Looking at his numbers from last season, Dave Taylor didn't like the way they added up. The King captain scored a career-low 18 goals and had only 62 points.
Excluding the 1982-83 season, when he missed 33 games with a broken wrist, it was his least productive season since his rookie year of 1977-78.
"That was very disappointing to me," said Taylor, who has averaged 32 goals and 80 points a season in a 10-year career. "Hopefully, this year I'll be around the net a little more and I'll be playing hungry."
Although he missed 13 games at midseason with a knee injury and played the rest of the season with a brace on his right knee, Taylor said other factors might have contributed to his drop in productivity.
Playing right wing in the same line with roommate Jimmy Carson, a highly regarded rookie center who wound up third on the team in scoring, Taylor said he might have ignored his own offensive instincts.
"I think last year I was a little too complacent, maybe, and just thought that all I had to do was play defense," he said. "But I think the team counts on me to play a little more offense."
And so Taylor, 31, worked harder than ever this summer, following a training regimen laid out by Dr. Howie Wenger, a University of Victoria (Canada) sports physiologist hired by the Kings as a consultant before last season.
Coach Mike Murphy said Taylor is as fit as he has ever seen him.
"He's in great physical shape," Murphy said. "He seems to have great jump in his legs--more than I saw last year. And Dave is such a determined player. He's going to produce an awful lot of things for our club."
Even if he doesn't produce the type of statistics he'd like, Taylor is "irreplaceable," Murphy said.
"I know players draw a lot of conclusions from the numbers they put up but I would hate for Dave to even think that his worth to the team had diminished, because it hasn't," Murphy said. "The character he brings to our team night in and night out far outweighs any drop in production he might have had."
Murphy calls Taylor "a rock, the anchor of the team."
That was true, Murphy said, even before the Kings' all-time leading scorer, Marcel Dionne, was traded to the New York Rangers last March.
This will be Taylor's third season as the Kings' captain.
"I think when Marcel was here, he often got many of the accolades and much of the credit for being the leader of the team," Murphy said. "He was one, but Dave is very unassuming and his role often went unnoticed.
"I think with the departure of Marcel, Dave has just gotten a little more credit from the media and outside people. But from my point of view, he's always been an excellent leader and he continues to be that today."
Neither outspoken nor flashy, Taylor leads by example.
"It's the way he practices and plays," General Manager Rogie Vachon said. "He's over 30 years old and he's the captain, and yet he just gives, and gives every time he's on the ice. The kids look at him and say, 'He works so hard. I'd better get going.' "
Vachon, too, said he was not concerned about Taylor's drop in offensive productivity last season.
"It wasn't because he was not playing as well," Vachon said. "He just didn't get the breaks last year that he had previously. But he kept playing with the same intensity."
That intensity, Murphy said, often results in goals being scored by teammates.
"He's just so persistent and so determined around the net," Murphy said. "He refuses to be checked in crucial situations, so he gets second and third opportunities, which eventually pay off.
"And a lot of the things he does result in penalties against. People have to draw penalties to stop him. Natural scorers like Carson are able to get opportunities because of Dave's second efforts, so he's a guy that you just can't replace."
Not that the Kings, who will play the Vancouver Canucks in an exhibition game tonight at 7:30 at the Forum, are thinking of showing him the door.
But, despite their protestations, they would like a little more offensive production from Taylor.
"I expect bigger numbers out of Dave and I'm sure he'll respond with bigger numbers," Murphy said. "He just had one of those years when the numbers didn't come, but I believe they will."
Taylor thinks so, too.
He sat out more than a month after straining ligaments in his right knee last Feb. 1 but said his knee "is starting to feel pretty good." He wore a brace at the start of training camp but discarded it in favor of an elastic sleeve because the brace was uncomfortable.
He plans to be fitted for a new brace this week in Los Angeles.
And, even if he scores only 18 goals again, he plans to be more efficient this season.
If he again plays on the same line with Carson, "maybe my goal production will be down but hopefully my points will be up," he said. "I'm very confident of my abilities. I think I can play and do very well for the Kings."