COHEN’S KINGS CATASTROPHES – CHAPTER 5

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Today is the 35th Anniversary of a trade that many consider to be the absolute worst in Kings history.  A trade that saw the Kings acquire a “minor league goaltender” in exchange for a draft pick that could have changed the fortunes of the franchise for decades.

RayBourque

CHAPTER FIVE : Everybody Loves Raymond (Bourque)

 

BACKGROUND

In August of 1978, Kings All Star goalie Rogie Vachon signed a contract with the Detroit Red Wings.  Vachon had been the starting netminder for Los Angeles since being acquired during the 1971-1972 season.  He had appeared in three All Star games and set franchise records in every significant goaltending category during his time as a King.

vachonVachon led the league in fancy signatures.

WHAT THE KINGS DID

On October 9th, 1978 the Los Angeles Kings traded their 1st round pick in the 1979 Draft to the Boston Bruins for goaltender Ron Grahame.

4848-219BkNow THAT is the face of a winner back up goalie.

WHY IT LOOKED LIKE A GOOD MOVE

Entering the 1978-1979 seaon, the Kings needed a #1 Goaltender.

With Vachon recently departed to Detroit, the Kings opened a 7 game exhibition schedule on September 23rd, 1978 with only backup goalie Gary Simmons (3-9-3 over two seasons) and rookie netminders Mario Lessard and Doug Keans.

goalietrioIf you don’t recognize the guy on the far right, that’s because it’s Doug Keans.

Ron Grahame had been a standout goalie for the Houston Aeros in the WHA.  In the 1974-1975 season he led the league in wins, shutouts and goals against average and backstopped the franchise to the AVCO World Trophy, winning both the Ben Hatskin Trophy for best goaltender, First Team All-Star accolades and the WHA Playoff MVP.

74-75HouAer

Wayne Rutledge and Ron Grahame.  Past & Future terrible Kings goalies.

The Aeros folded in 1977 and Grahame signed with the Boston Bruins.  He played 40 games for a Bruins team that iced three goalies and compiled a 26-6-7 regular season record during the 1977-1978 season before taking a backup role to Gerry Cheevers in the Bruins run to a Stanley Cup Finals loss against the Montreal Canadiens.

grahame

WHY IT WAS A TERRIBLE MOVE

Ron Grahame wasn’t an NHL caliber goalie and plenty of people knew it.  Ted Lindsay, General Manager of the Detroit Red Wings and upset with Kings General Manager George Maguire over the compensation dispute following the acquisition of Rogie Vachon, felt that Grahame was unworthy of what the Kings gave up to acquire him.

AP, Windsor Star, October 24th, 1978

AP, The Windsor Star
October 24th, 1978

Maguire, never a timid quote, responded in kind.

LA Times article by Don Merry October 23rd 1978

LA Times article by Don Merry
October 23rd 1978

Again George Maguire was wrong in his analysis.  Ron Grahame went 11-19-2 in his first season with the Kings and lost the starting job to rookie Mario Lessard who went 23-15-10 with 4 shutouts.

grahamekingsgoal

 Grahame played fewer and fewer games in the following two seasons before finally being sold to the Quebec Nordiques for cash to replace the suspended Michel Dion.  He played only 8 games for the Nordiques.  That was the last time he would appear in an NHL uniform.

grahamediquesMan that uniform makes anybody look good.

WHAT THE KINGS SHOULD HAVE DONE

Hold onto their draft pick.

The 1st round pick in the 1979 Draft that the Kings traded to acquire Ron Grahame wound up being the 8th overall pick.  The Boston Bruins used that pick to draft a defenceman from the Verdun Black Hawks of the QMJHL named Raymond Bourque.

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The Kings drafted defenceman Jay Wells with the 16th overall pick (acquired from the Canadiens).  Wells would play the better part of 8 seasons for the Kings and was popular enough to warrant his own “Kings Legends Night” later this month but even his impressive career pales in comparison to that of Ray Bourque.  It’s especially depressing when you compare Bourque’s career with Grahame’s accomplishments as a member of the Los Angeles Kings.

BourqueGrahame-impIf that doesn’t hurt your soul then you’re not a true Kings fan.

HOW IT WOULD LOOK TODAY

The Kings needed a goalie so they traded their 1st round draft pick in the following year for a goalie in his late twenties that had just won over 25 games in his first NHL season but would wind up out of the league in the next few seasons.  If it happened in the summer of 2007, the Kings would have traded their first round pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft (Drew Doughty) for Johan Holmqvist.

frozen_inside072007Even Jonah Holmqvist’s mom has never heard of Jonah Holmqvist.

HOW IT LOOKS IN HINDSIGHT

PETE’S PERSPECTIVE

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

To the best of my knowledge, “The Reverend” (called such by his Kings’ teammates because he did not drink, which made it tough when he joined in on some light beer commercials) is the ONLY alumnus of the Southern Hockey League’s Macon Whoopees (1973-74 there) to have worn a Kings’ uniform. He was a college teammate of former King Vic Venasky at the University of Denver, which also featured future NHLers Peter McNab, Mike Christie and  Rich Preston. He played four years there for Murray Armstrong, beginning his time there in 1969, just after the Pioneers had won back-to-back NCAA titles.
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In October of 1977, he jumped to the NHL, signing with the Boston Bruins and Don Cherry. He played 40 games for that team (Gilles Gilbert got into 25 and Hall of Famer Gerry Cheevers played 21). That was a strong Bruins’ team, which lost in the Stanley Cup final to the Montreal Canadiens (who took their third of four straight that season). In the playoffs that year, Don Cherry elected to go with the 37-year old Cheevers in 12 games to Grahame’s 4. That decision was an indicator of Grahame’s future with the Bruins. Once Don Cherry had made up his mind, the decision was final.
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That brings us to October 9, 1978, when George Maguire and the Kings sent their first-round pick in the 1979 draft to the Boston Bruins for Ron Grahame. Kings’ management (and new Coach Bob Berry) simply wasn’t comfortable with rookie Mario Lessard in goal. He was 24 years old and had no NHL experience, just four seasons in the minor leagues  primarily with Saginaw in the IHL and one season in Springfield. Prior to the trade, the veteran option available to the Kings was 34-year old Gary “Cobra” Simmons. 
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Bottom line: Ron Grahame won 23 games in three seasons with the Kings. Ray Bourque was a dominant player through 2001 in the NHL. The problem here is, you never know how the draft picks are doing to turn out. Montreal selected Gilbert Delorme with the pick that cost them Jay Wells (a serviceable NHL defenseman for almost 1100 games and 8 seasons in LA) and Murray Wilson, who played just one season in LA and then retired. 
 
With the loss of Vachon and uncertainty in the net, you can understand the reasoning behind the trade, but will forevermore shake your head at it, knowing the benefit of what was to follow. In 1980, the Kings received the draft pick they turned into Larry Murphy from Detroit as part of compensation for the Red Wings signing Vachon as a free agent; as part of the same deal, they drafted Center Doug Smith the following season. The fact that Bourque lasted until the 8th pick is as large an indictment of the seven clubs picking in front of the Bruins as it was the Kings’ trade of the selection. 

FINAL ANALYSIS

BENEFIT

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COST

8th overall pick in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft

OPPORTUNITY COST

Raymond F@$#ing Bourque

EMOTIONAL COST

Every time someone makes a list of the worst NHL trades of all time or greatest NHL draft picks of all time, this trade is mentioned and a piece of my soul dies.

WHO’S TO BLAME

General Manager George Maguire

GMaguire_GMB

LEGACY

Ron Grahame wound up celebrating at least two Stanley Cup victories.  His son and wife are the only son/mother tandem to have their names on the Stanley Cup.  John Grahame won the Stanley Cup in 2004 as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Charlotte Grahame is an executive with the Colorado Avalanche.

charlotte

Ray Bourque was one of the greatest NHL players of all time and is still involved with the Bruins franchise.

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

SILVER LINING

Ray Bourque’s Stanley Cup win came when he was a member of the Colorado Avalanche.  So it doesn’t count.

ray-bourque-stanley-cup-avalanche

ROYAL REPUGNANCE RATING

(on a scale of -99 to +99)

*-98.5*

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.
  • http://TheRoyalHalf.com/ PumperNicholl

    The placement of the Grahame-Bourque engravings on the Stanley Cup is unreal.

    • theroyalhalf

      Wow. That’s some serious karma.

      • http://flickr.com/offstandard Offstandard

        Grahame, Bourque AND Rob Blake.

      • gokingsgo

        That really is something and you have to wonder if it is more than coincidence.

  • gokingsgo

    Mistakes are made in trades and it is often unfair to judge people in hindsight but with this in mind it was a crap shoot at best. The Kings may not have selected Bourque with that pick but to essentially give it away was a shame.

    • All The Kings Men

      If there weren’t anybody in the moment criticizing the move then I’d accept the argument that we’re judging in hindsight or that any of this was a “crap shoot”. But there’s the quote from Ted Lindsay… and there’s George Maguire’s track record. This was a terrible trade when it happened and it became an historically bad trade as time went on.