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20 LOS ANGELES Kings
Richard Deitsch
October 04, 1999
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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October 04, 1999

20 Los Angeles Kings

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INSIDER

CATEGORY

SI RANKING

SKINNY

OFFENSE

19

Palffy and Smolinski should boost weak attack

DEFENSE

17

Addition of Aki Berg will enhance backline

GOALTENDING

24

Fiset and Storr still battling for the No. 1 job

SPECIAL TEAMS

21

Power play should have bite, but penalty killing is soft

COACHING

23

Murray, a rookie, is big on preparation

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."

With the opening of the Staples Center this month, LA, 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.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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