COHEN’S KINGS CATASTROPHES – CHAPTER 4



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It’s said that the best trade is one that makes both teams better.  What then is a trade that sees one team utterly mismanage its assets and pass on multiple opportunities to improve while the other profits for decades?

This week we take a look at just such a trade.

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CHAPTER FOUR : The Broken Sabre

 

BACKGROUND

On March 2nd 1981, with only 15 games remaining in the season, LA Kings left winger Charlie Simmer broke his leg.  He had scored 56 goals in 65 games to that point and was part of the record breaking “Triple Crown Line” with Marcel Dionne and Dave Taylor.

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The Kings were tied with Buffalo for 5th overall in the NHL with 79 points (35-21-9).  Due to the addition of the 4 WHA franchises in 1979, the NHL Playoffs were seeded based on total points and not Division or Conference placement.

WHAT THE KINGS DID

The Kings traded their 1st and 6th round picks in the 1981 Draft plus cash to the Buffalo Sabres for Rick Martin and Don Luce at the trade deadline.

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WHY IT LOOKED LIKE A GOOD MOVE

The Kings leading goal scorers in the 1980-1981 season were Dionne, Simmer and Taylor with 58, 56 and 47 goals respectively.  Nobody else on the Kings would score more than 20 goals that season.  Losing Charlie Simmer for the rest of the season and the playoffs would be a crippling blow to the top line of a franchise that relied almost exclusively on that top line.

Don Luce was an 11 year veteran and considered one of the top penalty killers in the NHL but the centerpiece of the trade was Rick Martin.

Martin had played youth hockey with Marcel Dionne in Quebec and the two had discussed the possibility of him one day playing for the Kings.  Martin was only 29 years old and was a two time 50 goal scorer with 45 goals in the 1979-1980 season.  At the time of the trade he had one of the highest all time Goals Per Game averages and currently sits in 11th place on the list.

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In Buffalo he was part of the now legendary French Connection Line.  While perhaps not as statistically productive as the Triple Crown Line in Los Angeles, The French Connection would ultimately be honored with their own statue.

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And they CERTAINLY had a better song than The Triple Crown Line’s “Forgive My Misconduct“.

WHY IT WAS A TERRIBLE MOVE

Rick Martin was injured.

Martin had undergone surgery on February 9th and wasn’t playing for the Sabres.  Kings General Manager George Maguire made the trade without consulting Martin, instead relying on the word of Sabres General Manager Scotty Bowman that Martin would be available to play.  If the Kings felt Martin wouldn’t be able to contribute they had the option of returning him to the Sabres and retaining their 1st round draft pick.  They had to make the decision by April 1st. The season would end April 12th.

LA Times article by Gordon Edes
March 11th, 1981

After Maguire encouraged the press to tell Rick Martin to “go fuck himself” immediately following the trade it seemed likely that the Kings would exercise their option to return him to Buffalo.  Unfortunately Martin had also made a number of comments about Scotty Bowman that complicated things.

Martin on Bowman

LA Times article by Gordon Edes
March 11th 1981

On March 31st, Kings General Manager George Maguire announced that Martin would stay with the Kings but the compensation sent to Buffalo would now be a 3rd round draft pick in the 1981 Draft and a 1st round pick in the 1983 Draft.

Audio courtesy of Pete Weber.

If you can’t hear over the laughter, that’s the late Liz Shanov asking Maguire if he felt Bowman was trying to screw him and that’s Maguire telling her that “I don’t think Scotty Bowman could screw anybody, including you.”

Imagine Lombardi saying something like that to Helene Elliott.

Even Rick Martin thought the Kings were getting screwed.

LA Times article by Gordon Edes

LA Times article by Gordon Edes
April 1st, 1981

After all that Rick Martin would only play 1 regular season game and 1 playoff game for the Kings in the 1980-1981 season.  He would play 3 regular season games for them in the 1981-1982 season before retiring from the NHL.

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WHAT THE KINGS SHOULD HAVE DONE

Keep their first round pick in 1983 and draft Tom Barasso or Cam Neely or John MacLean or any other player taken after Yzerman in the first round.

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HOW IT WOULD LOOK TODAY

The Kings acquired a two time 50 goal scorer who also happened to be a close friend of their leading scorer and most popular player in the hopes that he would help bolster the teams offense and maybe even recapture some of his former glory.

He failed to play even one full season with the Kings.

 

HOW IT LOOKS IN HINDSIGHT

PETE’S PERSPECTIVE

From Pete Weber, former LA Kings Color Commentator and Current Predators Play By Play Announcer:

When the Kings made the trade for him, Rick was attempting a comeback from a knee injury inflicted on him by the stick of Washington Capitals’ goaltender Mike Palmateer (yes, the popcorn aficionado better known for his time with the Maple Leafs)….

There had been a great dispute between Sabres’ management and Rick as to the severity of his injury. This ultimately resulted in a lawsuit between the two sides and Sabres’ team orthopedist Dr. Peter Casagrande:

Martin wins suit

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Prior to the season of his injury, Rick had scored 375 goals in 658 games, or .57 goals/game. He was the best finisher of the 1970′s….Marcel Dionne trailed him, but while he had the Triple Crown Line with the Kings from mid-way through the 1978-79 season, he never truly had “The French Connection” arrangement with Gilbert Perreault and Rene Robert on the Sabres.

The gamble the Kings took was they felt he could come back…but Rick played only 4 games for the Kings, scoring two goals, and simply wasn’t able to skate as he had and he retired after playing 3 of those games in the 1981-82 season. Virtually every time he took the ice, his knee developed significant swelling.

The Kings gave up a pair of draft picks on March 10, 1981 in the deal for Rick and Sabres’ Center Don Luce — a 3rd in 1981…and a first in 1983 (which was turned into goaltender Tom Barrasso by the Sabres.) What could the Kings have done with Barrasso is one of the questions that must come to mind. Almost 30 years to the day after the trade (March 13, 2011) Rick died in a single-car accident in Western New York. He had been honored as the fourth-best player in Sabres’ history, but for reasons of health, was never able to make an impact as a King on the ice.

 

CAM NEELY AND TOM BARRASSO

FINAL ANALYSIS

BENEFIT

None

COST

5th overall draft pick in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft

OPPORTUNITY COST

Tom Barasso or Cam Neely

EMOTIONAL COST

The fans and the media were already critical of Maguire and the Kings for repeatedly trading away draft picks and prospects for aging veterans who rarely sustained their excellence once donning a Kings jersey.  The flippant attitude of Maguire and the complete fleecing at the hands of Scotty Bowman might explain why the Kings ranked 19th (out of 21) in NHL attendance in 1981-1982.

WHO’S TO BLAME

General Manager George Maguire

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LEGACY

Despite finishing 2nd in the Norris Division and 4th in the NHL, the Kings were upset by the New York Rangers in the 1981 Playoffs.  The following season the Kings would finish 36 points lower in the standings.  They would go on to miss the playoffs 3 of the next 4 seasons after that.

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George Maguire would be replaced by Rogie Vachon as General Manager in the middle of the 1983-1984 Season.

The Buffalo Sabres would take the pieces gained from this trade and continue to trade and re-trade them for the next 20 years.  Their 2013 2nd round draft pick J.T. Compher can be traced backwards to the Rick Martin trade.

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If J.T. Compher has any kind of career or is traded for a decent asset then this trade could continue to pay dividends for the Sabres for another 20 years.

SILVER LINING

It probably happened before you were a Kings fan

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ROYAL REPUGNANCE RATING

(on a scale of -99 to +99)

*-96*

Of all the members of Team TRH Jesse Cohen probably comes closest to actually hating the Kings. Whether obsessing over the 1998 sweep at the hands of the St. Louis Blues, wishing he had witnessed the fight between Dmitri Khristich and Barry Potomski or cursing their attempts to fool the fans by dressing Randy Robitaille for 18 games, Jesse harbors a deep-seeded resentment towards the Kings.You can follow Jesse Cohen on Twitter @KingsMenPodcast.