It's mid-September and the Kings are in the throes of an
intrasquad scrimmage. In one corner, newly acquired former Los
Angeles left wing Luc Robitaille and newly acquired former Los
Angeles defenseman Garry Galley battle for a loose puck. Their
bodies clatter against the boards, where a painted
black-and-silver sign implores, play like dave taylor is
watching. "That means hard," says Taylor, who is viewing the
action at rinkside. "That means play hard every practice, every
Taylor was well-known for his determination during his 17-year
career with the Kings, which ended in 1994. Now, at 41, he is
L.A.'s rookie general manager, and he's trying to revive a club
that is looking for a future in part by harkening to the past.
"Anyone who played with him knows how much he put into the
game," says Robitaille. "These days he's at the rink every day.
It's the same thing."
Along with his work ethic, Taylor would also like to bring back
some excitement. Nine years ago the Kings traded for Wayne
Gretzky and instantly became a glitzy team. As recently as 1993,
when Gretzky-led Los Angeles made a stirring run to the Stanley
Cup finals, celebrities routinely were seen among the
16,000-plus sellout crowds at the Great Western Forum. But L.A.
has missed the playoffs three years running, and last season the
Kings averaged about 12,000 fans per game.
Robitaille, who averaged 49 goals per season for Los Angeles
between 1986-87 and 1993-94 but less than half of that since
then playing elsewhere, is a short-term fix. "Bringing him in
had two benefits," says center Ray Ferarro. "The fans love him,
and he can still score."
Robitaille won't be the only player giving his all for the club.
Matt Johnson, the team's enforcer, has taped a series of radio
promotions called Thoughts from the Penalty Box. Johnson's
delivery brings to mind deadpan comedian Steven Wright. In one
promo Johnson intones in a Wright-like manner, "One time I hit a
guy so hard I thought his head came off in his helmet. It didn't."
"Luc and I heard that driving one day, and we started talking
about how much fun this city was for us a few years ago," says
eight-year defenseman Rob Blake, the Kings' captain and
longest-tenured player. "We have to make it like that again."
With a thin cast, the Kings will have to work hard just to be
competitive. Taylor wouldn't have them do it any other way.