A look at the Los Angeles Kings’ All-Decade team for the 1980s
This is part of a series detailing the all-decade team for every NHL franchise for the 1980s. The all-time teams were compiled using a mix of skill, longevity and statistics; it is not necessarily the best, most memorably or most talented players. Instead, this is the list of players by each position who had the best numbers over a prolonged period (i.e. at least three full seasons between 1980-81 and 1989-90) during the regular season. A complete list is available here.
Team: Los Angeles Kings (1980-81 to 1989-90)
311-384-105, .454 WIN PCT, 3,241 GF vs. 3,487 GA, -246 Diff, 7/10 Playoff Appearances, 0 Stanley Cups
Los Angeles struggled mightily during the 1980s: they only had three decades with above-.500 records, but four seasons below 70 points (including three seasons where their winning percentage was below 40%). Fortunately they tended to play in the same division as the Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets, who were each very up-and-down during the decade. However, their playoff success was limited by the fact that they typically ran into either the Edmonton Oilers or Calgary Flames; the Kings never made it past the second round, and only won three playoff series (with two of those coming after the Wayne Gretzky trade in 1988). Overall, L.A.’s win percentage was a very poor 45.4%, which ranked 15th out of 21 teams in the decade. They were an offensive juggernaut: they scored an average of 4.05 goals per game, third in the league behind the afore-mentioned Oilers and Flames. However, they were awful in their own zone: they allowed 4.36 goals per game, second-worst in the league (only Toronto’s 4.47 was worse). The result was a poor -246 differential, 14th in the league. So they were an exciting offensive team that was probably a blast to watch, but their lack of success (and relevance in the market pre-Gretzky) made them tough to cheer for.
Left Wing: Luc Robitaille (317 GP, 196-198-394, -14, 213 PIM, 20 GWG)
The Kings were certainly lucky when they drafted Luc. He scored 45 goals and 84 points in his rookie season. He then scored 53, 46 and 52 goals over the next four, twice scoring 100+ points (and once scoring 98). His +/- was poor at first, but improved: -27 his first two seasons, +13 the next two. He also had 17+ powerplay goals three times, and had a respectable 20 game-winning goals. He was always a threat on the ice, as evidenced by his 199+ shots each season. One of the best offensive left wingers in NHL history, and definitely the best in L.A. during the 1980s.
Centre: Marcel Dionne (531 GP, 309-436-745, +44, 312 PIM, 31 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Bernie Nicholls
Bernie Nicholls was phenomenal after Wayne Gretzky’s arrival: he scored 225 points in 126 games before being dealt to New York in ’89-90. In ’88-89, Nicholls scored 70 goals and 150 points, along with a +30 rating. Bernie had seven other seasons of 27+ goals (maxing out at 46) and three other seasons of 95+ points. But his +/- was pretty bad; excluding ’88-89, he was -71 (and never better than +2). So Marcel gets the nod.
Dionne is arguably the greatest player in Kings’ history. Gretzky may have been more talented, but Dionne was the driving force behind the franchise for a very long time. Even though he was fading as the 1980s wore on, he was still incredible. The centrepiece of the famed “Triple Crown” line, Dionne opened the decade with three straight seasons of 50+ goals, and he had four 100+ seasons during the 80s. He never had less than 24 goals or 50 assists, and only once dipped below 92 points in seven seasons. His +/- was fair at best, typically in the -10 to +11 range. But remember, he played on some brutal teams, so this is quite respectable. He scored double-digit powerplay goals in six of seven seasons, and had 31 game-winning goals. He also had 300+ shots on goal four times, only once dipping below 278. One of the most prolific scorers of his generation.
Right Wing: Dave Taylor (677 GP, 286-455-741, +64, 1,058 PIM, 26 GWG)
Taylor played much of his L.A. career on Dionne’s right wing, but this is not to suggest Taylor was in any way carried by Dionne (or Charlie Simmer, the other member of the Triple Crown line). Taylor was a great player in his own right. He played all ten seasons during the decade for the Kings, and scored 20+ eight times (including two 40-goal season and two 30-goal seasons). He was defensively responsible, with a +/- typically in the -3 to +17 range despite playing on one of the most defensively-challenged squads of the 1980s. He was also tough, posting 100+ penalty minutes five times (and never less than 76). He had four seasons with double-digits in PPG, seven seasons of 141+ shots on goal. Not quite as clutch as I expected (his 26 game-winners are 9% of his total), he was a great leader for the Kings and one of their best players of all time.
Defense: Steve Duchesne (304 GP, 74-156-230, +36, 311 PIM, 9 GWG)
Duchesne blossomed as a talented offensive defenseman in Los Angeles during the last half of the decade. He improved from 38 to 55 to 75 points in his first three seasons, and had a balanced +/- rating overall. 24 of his 74 goals came on the powerplay, so he was clearly a major threat with the man advantage. He also chipped in 9 game-winning goals, a healthy 12% of his total. He also managed 190+ shots on goal three times as a defenseman. He twice cleared 20 goals, and twice cleared 40 assists.
Defense: Larry Murphy (242 GP, 52-155-207, +2, 255 PIM, 4 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Mark Hardy and Jay Wells
Larry Murphy was a Hall-of-Famer who spent his formative years in the yellow and purple Kings jersey. In each of three full seasons to start the decade, Murphy had 14+ goal and 60+ points. He was also chippy, posting 79-85 PIM per season. 22 of his goals came with the man advantage, and he fired 150+ shots on net each season. Those numbers coupled with a decent +/- demonstrates that he was on his way to becoming a top defenseman in the NHL. Mark Hardy and Jay Wells both get honourable mentions for strong performances over eight-year stretches, but Murphy was just a better player at a time when the Kings needed skilled players. Hardy had consistently good offensive numbers: never less than 25 points, and four times hitting the 39-53 range; but he was terrible for +/- (-100 in eight seasons), only having two positive seasons and twice hitting -30. Wells was much more responsible defensively, managing somehow to post a +1 rating over the same span as Hardy (and five times posting a positive rating). But his offensive numbers were weak for most of his tenure, only twice exceeding 25 points.
Goalie: Mario Lessard (141 GP, 51-60-22, 5 SO, 3.91 GAA, 0.841 PCT*)
*NOTE: save percentage is for ’82-83 and ’83-84 only
The Kings’ net in the 1980s was a veritable rotating door of players who simply didn’t manage to have a discernible impact. Kelly Hrudey arrived at the end of the decade, but didn’t play enough to qualify for the Best-Of 1980s list. Gerry Laskowski, Mike Blake, Bob Janecyk, Darren Elliott, Rollie Melanson and Glenn Healy were all “starters” for at least one season in Los Angeles (and by that I mean they ended the season with the most games played in net). None of them lasted more than two seasons as #1, and of those who did, none of them managed decent numbers in their second season. Mario Lessard lands the Best of the 80s label by process of elimination: he had close to a .500 record, and had a goals-against average below 4.00. That’s it: those were the lone criteria by which he qualified for this list. Nothing against Lessard, but when he’s the best goalie that the team had over an entire decade, it should come as absolutely no surprise that the Kings were the second-worst defensive team during the 1980s.