Los Angeles Kings
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Sports Illustrated Ranking: 20
By Richard Deitsch
The hiring of anonymous rookie coach Andy Murray to replace Hall
of Famer Larry Robinson is a curious case of casting, especially
by Hollywood's standards. Just how low-profile is the new king of
the Kings? Last season Murray coached a prep school team in
Fairbault, Minn. "Since we're sharing the same training facility
as the Lakers, some friends asked how they would know which side
the Kings were on," says Murray, who was an NHL assistant for
seven seasons and coach of the Canadian national team for two
years. "I told them you'll see Phil Jackson's Rolls-Royce on one
side. My pickup will be on the other side."
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With the opening of the Staples Center this month, L.A., which
was a dreadful 32-45-5 last season, needed a marquee name to
promote. Six days after hiring Murray, the Kings acquired
27-year-old star right wing Zigmund Palffy and 29-year-old
enigmatic center Bryan Smolinski from the Islanders for three top
prospects and a No. 1 draft choice. For a team that had two goals
or less in 48 games last season, Palffy's goal-scoring (a
combined 93 in 1996-97 and 1997-98) is a welcome addition. Only
time will tell whether the Kings mortgaged their future to simply
return to mediocrity. Center Jozef Stumpel and Luc Robitaille
round out a potent first line.
Defenseman Rob Blake, the Norris Trophy winner two seasons ago,
will lead a defensive unit that has undergone a makeover.
Finland's Aki Berg, the third pick in the 1995 draft, and
25-year-old Czech star Frantisek Kaberle will replace the aged
legs of Doug Bodger and Dave Babych. Los Angeles is also banking
on 24-year-old Jere Karalahti, one of the best defensemen in
Europe, who will join the Kings when he obtains a visa. Mattias
Norstrom, who has missed training camp because of a contract
holdout, is a steady stay-at-home blueliner. Goalies Stephane
Fiset (2.60 goals-against average last season) and Jamie Storr
(2.40) form a competent duo, though neither will remind anyone
of Dominik Hasek.
Murray logged more miles than Gulliver in the off-season to meet
his players, even traveling to Vienna to dine with Palffy and
Stumpel. After Palffy polished off his pizza and Stumpel
finished his schnitzel, Murray picked up the tab. "The check was
about 10 percent of my salary," he laughs, "and about one
millionth of theirs."
Call it a good investment. If Palffy gets 50 goals this season,
Murray's pickup may feel like a Rolls.
Issue date: October 4, 1999
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Luc Robitaille wishes they all could be California goals. His 39 was his most in five years . . . and he also appeared in all 82 games.
Ziggy Palffy, who ended a string of three 40-goal seasons last year while grumping with the Islanders, is currently on a line with fellow Slovak Jozef Stumpel and Robitaille. That could be dynamic.
D Frantisek Kaberle is making waves and could be a mainstay on the blue line. He is the older brother of Toronto D Tomas Kaberle.
After his Norris Trophy campaign in 1997-98, Rob Blake was ineffective and injured last season, playing in only 62 games.|
Andy Murray is a hard-working (some say obsessive) coach who generously serves up tough love. That may work with high schoolers and amateurs, but will it work with millionaires?
While the Kings like their goaltending tandem of Stephane Fiset and Jamie Storr, an expansion draft at end of season may mean trading one of them.
People, Places and Things
GM: Dave Taylor
Coach: Andy Murray; 1st season; 1st overall
Assistants: Dave Tippett, Mark Hardy
Captain: Rob Blake
Last year: 32-45-5 (22nd overall)
PP: 24th (13.1%)
PK: 9th (85.8%)
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Sat., Oct. 2: Opener at Nashville.
Wed., Oct. 20: After a seven-game road trip to start the season, the Kings finally open the Staples Center against Boston.
24: Games lost last year by one goal or with an empty-netter making it two goals
"I told the guys, `You guys almost look as good as the kids at Shattuck-St. Mary's did after the first practice last year.' " -- coach Andy Murray