Wayne Gretzky hates to fly.
That's a small consideration, but it's one of the many reasons King owner Bruce McNall is once again asking why the Kings have to play in the Smythe Division--with Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Vancouver--while Toronto is in the Norris Division with Detroit, St. Louis, Chicago and Minnesota.
Wouldn't it make a lot more sense to put Toronto in a Canadian division and Los Angeles in a U.S. division?
Although every team in the National Hockey League is going to have to make long trips a couple of times a year, the difference is that the schedule calls for 8 games a season against division opponents and 3 games a season against everybody else.
And although the Maple Leafs would have to make a lot of long trips to play in Edmonton, Vancouver and Winnipeg, the difference is that Toronto could make those trips on direct flights and without the hassle of customs. If the Kings were playing in the Norris Division, they could make all of their division trips on direct flights, too.
The Kings are just back from a trip that took them from Los Angeles to Winnipeg in the province of Manitoba, to Quebec, to Montreal to Toronto to Chicago and back to Los Angeles That's a big chunk of North America.
But that's not an unusual trip for the Kings, who log more miles than any other team in the league.
"If we could change divisions, we could save enormous amounts of money on travel," McNall said. "But more important than the money is the wear and tear on our team. Those all-day trips take a toll. We have to consider their effectiveness on the ice. . . . Maybe the league should consider letting us start the season with a 10-point lead to kind of balance it out."
That was a joke, sort of.
But McNall is serious in his lobbying for the change. By the time the owners gather in December, McNall hopes to have convinced enough of them to have the two-thirds vote necessary to make the change.
To make it happen, he'll have to stress not the Kings' problems, but the best interests of the league.
Which brings us back to Gretzky.
Everywhere he goes, Gretzky is drawing the best crowds of the season. There are more arenas in the United States that could use that boost than there are in Canada.
The strongest opposition to the move has long come from Toronto owner Harold Ballard, who likes the 8 games between Toronto and Detroit. It's a strong rivalry.
But the Maple Leafs sell out every night, anyway.
McNall said, "I'm hoping that they can see that, from a league standpoint, it would be good for L.A. to develop some rivalries with other U.S. teams."
Which would increase the chances of a better television package down the road.
McNall had hoped to talk with Ballard while the Kings were in Toronto, but Ballard had other commitments.
"I think that we might have a chance to get this done," McNall said. "From everything I've ever heard about Mr. Ballard, he is very conscious of what is in the best interest of the league. He has made moves in the past in order to help the league as a whole."
Asked last week about the suspensions being handed out for a seemingly long list of violent incidents, Gretzky said:
"I don't think that violence is on the increase. Every year we go through this. The league is trying hard to clean it up, and the players are trying to get rid of the kinds of things we don't want in our game.
"But when everyone wants to win and emotions are running high, things can happen. In hockey, it just happens that every player carries a lethal weapon. . . . Baseball has more bench-clearing brawls than hockey."
Gretzky would favor a rule suspending a player a set number of games whenever there is intent to injure.
"I think it should be black and white," Gretzky said. "If it is deliberate, if he's trying to hurt someone, he should be suspended."
Can't shake that rep: After having his nose broken by a flying chair when a fight broke out during the taping of a show involving neo-Nazis, Geraldo Rivera said: "It was like a bench-clearing brawl at a hockey match."
Wonder why didn't he say "at a baseball game"?
General Manager Bob Clarke of the Philadelphia Flyers is rethinking the current punishment system, too.
Clarke said: "It's not right that (NHL Vice President Brian) O'Neill is judge, jury and executioner. Why should one man be the conscience for the whole league?"
Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Dave Manson, who had been suspended for 10 games for instigating a brawl after a game against Vancouver, was cleared of the instigator charge when O'Neill and referee Bill McCreary reviewed the videotapes.
Manson missed 2 games before the Blackhawks' request for a review paid off. The Blackhawks and the Canucks each were fined $25,000, and Manson and Vancouver's David Bruce were fined $500 each.
On the day after they lost to the Kings, the Blackhawks were subjected to such a tough practice that team captain Denis Savard attempted a one-man mutiny.