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Helene Elliott / ON THE NHL

Slumping Kings Fire Murray

Team's Chief Calls the Players to Task

March 22, 2006|Helene Elliott

The Kings long ago stopped listening to Andy Murray. He'd worn them out, pushing them past the point at which they paid attention to his fiery speeches or the strategy sheets and inspirational messages he'd slip under their hotel room doors.

But Tim Leiweke, the Kings' chief executive, on Tuesday issued a message they cannot ignore.

Play hard. Play with pride. Make the playoffs, or be gone.

And that applies as much to General Manager Dave Taylor as to any player.

On the day Taylor fired Murray, the day the Kings slipped out of a playoff spot, Taylor became the next figure on the firing line.

And don't think Leiweke will hesitate to pull the trigger if the Kings can't climb past Vancouver or the Mighty Ducks and salvage something from this sour season.

Taylor gave Murray enough time to find new ways to deliver his message after nearly seven seasons. He could not.

Taylor gave him time to revamp a poorly organized power play -- please, no more dump-and-chase with a man advantage -- but Murray, sometimes too ostentatious about his hard work and long hours, never found time to fix that crucial element. Nor did Murray take the power-play portfolio away from assistant John Van Boxmeer, who lacked creativity and vision and was also fired.

Taylor, and by extension Leiweke, gave Murray more time and resources than any King coach before him, but the wait for the Stanley Cup is 38 years and counting.

"It's probably the right decision, but in part, shame on the players," Leiweke said by telephone from New York, where he was tending to business involving another tentacle of the AEG empire.

"Shame on Jeremy Roenick for not sticking his nose in every night. Shame on the players who laid Andy out to dry. They'd better perform now.

"Dave had no choice. I'm not saying Andy did everything right, because he didn't. But it wasn't a lack of effort on his part. I want every player to look in the mirror, and only a few can say they gave 100%. We've got 12 games left and now what this does is it sends a message to Dave and everybody that we're not going to accept losing. You want to blame Andy? Andy's gone. I'm very curious to see what they say now."

Leiweke said he apologized to owner Phil Anschutz, who bought the Kings a decade ago merely to get a foothold into the Los Angeles real estate market and has since absorbed losses of about $250 million on a club that has won one playoff series during his tenure. Although the Kings may be little more than a tool for Anschutz, they have deeper meaning to Leiweke. He's tied to them emotionally, and although he's not as involved in day-to-day operations as he was initially, he can't sever that connection.

He's not shy about expressing his feelings and he might not be politically correct, but Leiweke authorized the investment of serious money into building the farm system Taylor wanted. He trusted Taylor. The question is whether Taylor deserves it.

Maybe Taylor should have dismissed Murray sooner, and that will go on the minus side of the ledger if the Kings can't recover in the next 12 games. So too will Taylor's errors in judging players, the area in which he, as a former player, is supposed to be an expert. The list includes Roman Cechmanek, Roenick, Anson Carter and, perhaps, Mark Parrish. Throw in Olli Jokinen, maybe. And not retaining Rob Blake, Mathieu Schneider or Philippe Boucher, who have energized power plays in Colorado, Detroit and Dallas, respectively. How many more mistakes is Taylor entitled to make?

Perhaps he and Murray made too many errors for the Kings to regroup this season. Leiweke had promised that it would be a good one.

The Kings, he said, could compete on equal footing with the rest of the league because of the new economic system, and because years of investing in a farm system had finally produced results. But a fast start has faded to a horrible end, and Leiweke said he's not willing to accept injuries as an excuse.

Nor should he.

"Our fans deserve better. I failed them miserably and I apologize," he said. "I think our team's burned out. I'm not saying Andy was perfect. He wasn't. But he's not the guy you put all of our problems on.

"The game Monday night, a lot of guys didn't show up. You can't put that on Andy. They're paid a lot of money to show up. I'm kicking myself and saying I blew it. Every player had better be saying the same thing, but Andy's the only guy paying tonight.

"We as an organization have to do better. It's inexcusable. I don't blame our fans for being frustrated. I think what fans will see is that winning is what we're demanding. Losing is not acceptable."

Taylor insisted that the Kings "can get things turned around from now to the end of the year."

If not, it's his job.

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