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THE INSIDE TRACK | PAGE TWO / RANDY HARVEY

These Executives Fit for Improved Kings

April 23, 1998|RANDY HARVEY

In a meeting last summer with King President Tim Leiweke and General Manager Dave Taylor, they asked for a prediction on their team's finish this season.

I said the Kings would improve enough to barely miss the NHL playoffs.

They nodded. As it turns out, they were merely being polite. Leiweke said last week he and Taylor believed the Kings would improve enough to barely make the playoffs.

We were all wrong, although I admit I was more wrong.

The Kings, who had more points last season than only two other teams, finished with the fifth-best record in the Western Conference and could be within a year or two of becoming a Stanley Cup contender as they begin the playoffs tonight in St. Louis.

Much more important in Southern California, they've stolen momentum from the Mighty Ducks.

A year ago, the Ducks were en route to beating Phoenix in the first round and challenging Detroit in the second round while the Kings were sitting out the playoffs for the fourth straight season.

But while the Ducks self-destructed, the Kings reconstructed.

One critical factor was that all-star defenseman Rob Blake came back healthy after missing 120 games the previous three seasons.

But Taylor also deserves credit for acquiring players such as Jozef Stumpel, Luc Robitaille, Gary Galley, Sandy Moger and Russ Courtnall.

The trade bringing Stumpel and Moger from Boston for Dimitri Khristich and Byron Dafoe was a rare one because it actually was, as the cliche goes, good for both teams.

The Kings finished with 20 more points than last season, second in the league behind Boston's 30-point improvement.

Bruin General Manager Harry Sinden has emerged as the leading candidate for NHL executive of the year, although San Jose General Manager Dean Lombardi will receive support.

My vote would go to Taylor, with an assist to Leiweke.

While Taylor was in charge of building the team, Leiweke was in charge of building the new downtown arena. I'm not sure which is harder, finding players to check Teemu Selanne or mucking it up in City Hall with Joel Wachs.

But there's another reason the Kings' executives deserve a reward. They lowered most of their ticket prices.

*

Dodger pitchers aren't getting much help from their hitters, who began the Milwaukee Brewer series with fewer hits than any team except the Montreal Expos. . . .

But the pitchers aren't helping themselves much, either. . . .

Ismael Valdes lost a game against the Cincinnati Reds because he gave up a two-out single to the eighth hitter, Pokey Reese, then another to the pitcher, Brett Tomko. . . .

On Tuesday night in Milwaukee, Ramon Martinez hit the eighth man in the order, Jesse Levis, with a pitch and then gave up a single to pitcher Jeff Juden, setting up John Jaha's grand slam in a 5-2 Brewer victory. . . .

Juden batted .140 last season, Tomko .139. . . .

Poor Eric Young. He's running in place on the basepaths unless the Dodgers can find a No. 2 hitter. . . .

Larry Robinson makes his NHL playoff coaching debut tonight. . . .

Don't expect him to be overwhelmed. As a player, he was in the playoffs for a record 20 straight seasons. . . .

USC's "Swim with Mike" benefit raised a record $300,000 last Saturday, increasing its 18-year total to $2.1 million. . . .

The Trojan football team formed teams and competed in a relay. The wide receivers won, without R. Jay Soward. . . .

Coach Paul Hackett had already told Soward to sink or swim academically. . . .

The UCLA athletic department's on-line auction is scheduled for May 1. . . .

Hollywood Park opens its 60th anniversary meeting Friday night by offering anyone under 30 general admission for $1. That's 10 cents less than the track charged in 1938. . . .

As many as eight jockeys who will ride regularly in this meeting could have rides in the May 2 Kentucky Derby. . . .

The word at the track is that Gary Stevens is infatuated with Halory Hunter but chose Indian Charlie as his Derby horse out of loyalty to trainer Bob Baffert. . . .

What does Halory Hunter's jockey, Corey Nakatani, have to say about that? . . .

Thanks. . . .

It was bound to happen. Arnold Schwarzenegger is host for an "Austrian breakfast" today at the Beverly Hills Planet Hollywood in honor of skier Hermann Maier. . . .

Terminator meets Hermanator.

*

While wondering if Tim Salmon will ever get a pitch to hit with Cecil Fielder batting behind him, I was thinking: The U.S. soccer team didn't seem to miss John Harkes, the Austrians must have missed their Austrian breakfast, Lakers in four, Blues in five.

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