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Kings Plan to Stay the Course

November 19, 2002|Helene Elliott

While the Dallas Stars signed free agents Bill Guerin and Philippe Boucher, who was leaving the Kings; the Phoenix Coyotes signed Tony Amonte, the New York Rangers signed Bobby Holik and Darius Kasparaitis, and the Mighty Ducks traded for Adam Oates and Petr Sykora, the Kings kept a low profile last summer. They signed Chris McAlpine and acquired Derek Armstrong and Erik Rasmussen, none of whom is likely to set pulses racing.

And although their depth has been strained by injuries to Jason Allison, Aaron Miller, Ziggy Palffy and Adam Deadmarsh and they're fighting for a spot among the top eight in the West, General Manager Dave Taylor isn't panicking. As the Kings approach tonight's game in Minnesota, the seventh in an eight-game, 17-day odyssey, Taylor said he's not working on a blockbuster trade and sees no need to shake up a team he acknowledged sometimes frustrates him.

"The disappointing part for us recently is, we haven't been consistent," he said. "It's still a little early and, obviously, we'd like to be playing better and have more points than we have now, but we've had a tough schedule.... Our guys compete hard. Certainly, if there's an opportunity to improve our team and the player is a long-term improvement, we'll consider it."

Center Marc Savard, traded by Calgary to Atlanta last week for a prospect, didn't fit that definition.

"We talked about Marc and we like him as a player," Coach Andy Murray said, "but we have a young guy who's small, Mike Cammalleri, and he needs to play. It would have been bringing something we already have."

They haven't had consistent production from Palffy, whose empty-net goal Saturday in Edmonton was his first goal since the opener. Nor have they had the steady scoring from Bryan Smolinski, who had two goals the second half of last season and has three this season.

"He's been much better this year," said Murray, who has played Smolinski at center and on the wing. "He's got to be a contributor for us to be successful."

They also need better results from their power-play and penalty-killing units.

"We survived last year on being real good defensively, and special teams," Murray said.

Their power play led the NHL last season with a 20.7% success rate, and their penalty killing ranked third, at 86.6%. This season, they're at 14.5% on the power play, 21st, and 82.9% killing penalties, 18th.

Would those percentages be better with Guerin and/or Boucher in the lineup?

Taylor said the Kings' offer to Boucher was competitive but the Stars gave the 29-year-old defenseman a fourth year on his contract.

"He never came back to us to match it," Taylor said. "It was disappointing. We would have liked to have kept Philippe."

As for Guerin, he and the Kings weren't in the same financial neighborhood.

"We couldn't put a $9-million player in the budget," said Taylor, whose payroll is $43.3 million, up from last season's $40.8 million. However, it dropped from 10th-highest last season to 14th this season, according to the Hockey News.

"At the time, we were focused on getting younger. We have two 20-year-olds [Cammalleri and Alexander Frolov] who are doing fine.... We have to win some hockey games and keep an eye on the big picture. We're in a difficult part of the schedule and we've been in some tight games. We've got to find ways to win them."

They'll have to win without Allison, whom Murray doesn't expect back until February. They're 2-3-0-1 on this trip and 8-6-2-2 this season.

"I thought if we could be in .500 range after this trip and on the season, we'd be in pretty solid position," Murray said. "The team game we play gives us a chance in every game, and if we have a chance every game, I think we'll win a good percentage of them and keep ourselves in the hunt."

Staying in the hunt is one thing. Bagging the Stanley Cup is another, and the Kings haven't shown they have the depth and dimensions to seriously contend. The Stars missed the playoffs last spring, got better, and lead the West. The Kings lost ground by standing relatively still, and it's hurting them now.

Next spring will bring the 10th anniversary of their only trip to the Cup finals. It's time they had something more to celebrate than that.

Sabre Dance

Barely three years after their bitter loss to Dallas in the Stanley Cup finals, the Buffalo Sabres are in disarray. They're riding an 0-9-2 slide, and a loss or tie today at New Jersey would match the club-record 12-game winless streak in the 1991-92 season.

The NHL has been operating the Sabres since June, when owner John Rigas became enmeshed in the collapse of Adelphia. Their season-ticket base has shrunk to about 7,900 and their attendance average of 12,938 is down 23% from a year ago.

No wonder defenseman Jason Woolley, traded by the Sabres to the Detroit Red Wings last week for a conditional draft pick, was ecstatic, even though he took a $125,000 pay cut.

"This is a new life," he said.

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