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Norstrom Is Back in Fold for Kings

Hockey: Defenseman wants to play tonight after signing four-year, $6.6-million contract.

October 02, 1999|JIM HODGES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NASHVILLE — Mattias Norstrom's patience was rewarded and his optimism might well have been justified.

Norstrom, who had said at midweek he still believed he would be ready to play in the Kings' opener tonight if he and the team could reach a fiscal accord, put himself in a position to do just that Friday when he signed a four-year, $6.6-million contract.

The average of $1.65 million a season is just short of the $1.7 million he had been seeking since negotiations began in July. He will earn $1.2 million this season, followed by seasons of $1.6 million, $1.8 million and 2 million. By then he will be 31, and an unrestricted free agent.

Norstrom then practiced with the Kings in North Hills and flew here with them.

"I think it went OK," Norstrom said of the practice and his first attempt at getting used to a new system. "I had a lot of help."

He will team with captain Rob Blake on defense but skated with Rich Brennan during Friday's practice while Blake worked with Jaroslav Modry, as he has since camp began. After the practice, Brennan, who had been picked up from Nashville in the waiver draft Monday, went back on waivers designed to move him to Lowell of the American Hockey League.

"I had skated with Long Beach all week, and they're getting ready for their season so I skated in game-type situations," Norstrom said. "That helped me be as ready as I can be."

Whether it's ready enough to play tonight was a topic of discussion by coaches Friday night.

"It's a tough decision," King Coach Andy Murray said of Norstrom playing in the season opener after missing training camp and all eight exhibitions.

"He's ready to go. The guys know he's in the top three defensemen, but is it the right thing to do as a coach? We've got to think about this one."

The decision parameters are basic.

On the one hand, "How do you justify it [without training camp]?" Murray mused.

On the other, "You're supposed to play with your best players."

The question all week in preparation for tonight's game and the beginning of the season has been whether those "best players" are good enough for the Kings to win. A second question is whether they will work hard enough to succeed.

Murray posted Nashville's lineup in the King locker room at the Iceoplex and demanded to be shown how the Kings could lose tonight. That's because he watched video of the Kings doing just that three times last season.

"When I compared the lineups, it was not to slam Nashville," Murray said. "I've got so much respect for them. They worked their butts off. But I want our players to convince me how their lineup could beat our lineup if we work as hard as they do.

"I told them, 'You know why they beat you three out of four? It's simply because they outworked you and got great goaltending.' "

Norstrom has occasionally despaired at his contract situation after the Kings offered a three-year, $3.65-million deal, then a one-year, $1.045 arrangement. He had come down from his original $1.7 average over three seasons to a one-year deal worth $1.3 million.

"I just wanted to get into training camp," he said. "I told Donnie Meehan [his agent] that I'm ready to start playing hockey."

The Kings' coming up with a deal near Norstrom's requirements was cinched by the fourth year in the contract.

"From our perspective, we could justify putting more dollars on the table for a four-year deal," King General Manager Dave Taylor said.

KINGS at NASHVILLE

5 p.m.

Fox Sports West 2 (7 p.m.)

KRLA (1110)

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