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Taylor's Reign Is in Peril

It may be playoffs or layoff for King general manager, who basically has been put on notice.

April 06, 2006|Chris Foster | Times Staff Writer

Dave Taylor, the Kings' general manager, looked out on the ice at his team shortly after coach Andy Murray was fired and remained a believer.

"I think there is potential to make the playoffs," Taylor said. "It's not going to be easy. There are [10] games left and we are playing some good teams. We can get in."

Taylor needed to believe.

His future may hinge on the Kings making the Stanley Cup playoffs. Tim Leiweke, the Kings' chief executive, made that clear after Murray was fired, sending salvos at players and Taylor.

"What this does is it sends a message to Dave and everybody that we're not going to accept losing....We as an organization have to do better," he said. "It's inexcusable. I don't blame our fans for being frustrated."

The Kings are in 10th place, two points out of a Western Conference playoff spot with five games remaining. But a 6-2 loss to the Mighty Ducks on Tuesday left them dangerously close to not qualifying for the playoffs.

That would probably force Leiweke into action. In November, he called this the best King team in the 10 years that AEG has owned the franchise.

In Taylor's eight seasons as general manager, the Kings have made the playoffs four times, advancing to the second round once. Yet, they have not reached the playoffs since 2001-02.

"I just go about my job and do what I think is best for the Kings; everything else is out of my control," Taylor said. "I would like to think that the entire body of work would be looked at."

Taylor's body of work has included clearly marked crossroads -- the Rob Blake trade, the Mathieu Schneider trade, the Jeremy Roenick trade. He has searched to fill the hole in goal, with Mathieu Garon being the latest in that quest.

Efforts to improve the team during the season through trades often have not worked out. This season reads like a college final -- Pavol Demitra (pass), Craig Conroy (pass), Roenick (fail), Valeri Bure (fail), Mark Parrish (incomplete), Garon (incomplete).

Demitra and Conroy, free-agent signings, are big reasons the Kings are in the playoff race, though injuries have kept Demitra out of the lineup much of the season's second half.

Roenick and Bure, on the other hand, have been flotsam.

Roenick, a future Hall of Fame member acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers in August, has played in only 52 games because of injuries and has a career-low nine goals and 19 points. Bure, signed in August to provide offense, underwent back surgery and did not play one game.

Injuries have hampered the Kings the last three seasons, though that is not unusual in the NHL. "I know using injuries is just an excuse, and everyone thinks you're whining," Conroy said. "But if San Jose lost Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Jonathan Cheechoo, where would they be? This is not Dave's fault."

Still, the trade for Roenick was questioned, publicly by the media and privately by some executives of other teams. Although the Kings gave up little -- the Flyers received "future considerations" -- they took on a player with a history of concussions and added a $4.94-million drag on the payroll just as a $39-million salary cap took effect.

Roenick reported to training camp out of shape and has played little like the physical force that made him dangerous the previous 16 seasons. He suffered the 11th concussion of his career in an exhibition game, then broke a finger in December. He is now playing with a chip fracture in his right ankle.

Taylor's trades have been questioned before.

Blake refused a five-year, $40-million deal from the Kings, who traded him to Colorado during the 2000-01 season. Defenseman Aaron Miller is the only player from that deal still on the Kings, though the trade included hard-nosed forward Adam Deadmarsh. But Deadmarsh was limited to 144 games -- none since 2002-03 -- because of concussions and retired in September.

Schneider, a defenseman who is skilled on the power play, was dealt in March 2003 for financial reasons. Taylor said it would have been difficult to re-sign him and instead re-signed Miller, a solid, stay-at-home defenseman. Schneider went to the Detroit Red Wings, leaving the volatile Sean Avery as the only King left from that deal.

The Kings also lost defenseman Philippe Boucher, when Taylor refused to offer more than a three-year contract. Boucher wanted four years and signed with Dallas in 2002.

Taylor traded forward Olli Jokinen, who was part of the deal that brought Ziggy Palffy and Bryan Smolinski in return, key players in the Kings' three consecutive playoff appearances.

"When we made the trade, I said it could be judged in five years," Taylor said. "We got two top-six forwards in return and had three consecutive 90-point seasons."

But Palffy and Smolinski are gone -- Palffy as a free agent and Smolinski in a trade. Meanwhile, Jokinen has 34 goals with Florida.

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