The Kings reluctantly began their summer vacation today, still wondering if they would be preparing for the Western Conference finals if not for a few unfortunate bounces in their 5-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche Wednesday in the seventh game of their second-round Stanley Cup playoff series.
Nelson Emerson tied the score, 1-1, with 1:29 left in the second period, and Bryan Smolinski hit the post a few seconds before the period ended. When Ziggy Palffy dashed up the right side for an uncontested backhander early in the third period, the Kings believed they had one more bit of resilience left in them.
"A 1-1 game, Game 7, going into the third against the No. 1 seed, you're kind of liking your chances," Coach Andy Murray said Thursday. "Some of the guys we talked to said if Smolinski had scored, we would have won, 2-1, and would have shut them down in the third period. But you never know. And for whatever reason, we didn't play as well as we needed to."
Instead of dwelling on what might have been, they have many pleasant certainties to ponder.
Goaltender Felix Potvin, who will be a restricted free agent July 1, carried the team into the playoffs and revived his career. The Kings can retain his rights with a qualifying offer of 10% more than the $2.7 million he earned this season.
FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Saturday May 12, 2001 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 2 inches; 47 words Type of Material: Correction
Hockey--The Kings can retain the rights to restricted free agent goaltender Felix Potvin by offering him the same salary he made this season, $2.7 million. Because he earned more than the NHL average of about $1.4 million, they need not offer him 10% above that salary. The requirements for retaining his rights were incorrect Friday.
"We were playing against the best two teams in the league and we almost put out both teams," Potvin said. "That would have been a great achievement. To go to the seventh game and lose, you can't feel satisfied and happy. I'm sure it will take some time and we'll realize what we did."
Defenseman Mathieu Schneider, eligible for unrestricted free agency, enhanced his value with an impressive season and surprising grit in the playoffs. Left wing Luc Robitaille will also be an unrestricted free agent, and he wants to return.
"We showed a lot of character as a team, and that's going to carry on for a long time," he said. "This was a lot of fun. Too bad it didn't happen. It was close, but it wasn't meant to be."
In addition, winger Glen Murray showed during the playoffs that he can be a top-notch power forward, and Smolinski proved his worth as a two-way center. Defenseman Philippe Boucher won a regular job, but Jere Karalahti lost his because of defensive lapses and his lack of quickness, which led him to take several penalties. Newcomers Adam Deadmarsh and Aaron Miller added the work ethic and leadership the Kings were hoping they would bring when they arrived from Colorado Feb. 21 in the Rob Blake trade.
Murray held individual meetings with players Thursday on their flight home from Denver and at the team's El Segundo training facility. He plans to meet with his assistant coaches today before leaving town to watch his youngest son, Jordan, play in a tournament in Winnipeg, Canada. The workaholic coach will take Monday and Tuesday to visit his family in Minnesota before returning to resume work on plans for next season.
In Thursday's meetings, Murray assessed each player's season and discussed summer conditioning programs.
"We were talking about what we think is going to be a highly competitive training camp next year, and about using what we learned this season, especially in the playoffs, to make us better next season," he said. "It was an evaluation of the year and the first step toward next year."
Although the seventh-seeded Kings rallied from a 2-0 series deficit to upset the second-seeded Detroit Red Wings, then pushed the top-seeded Avalanche to seven tough games, Murray believes they could have kept going.
"I don't think we played good [Wednesday] when we needed to," he said. "There may be people that say we got more out of this group than we should have, but I don't think so."
Murray said he anticipates General Manager Dave Taylor will try to sign the team's potential free agents. Besides the big--and costly--trio of Potvin, Schneider and Robitaille, the list includes defensemen Boucher, Jaroslav Modry, Lubomir Visnovsky and Rich Brennan, winger Scott Thomas and goalie Jamie Storr. All will be restricted free agents, and the Kings will have the right to match any offers they receive.
"I don't think there's anybody we won't offer a contract to," Murray said. "We really haven't talked about [other free agents] other than Bill O'Flaherty [the club's director of player personnel] let us know which guys are going to be available. We'll probably sit with Dave and discuss it at some point. Our first priority is to get our own people re-signed and see where we sit. If our players want to stay here, deals will get done."
Other problems will also be discussed. Jozef Stumpel alternated brilliance with stretches of passive play that undermined his status as the first-line center, and the Kings must decide whether to live with his inconsistency or pursue an elite center. Potvin, Storr and Stephane Fiset gave the Kings one goalie too many, and one might be dealt.
Andy Murray has a season left on his contract and has been offered an extension but hasn't signed it because he wants to talk to his family first. His wife and three children stayed in Faribault, Minn., the last two seasons, but he would like them to move here next season.
"It would be tough for me to do it if they don't," he said.
However, he appears set to build on the considerable progress he has made.
"There's a lot of work to be done and we want to be better next year," Murray said. "And that's tough, because so does every other team."