And so on a Monday afternoon last June, exactly one week after he had acquired Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for his Lakers, Jack Kent Cooke got his man. The deal: Dionne and retread Defense-man Bart Crashley for Wing Danny Maloney, Defenseman Terry Harper and a future draft choice. Harper, however, has refused to report to the Red Wings, claiming that the Kings promised not to trade him when he signed a new contract just before the deal, and he has brought a misrepresentation of contract suit against the Kings and an antitrust action against the NHL.
To Cooke, Dionne represents instant box office in a star-conscious city; the Kings have already more than doubled last year's season-ticket sales. To Coach Bob Pulford, who knew nothing about the trade until Cooke had consummated it, Dionne represents both a challenge and a godsend to his highly disciplined and successful hockey system. In converting the Kings from ragged losers to efficient winners who finished with the fourth-best record in the NHL last season, Pulford has emphasized defense first, defense second and more defense third. Consequently, the Kings have won or lost a majority of their games by the margin of one goal. "We've never had a good power play here," Pulford admits, "and Dionne will help cure that."
What worries Pulford, though, are the adjustments that he and Dionne will have to make in their techniques. "I've told Marcel, and he knows it, that he can't float around center ice here the way he did in Detroit," says Pulford. "He must retreat into the defensive end and work with the defensemen to get the puck out. This type of discipline is new to him, and I know it will take time for him to learn our system."
Pulford and Dionne had a minor dispute midway through the Kings' training camp; Pulford had assigned Dionne to the "Fat Squad," which required him to do an interminable stop-and-start drill at the conclusion of regular practice. It was Pulford's suspicion that Dionne was about 10 pounds overweight, but Dionne assured him that his best playing weight at Detroit had been 185 pounds, three less than he weighed at the time. Not convinced, Pulford asked Milford to check with the Red Wings. "He weighed 178 pounds last year," Milford told Pulford, who summoned Dionne to his office.
"You're dogging it in practice, Marcel," Pulford said. "Ah, I'm not a practice player," Dionne said. Pulford shook his head. "You'll be a practice player here," he snapped, "and you'll also get your weight down—or else." Dionne took to wearing a heavy rubber jacket over his Kings' sweater during the double workouts, skipped the customary postpractice cans of Coors, limited himself to one main meal a day—and soon was down to 180.
Li'l Beaver also has worked overtime trying to blend into the California scene. "Geez, the Rams lost a big one down in Dallas," he said one night to Yvon Pedneault of Montreal's La Presse. Pedneault, who was making a 5,000-mile round trip to Los Angeles for an interview with Dionne, asked him who the Rams were. "Our football team," Dionne said. However, Dionne apparently does not plan any nocturnal invasions of Beverly Hills and Hollywood because he plainly flunked his first guest-celebrity test:
Q. What's the Polo Lounge?
D. Maybe a place where they rest polo horses?
Q. What's Grauman's Chinese Theater?
D. Where they show Chinese porno flicks?