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Old 01-02-2018, 10:01 PM   #2
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A one and a two, and a one…

Summer, 1989.

Kings fans had been stunned by “The Trade”. Where before they had been anticipating a slow rebuild after having traded franchise superstar Marcel Dionne to the Rangers in the middle of the 1986-1987 season, built around the three All-Rookie team members the Kings had that year (Calder winner Robitaille, Carson, and defenseman Steve Duchesne), now the team was projected to be a contender for the Cup. Heady ground for a franchise that had never even reached the Conference finals in their history.

The team fought through the season, finishing ahead of Gretzky’s ex-Oilers teammates, but well behind division leaders Calgary. The most significant move was to trade Carpenter, who had failed to regain his Washington form, to the Boston Bruins for perennial Selke Trophy candidate Steve Kasper, who gave the team valuable defense. Still, it was disappointing that the ultimate return for Dionne (who had been traded for Carpenter, essentially) was only a checker.

As for the offense, fans had anticipated Robitaille thriving with Gretzky to feed him, but the two were too similar to mesh well, and Luc actually saw his scoring decline from 111 points to 98. By the playoffs, Gretzky was being flanked by Krushelnyski and ex-Islander John Tonelli, and Robitaille was on the second line, despite making NHL 1st Team (Gretzky only made 2nd [behind Mario Lemieux], even though he won the Hart Trophy as MVP).

Bernie Nicholls, OTOH, flourished, recording a career-best 70 goals and 80 assists. Since, after all, if you have a good checking center, you weren’t going to play him against Nicholls when Wayne Gretzky was about to come over the boards. With Robitaille on one wing and veteran Dave Taylor on the other, the Kings could boast perhaps the best second line in the league.

In the playoff, the Kings met Edmonton in the first round, with both sides wanting to prove themselves in wake of The Trade. Kings goalie Kelly “Hollywood” Hrudey had to miss game 1 due to illness, and the Oilers promptly stole the home-ice advantage, beating backup Glenn Healey. If not for taking game 2 behind a hat-trick from an unlikely source, depth center Chris Kontos, the Kings would have been swept out in four straight games.

(Kontos, who only played 7 games for LA after spending the season in Switzerland, scored a bizarre eight goals in this series. He only ever tallied 2 goals in any of his three cameo stints [6, 7, and 7 games] for LA in the regular season. Although he did manage 27 goals with the expansion Lightning in ’92-’93 and even set the Tampa Bay franchise record with a four-goal game against their debut game against the Blackhawks, but that’s in the future…)

The Kings rallied to take the last three games against Edmonton, knocking out the defending champs, but Calgary, who would go on to win this year’s Cup, was far too powerful, and swept LA out in the second round. So, the thrill of beating Mark Messier and his other ex-teammates aside, it was a frustrating season in the sun for Gretzky.

Summer, 1990.

The Kings had tried to make some tweaks for the new season. They had fired their fiery head coach, Robbie Ftorek (who had clashed with Gretzky once too often) and hired Tom Webster, seen as a teaching coach, who had previously had to resign as coach of the NY Rangers due to an inner-ear infection that prevented him from flying. But with Webster’s health cleared up, he was seen as a valuable addition. And they signed Hall of Fame defenseman Larry Robinson as a free agent, to give leadership to the back line. (Future HoF Rob Blake would make his first appearances with the Kings this season, playing in four games at the end of the schedule.) And Gretzky was willing to say this was now his team, assuming the captaincy in place of Dave Taylor.

But it clearly wasn’t working. An 0-6-1 skid in early January convinced management to shake things up; Gretzky was suffering with inferior linemates, while Robitaille and Nicholls were being wasted on the 2nd line. So, on January 20, the team (which had beaten Detroit in their last game to get back to .500) traded Nicholls to the Rangers for LW Tony Granato and RW Tomas Sandstrom.

As trades go, it seemed to make sense; while Nicholls would never flourish in NY as he had for the Kings (remember, if you don’t have Wayne Gretzky on your team, the opponent uses the checking line against you) he was the centerpiece of the later deal the Rangers made to obtain Mark Messier, so that worked out. And Sandstrom and Granato both became popular and successful players for the Kings. But in the immediate situation, it was no help at all. After a tie against Vancouver in the first game following the trade, the Kings plunged under the .500 mark, going 7-13 in their next 20 games, and never returned to level ground. They barely scraped into the playoffs (4th in the division, 8th in the West) and drew the defending champion Flames as their 1st round opponent.

And then, for the second straight year, they knocked off the defending champs, stealing game 1 in Calgary, and then defending the home ice with an overtime win in Game 3, a 12-4 blowout in Game 4, and a double-OT thriller in Game 6, won by another unlikely hero when Krushelnyski scored the series-capper.

And then, for the second straight year, the Kings were swept out in the second round by the eventual Stanley Cup champions, as Messier and the Oilers extracted revenge for the previous year’s upending. And so the Kings got no farther than they had before. Gretzky won the scoring title (again) and passed Gordie Howe for the all-time goals record (it was bound to happen, eventually), but that was it. No honors for anybody, nor should there be when you go 34-39-7.

So…what next?

Last edited by Amazin69; 01-02-2018 at 10:58 PM.
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