The Kings will begin paying the draft-pick portion of the price tag on Wayne Gretzky this weekend, when Edmonton steps forward to claim what would have been the Kings' first-round pick in the entry draft Saturday.
The powers that be in the National Hockey League are gathering in Minneapolis for meetings, for the supplemental (college) draft this morning and for the vastly more important entry draft Saturday.
In return for Gretzky last August, the Kings gave up Jimmy Carson and Martin Gelinas, $15 million and three first-round picks, one each in 1989, 1991 and 1992.
It turns out, though, that Edmonton's own first-round pick is better than the one it has from the Kings. Edmonton will use its own pick for the 15th selection in the first round and the Kings' pick to claim the 18th selection.
The Kings' first pick will be No. 39, late in the second round.
The experts are saying that this will be a weak draft. But who knows? As Pittsburgh General Manager Tony Esposito has put it, speculating on the potential of 18-year-olds is a crapshoot.
The Kings' philosophy has been to take the proven talent and win now, letting others do their gambling through the draft. "I've heard that some people think this is a bad year for the draft," King owner Bruce McNall said. "But I don't know that that means all the way through. I think they're talking about the first few picks. They haven't seemed to agree on a big star. It really shouldn't affect us, where we're drafting."
After claiming No. 39, the Kings will sit back and wait for No. 81 in the fourth round. The Kings' pick in the third round went to the New York Rangers in the deal that sent Marcel Dionne and Jeff Crossman to New York in March of 1987 for Bob Carpenter and Tom Laidlaw. The Rangers later traded the pick to Minnesota.
Even more uncertain than the talent in the entry draft is the talent in today's supplemental draft, a draft of college players, 21 or older, who have never played professional hockey.
With so many general managers, owners and coaches gathered in one spot, trades are expected.
McNall, who has been trying to persuade the rest of the league to go along with him in his desire to add West Coast teams, realign the divisions, or both, to make the Kings' travel schedule more reasonable, will use the opportunity to continue his lobbying.
"Those issues are not on the agenda this time, but of course I'll do some more lobbying," McNall said. "Not that it's done me much good. I can't seem to get my points out of the lobby and upstairs into a meeting."