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Buss, a marketing whiz who likes to play Monopoly without a board, has instituted a sort of community chest, an incentive plan designed to get all the Kings to pull together. If the team amasses 88 points in the standings—a total they have exceeded only once in their 13 seasons—the players will be rewarded with an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii, presumably sometime after the Stanley Cup finals. Also, for every shutout, each player gets a $200 gift certificate, while limiting the opposition to one goal is worth $100 apiece. So far the Kings have had one shutout and two one-goal games. "It's like finding money," says Berry.
One King who relishes the new attitude is the 29-year-old Dionne, who is often applauded for his personal successes but has never been highly regarded as a team player, perhaps because his club has usually been a laggard.
Dionne was heading into his option year and briefly considered jumping to another team, but Buss convinced him to stay, as much with a guarantee that he would produce a winner as with the rich new contract. Of Buss, Dionne says, "He's given me life because he cares so much. It hurts to lose, knowing how much he hates it. At times I wish I could have about four arms and four legs."
In the past Dionne used to keep a schedule alongside his locker, and as each game was played he would mark off the date as a man in prison might. Now the schedule is gone. Last Wednesday after Montreal came into The Forum and beat L.A. 8-4, Dionne was snappish in the locker room even though he'd scored a hat trick. He groused about mistakes and generally was a none-too-subtle thorn in his teammates' sides.
The next day Berry put the Kings through a rigorous two-hour workout. "Punishment," Dionne called it. Five minutes before the trial by ice ended, Berry sent Dionne and a few others into the locker room early. The message was clear to those left behind.
When the rest of the team, tired, angry and a bit rebellious, went to the locker room, one of the late practicers said derisively, "That was fun." Said another, addressing those who got off early, "Way to go, prima donnas."
On a TV set a video tape played and replayed Montreal's eight goals from the previous night. Mario Lessard, the goalkeeper who had given up the goals to the Canadiens, sat there somberly, his face chalk white.
"Do we have to look at this?" asked Hardy.
"Look at it, you might learn something," said Dionne.
"We can't all score hat tricks," Hardy muttered.