COHEN’S KINGS CATASTROPHES – CHAPTER 2
A huge part of being a respectable sports fan is being intimately familiar with the mythology of your favorite team. You are expected be just as well-versed in the crushing failures of your beloved heroes as you are with their victories. Harlan Ellison once said “For without pain, there can be no pleasure. Without sadness, there can be no happiness. Without misery there can be no beauty.” To be a Kings fan today is to experience all the pleasure professional sports has to offer but it wasn’t always this way. To be a Kings fan twenty years ago was to know pain. This week in Cohen’s Kings Catastrophes we bring you a look at the Kings at the start of their freefall into futility… and ultimately bankruptcy. The road to the precipice was long but the first step over the cliff was taken Twenty Years ago with one unbelievable trade.
CHAPTER TWO : Mismanaging Marty
In August of 1993 the St. Louis Blues signed Kings defenceman Marty McSorley to a 5 year $10 million offer sheet. The Kings matched the offer and retained McSorley.
WHAT THE KINGS DID
After matching the offer sheet, The Kings traded McSorley to Pittsburgh for forward Shawn McEachern. Fifty-six games into the 93/94 season, the Kings traded Shawn McEachern back to Pittsburgh along with Tomas Sandstrom in order to reacquire McSorely and defenceman Jim Paek.
WHY IT LOOKED LIKE A GOOD MOVE
THE 1st TRADE:
There were many who felt McSorley wasn’t worth the kind of money St. Louis was offering him. “Well, apparently St. Louis didn’t watch the Stanley Cup finals,” said Harry Sinden, president and general manager of the Boston Bruins. Salaries were on the rise around the NHL and the Kings had a trio of talented young defencemen patrolling their blueline. McEachern had just scored 28 goals in his rookie season and had been an accomplished collegiate player. Additionally, it was McSorley’s infamous “illegal stick” incident months earlier that many felt was responsible for the Kings losing the Stanley Cup to Montreal in the ’93 Final.
THE 2nd TRADE:
After their first appearance in a Stanley Cup Final, the Los Angeles Kings started the 93/94 season 8-5-2 in their first 15 games but followed that up by going 13-16-4 over the next 33. With 26 games remaining they found themselves in 10th place in the Western Conference (21-29-6) but only 5 points behind the 8th place San Jose Sharks. Coach Barry Melrose and Captain Wayne Gretzky had bemoaned the loss of McSorely all season. Said McNall when asked about reacquiring McSorely, “We didn’t realize until he was gone how much we missed him.” The Kings young defensive corps of Rob Blake, Alexei Zhitnik and Darryl Sydor seemed to be suffering from a lack of veteran guidance on the blueline and Sandstrom had failed to put up the kind of numbers he had before being plagued by a spate of injuries. On top of all that, the newly formed Mighty Ducks of Anaheim were in 9th place and battling the Kings for the final playoff spot.
WHY IT WAS A TERRIBLE MOVE
THE 1st TRADE:
The obvious reasons
See : WHY IT LOOKED LIKE A GOOD MOVE (THE 2nd TRADE)
The less obvious reasons
McSorley wasn’t the only member of the LA Kings to receive a new contract in the summer of 1993. Wayne Gretzky signed a three year deal (allegedly worth $25.5 Million) shortly after the trade of McSorley. The new contract supposedly made him the highest paid player in the NHL.
In December of 1993, Kings owner Bruce McNall defaulted on a $90 million loan from Bank of America.
McSorley’s new contract would pay him close to $2 Million in the 1993-1994 NHL Season. McEachern’s contract would pay him $258,000. It’s not terribly difficult in hindsight to see why McNall would feel compelled to trade a player as talented and well liked as McSorley. McSorley had been voted Most Popular Player by fans 3 of the previous 4 seasons.
THE 2nd TRADE:
It’s clear that the trade of Marty McSorley to the Penguins was in response to McNall’s crumbling financial empire and not a sincere attempt to improve the Kings on the ice or in the locker room. However the trade to bring him back was a desperate attempt to do just that and it failed miserably.
The Kings would win only 6 more games out of the remaining 28 and would miss the playoffs.
McSorley would play another season and a half with the Kings before being traded to the Rangers in a multiplayer trade. Jim Paek would only play 18 games with the Kings.
Sandstrom would never regain his 40 goal touch but scored 71 goals in 172 games over 4 seasons with the Penguins before winning a Stanley Cup with the Red Wings in 1997. Fortunately Kings fans would have plenty of opportunities to see Sandstrom again as he returned to the Southland for two more seasons before returning to the Swedish Elite League in 1999.
WHAT THE KINGS SHOULD HAVE DONE
Retain Sandstrom and McEachern and begin a soft rebuild in the summer of 1994.
It’s difficult to address this without delving into the financial situation that Bruce McNall created but I will attempt to keep the focus “on ice” as much as possible.
Despite their appearance in the Stanley Cup Final in 1993, the Kings did not finish well in in the 1992-1993 standings. They were the 3rd seed in the Smythe Division and only 1 point ahead of 4th seed Winnipeg. Gretzky had missed half of the season due to a career threatening back injury before rejoining the team in January and his 40 points in 24 playoff games was the primary reason the Kings faced off against the Canadiens in the Final.
Despite reacquiring McSorley, the Kings missed the playoffs in spectacular fashion. They would be forced into trading away many of their higher paid players in the ensuing months and would frequently fail to receive equal value for the assets they lost.
McSorley and McEachern were involved in both trades so the result was ultimately a swap of Tomas Sandstrom for Jim Paek. Sandstrom may not have been the player he once was but his value was certainly higher than that and Shawn McEachern proved himself to be a reliable NHL player while helping the once terrible Ottawa Senators make the playoffs in all 6 seasons he was there.
HOW IT WOULD LOOK TODAY
The Kings traded a popular 2 time Cup winning defenceman to the Pittsburgh Penguins thinking they could rely on their trio of young blueliners and Charlie Huddy. When they realized their mistake they had to trade a veteran forward just to get him back.
If it happened in the summer of 2013, The Kings would have allowed Rob Scuderi to wind up in Pittsburgh thinking they could rely on their stable of young blueliners and Robyn Regher. When they realized their mistake they would have to trade Justin Williams to the Pens just to get him back.
HOW IT LOOKS IN HINDSIGHT
SENATORS & THRASHERS FANS ON SHAWN MCEACHERN
He was an inexpensive but incredibly productive winger during the dead puck era. Very under appreciated. Easily the 34th best Sen ever.
Everett Duke – former Thrashers season ticket holder
When I think about Shawn and his time in Atlanta, I can’t help but think about the fact he captained the team during the loss of Dan Snyder. I don’t think an NHL team has ever faced the type of adversity the Thrashers did that season, and Shawn ultimately led the way. He played in every game that season, something not a lot of players do under Bob Hartley. Shawn played with grit, took more good penalties than bad, and stuck up for his teammates.
I remember having his rookie card, and how touted he was, and that shifted to a totally different lead by example role in Atlanta. Grit, tenacity… I think that the ability to work for what you have really rubbed off on guys.
Shawn McEachern never lived up to the potential some saw in his 28 goal rookie season but he played over 900 games in the NHL, had three seasons with 29 goals or more for the Ottawa Senators and served as Captain of the Atlanta Thrashers.
Trading the “Most Popular Player” months after he won the award for a 3rd time in 4 seasons was never a good idea. Doing it on the heels of an historic run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs only made it worse and compounding it by trading away another popular player in the hopes of recapturing what they had lost was a disaster. It’s been 20 years and there are still fans that refuse to talk about the trade in any kind of civil manner.
WHO’S TO BLAME
Owner Bruce McNall.
It was McNall’s criminal behavior that was directly responsible for years of Kings misfortunes and no true fan would offer him even the simplest courtesy.
The Kings would miss the playoffs in 5 of the 6 seasons following their Stanley Cup Final appearance. The initial trade became oft referenced evidence in rumors and jokes that Gretzky couldn’t handle any other players being more popular with the fans. Gretzky himself would ultimately be traded after McNall was forced to sell the team and the subsequent owners were forced to place the team into bankruptcy.
The Kings poor finish earned them the 7th overall pick in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft which they used to select goaltender Jaimie Storr (5th in wins and games played for the Kings). Marty McSorley was ultimately involved in the trade that brought Ian Lapperriere and Mattias Norstrom to the Kings.
ROYAL REPUGNANCE RATING
(on a scale of -99 to +99)