up seven shutouts this season, along with a GAA of 2.12 and a SV% of .917, all career highs. However this would not have been able to take place if it wasn’t for Budaj’s heroics with the Ontario Reign a season before.
The below video produced by the LA Kings shows the incredible story of his last year, and how he was able to bring life back into his career. It’s a story of resurgence and perseverance, and it’s great that the Lightning organization can be a part of his future.
But back to the beginning.
Originally drafted 63rd overall in 2001 by Colorado, the Slovak native came to the states at the age of 17. Like many young stars, Budaj began his career with a stint in the American Hockey League. After a few years with the Hershey Bears, Budaj found himself with the Avalanche during the 2005-2006 season. His first few seasons garnered him a mix of backup and split-starting situations.
It wasn’t until the 2009 season that the once-promising star would become a starter in net for the first time. But this was a down year for the club — the Avalanche finished last in the western conference. That year would become his only major time as a starter until this past season for the LA Kings. The following year, the Avalanche acquired Craig Anderson, who took over as primary netminder. Budaj again found himself in the backup position.
The Avalanche did not re-sign him before the 2011-2012 season. Budaj went on to test free agency, and Montreal soon signed him to a two-year, two-way contract. Although the season was shortened due to the lock out, Budaj saw success as full-time backup behind Carey Price. He played well enough within that time to grab eight wins in ten games, and the Habs signed him for two more years.
At the cusp of the 2014 season, the Habs traded Budaj to Winnipeg. In Winnipeg, he was put on waivers a day later. He underwhelmed in his starts for their AHL team, ending the season with a .888 SV%. His career was bleak and unsure, and it seemed possible that he’d hang up his skates. But then he signed a professional tryout contract with the Kings organization. The Kings signed him to a one-year contract, and Budaj was immediately assigned to their AHL affiliate, the Ontario Reign.
To say his career was resurrected is an understatement. If you juxtapose his last two AHL seasons, one with the Ice Caps and one with the Reign, you’ll see a drastic difference. Budaj got the start in 60 games, winning 42 of them with a sv% of .932. Ontario went on to take the Pacific division title, and Budaj received the Bastien Memorial Award for best AHL goaltender, and was also an AHL All-Star.
With such a successful season under the books, the Kings signed him to a one-year contract extension. Enter the 2016-2017 season.
Values, Interviews, and Flanders
An article written by the Denver Post back in November of 2010 gives some great insight into Budaj’s personal life and religious practice. A devout Christian, past Avalanche teammates have nicknamed him “Ned Flanders” after the popular value driven Simpsons character. The veteran netminder has adopted the nickname, enjoying it so much he has put it on a few of his masks, such as this one when he was in Montreal.
Or when he was with the Kings...
And while you’re scrolling through his goalie mask twitter, you can also give him a follow at @peterbudaj30.
Budaj has had several unfortunate performances throughout his playing career that left him without contracts, however it seems he has always been able to take criticism in stride.
Here at the Denver Post and All Habs Hockey Magazine are some boilerplate Q and A’s done with him in the past few years. They highlight silly questions such as favorite movies and favorite cars, as well as more personal stuff such as childhood memories. He always responds with insight, and seems to genuinely cares about his teammates and the sport.
All we can hope for know is for Andrei Vasilevskiy’s development to go smoothly and for Budaj to guide along the way.
Want to know more?
Here is one final quote from Carey Price:
“Peter is one of the genuinely nicest human beings I’ve ever met. He’s an unbelievable back-up. He’s a really good friend of mine. He’s one of the best friends I have on this team. He showed a lot of character. He never hung his head. He never pouted. And he showed the utmost support for everybody including Dustin [Tokarski]. It takes a special person to do that.”