So, what happened to the ticker-tape parade down Manchester and Prairie?
The return of defenseman Marty McSorley, heralded from Woodland Hills to Westwood as the sure-fire solution, has yet to jolt the Kings out of their deepening, soon-to-be
McSorley struggled against the Philadelphia Flyers and San Jose, then found himself out of the lineup after a postgame skirmish with the Sharks' Bob Errey Saturday. McSorley is indefinitely suspended--pending league review--after San Jose claimed he gouged Errey's left eye.
Obviously, the Kings' problems are so significant they can't be solved with a single stroke. The Kings' roster looks better with McSorley than without, but it can be argued that something should have been done long ago--before the Kings were five points out of a playoff spot with fewer than 30 games remaining. Now they are seven points behind the Sharks in the race for the final playoff berth in the Western Conference.
If McSorley had been retained last summer, it wouldn't have cost them Tomas Sandstrom to get him back. Instead, Sandstrom could be used to fill another pressing need before the trading deadline--a speedy center such as Corey Millen, or a goal-scoring defenseman, perhaps Paul Coffey.
Amid the excitement over McSorley's return, the team's mishandling of Sandstrom was overshadowed. Almost everyone involved--management and coaches--blew it. Once the decision was made not to re-sign Sandstrom, the Kings might have showed some foresight by trading him during the first half.
Instead, Sandstrom had to listen to trade rumors all season from New York to Pittsburgh to St. Louis. He sulked a bit. Coach Barry Melrose benched him against Calgary in December. The move might have temporarily boosted the team, but it didn't help Sandstrom's psyche or his trade value.
Melrose seemed to forget that Sandstrom is not Jimmy Carson or Shawn McEachern. Sandstrom is a proven offensive producer who ranked among the Kings' top five in scoring at the time of the trade. Here, blame should be assigned to everyone.
But the biggest problem with the Kings is that everyone is treating it like a hot potato and tossing it on down the line.
HE IS FUNKY
It certainly says something when the Kings' best motivator this season has been Mighty Duck President Tony Tavares. By the way, where is Anthony (Bandwagon) Robbins these days? Maybe he can come in for a quick consultation--that is, if Melrose can pry Robbins away from his new buddy, Prince.
Say, who's in a bigger slump, the Kings or Prince?
Little did Tavares know that Wayne Gretzky would take such great offense at his comments in The Times about Gretzky's success at working the officials. Incensed, Gretzky reeled off five points in a 5-3 victory over the Ducks in their most recent meeting.
However, almost everyone connected with the Kings knew how Gretzky would react against the Ducks. After all, they watched him do it against the Maple Leafs after some slight criticism from a columnist in Toronto.
"If someone writes about him in Timbuktu, he knows," Melrose said. "He doesn't make a big deal about it. But he knows it. And he doesn't forget--he's like an elephant."
BACK ON TRACK
Everyone knew Jim Schoenfeld had a good sense of humor. The evidence? His now-famous postgame line in the 1988 Stanley Cup playoffs to referee Don Koharski--"Have another donut, you fat pig!"
He wasn't a bad coach, either. But, alas, coaches have always been very disposable items in New Jersey. Schoenfeld later resurfaced in the broadcast booth with ESPN. If a coach wants to get back to the bench, the quickest route is to grab a microphone. Joining the cozy broadcasting world is almost like setting up a booth at NHL/NFL/NBA Career Day.
It worked. And now Schoenfeld has two duties staring him in the face as coach of the Washington Capitals: First, prod and poke the underachieving Capitals into some form of playoff success; second, help the Capital Gang develop some identity to reverse the trend of dwindling crowds at the US Air Arena.
The Capitals are 8-3-2 under Schoenfeld and are 5-1-2 since being beaten by Montreal earlier this month.
Defenseman Kevin Hatcher said the team has been improving its play in the neutral zone. So far, the Capitals have seen the best of Schoenfeld, enhanced by winning.
"I know what he expects out of us," Hatcher said. "He's the type of coach who will play whoever is playing well. Some coaches live and die with their best players. But some nights, if your best players aren't doing it, you've got to use the others.
"He obviously saw that the other night in St. Louis when he sat me and Calle (Johansson) for about five, six minutes in the third period."
Hartford Whaler goaltender Sean Burke wasn't sympathetic when Olympic speedskater Dan Jansen crashed and fell last week in the 500-meter race at Lillehammer--before finally winning a gold medal in the 1,000 meters Friday.