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Dave Taylor: The King at 17

November 3, 2011 Players No Comments

Dave Taylor: The King at 17
By Bob Cunningham
Nov 6, 2001, 07:23

 

©BBS

It’s a cliche to say that Dave Taylor has seen it all in his 17 years with the Los Angeles Kings. But cliches become cliches because they’re unavoidably accurate. Taylor has experienced a myriad of emotions, a plethora of prospects and a whole bunch of teammates in his time. He has enjoyed a career, from a team standpoint, that has included rewarding achievements as well as decimating shortcomings. He is a constant in a constantly revolving door that is modern-day professional sports.

The Kings have hired and fired 11 head coaches during Taylor’s tenure. But at long last, Taylor’s playing days are winding down. His latest setback, a frustrating concussion that is certainly not the first of his career but is hopefully the last, has him concerned and thinking more about life after hockey than ever.

 

In his time, he has played alongside two of the greatest ever to lace up the skates — Wayne Gretzky and Marcel Dionne. Gretzky is the main man of today but it was Dionne who took a young Taylor under his wing in 1977 and helped mold him into one of the steadiest performers of our generation. The Triple Crown Line — which featured Taylor, Dionne and Charlie Simmer — brought pride and pleasure to Los Angeles hockey fans during years of otherwise mediocre teams who never could get past the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs — when they got there at all.

As Taylor reflects back on his enduring run of years in uniform, he remembers his relationship with Dionne, the many players and coaches come and gone, the seasons of disappointment as the Kings usually finished closer to the bottom than the top and, finally, the franchise’s incredible trek to last season’s Stanley Cup Finals, where the ultimate prize could have been theirs had it not been for the brilliant goaltending of Montreal’s Patrick Roy.

It has been a career to remember. Four all-star game nominations, including an honorary one this past year. His 17-year stint is one that may reach 18, 19, perhaps 20. And it will be completed entirely within one organization. And although his time to date has not resulted in any championships, it’s doubtful that Taylor would trade places with anyone.

 

Your career has been remarkable not only for your longevity but for your productivity and consistency for 17 years. What’s your secret to staying in such great shape year after year?

I think it’s been a matter, every year, of learning new training methods, and the fact they have gotten better and better. I spend a lot more time now on the exercise bike than I did earlier in my career. I came into the league a lot smaller than I am now. Hockey has changed, also. Guys used to go to camp to get in shape. Now, trainers send out training programs for players to follow during the off-season. They have tests to make sure you’re where you should be physically. The natural progression of conditioning in general has helped me out. And there’s more competition now. I’ve had injuries — surgery on my knee, my wrist a couple of times, dislocated my shoulder, concussions — rehab is so important. And (team) doctors are not releasing players before they’re fully recovered. That’s very important.

 

What niche do you believed you’ve carved as a player?

I was always taught to play both ends of the rink. Earlier in my career, I was looked to more for offense. The Triple Crown Line with Marcel, myself and Charlie Simmer scored a lot of goals, a lot of points. Got a lot of time on the power play. As time went on, I came to realize that I wasn’t as good as maybe I used to be. I became more of a third or fourth line player. My roles have changed often over the years. Mainly, I still want to play effectively at both ends of the ice whenever I’m out there.

 

You played in your first all-star game in eight years this past January. Describe your experience.

It’s always fun to play in an all-star game. You meet all the top players, get to know the guys. And the game is less intense. It’s a lot of fun for the players. Well, it’s hard on the goaltender’s but it’s a great showcase for the league. And with the skating competition and the shootout, it’s an interesting event. This one was special, not only because it was my first since 1988 but because it was at Madison Square Garden and on national television. And it was a good game. The NHL is trying to sell itself a lot more.

 

You’ve been fortunate to play with two of the game’s greatest ever in Gretzky and Dionne. In fact, Dionne was kind of your mentor. Tell us about your years playing with him.

Marcel was the biggest influence on my career as a pro. I was fortunate to be placed on the line with him midway through my first season, because we ended up being linemates for nine years. He was a superstar, the best in the game I believe when I came in ‘77. Small but powerful. He could do anything. He had no weaknesses. Playing with him, and learning from him, obviously helped my career.

 

Who’s the greatest player you’ve ever seen in the league during your career? How ‘bout the best goalie?

It’s hard to say because times change. The New York Islanders had a great team and Bryan Trottier was an outstanding player, maybe even the best all-around player ever. Wayne Gretzky is Wayne Gretzky. He put up numbers during Edmonton’s run that were unheard of. When 100 points in a season was considered excellent, he scored 200… with 92 goals that one year. Those are staggering numbers. It was once thought that Gordie Howe’s scoring records would last forever.

As a defenseman, Ray Bourque is outstanding. He’s a great offensive player but he’s just as good defensively. Paul Coffey, he can skate like no one else. He can really move. As for a goaltender, there was Grant Fuhr. When the game was on the line you couldn’t get it by him. You might get him for a couple early in the game, but when you were trying to get that one that would put the game away… no way. He’s a money goalie.

 

In your time, you’ve seen literally hundreds of players come and go In L.A. Why do you think there’s so much turnover, and that players like you playing so long for the same organization are so rare?

I don’t think there’s any one thing you can put your finger on. Very few have stayed a long time. One problem is that the Kings have not had a lot of great teams and so there’s a lot of turnover. I’ve had 11 head coaches in 17 years. Every year and a half, there is a new philosophy to get adjusted to. It’s hard to get any cohesiveness that way. The last few years, there’s been more stability in the organization and we’ve been more successful as a result. The main thing is that you have to be willing to show up every night, whether you’re battling for first place or fourth place.

 

As you near the end of your playing career, do you look forward to a “second career” in coaching or management, or do you wish you could freeze time and just play forever?

I realize that I don’t have a lot of playing days left. My first choice would be to stay with the Kings, in management. I’ve been with the Kings 17 years and they’ve been very good to me. I would consider the coaching end but I prefer management, on the hockey end of the operations. I hope to have a few different choices I can pursue. I also realize there will be a certain amount of training. I’ll have a lot to learn.

 

If you were a coach, what traits would you most seek out in a player? Which would you avoid?

Obviously, you need a lot of different players on your team. Those who can score, those who can play good defense, those who can bang… you can’t have all player’s that are one-dimensional. Personally, I like guys that are mentally tough. Guys that are willing to go to battle one-on-one against somebody that’s maybe a little bigger and come away with the puck. Forwards who are knocked to the ice a couple of times but get back up and go to the net anyway. Luc Robitaille… he scores his goals but the main thing is that he always goes to the net even though he’s getting hit, cross-checked. I like players that do what it takes to gain success.

 

Speaking of absorbing punishment, you’ve taken your share of hard knocks. Right now, you’re battling another concussion that’s had you out of action more than two months. Is that kind of injury more scary than, say, a twisted ankle or another part of the body that can be easily rehabilitated?

I have a lot of concerns with this right now. Last year, I got hit and my helmet flew off and my head hit the ice. I had a severe concussion and missed 18 games. It was diagnosed as a bruised brain stem. But the doctors said it would heal completely. At Montreal, I was (knocked down again) and the same symptoms — vertigo, headaches — returned. This year, I was elbowed on the chin. I think it’s had a kind of cumulative effect. My tests have been normal, so the doctors still say it should heal. Now I think back to when I was younger and I probably had concussions and went back out there anyway. This has been very frustrating. Anytime I try to exercise, it seems to get worse. It’s not an encouraging thing, but all I can do is try to let it heal.

In a career with so many personal highlights, last season had to be the crowning one for you with the Kings making the Cup Finals for the first time. After you had won Game I against Montreal, what were you and your teammates thinking, so close to where you had never ventured before?

After going into Toronto and winning Game 7 (of the Campbell Conference finals), we only had two days to get ready. But we had done everything we wanted to do at that point. We had a lot of guys on the team that had been there before, with Edmonton. There was a lot of fun and excitement, just three games away from the Stanley Cup. But we knew that one game was just one game and that we had to get ready for the next. Three consecutive overtime games — a hair’s difference between winning and losing. Patrick Roy was great. Every player thinks back after going through that and remembers missed opportunities, “What if the puck had gone in rather than hitting the post?”

 

From riches to rags, the 1993-94 Kings have struggled from Day 1 this season. The $64,000 question is: Why?

I’m like everyone else. I’m searching for answers. I think we miss Cory Millen. Along with Tony Granato and Mike Donnelly, he gave us that extra dimension of speed. They put a lot of fear into the other team’s defense. Another thing is that some players are not having the seasons that they did last year. Last year, we seemed to like adversity. We excelled when we were backed up. This year’s not like that. We’re a lot different. It’s very frustrating. All we can do is continue to battle for a play-off spot.

 

Most fans agree that head coaches get too much credit when things go well, and too much blame when they don’t. Is it fair for Barry Melrose to be on the hotseat, as it were?

He’s the same coach he was last year, but he doesn’t quite have the same players. Most of them, but not all of them. He has the same philosophy, but not the same on-ice product. He runs his practices the same, prepares the same. Who knows? It’s a combination of things, I suppose. I know some are saying that he’s not good at motivation, but it seemed to work for us last year.

 

You and your wife are admired throughout the league and this region of the country for how active you are toward charitable functions. Describe why you go to such great lengths.

We do it because we can. The first time we got involved is when we were approached by Alan Thicke, the actor. His son had been diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. So we wanted to come up with something to benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation and we ended singing this song and putting it to music. One side had me and the rest of the Triple Crown Line and the other had Phil Esposito and some New York Rangers. The record ended up selling more than 100,000 copies and making $80,000. It was a real beginning for us. My wife was a volunteer for JDF for a number of years. Since Gretzky arrived, hockey’s popularity in Southern California has grown and that’s increased the opportunity. Our “Tip-A-King” event, in which the whole team goes and shakes hands and signs autographs, raises about $250,000 annually.

 

Okay, a final thought. When your playing days do finally come to an end, how you would like to be remembered?

First of all, I’d like that people remembered me. I’d like to be remembered as a player who showed up every night and gave his best effort. I wasn’t great at anything, but I didn’t have any real weaknesses. A player that worked hard all the time, played to win, and earned his money.

Bob Cunningham is a Southern California-based freelance writer who contributes to several sports publications throughout the U.S. and Canada.

 

This first appeared in the 05/1994 issue of Hockey Player Magazine®
© Copyright 1991-2001 Hockey Player® and Hockey Player Magazine®

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