Murphy Is Fired by Kings : Poor Record Cited; New Haven Coach May Get the Job

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

Mike Murphy, who arrived in Washington early Sunday morning from Montreal without his luggage, left for Los Angeles in the afternoon without his job.

A victim of the Kings’ inability to climb out of last place in the Smythe Division, the first-year coach was fired with about 1 1/2 years left on a contract he signed last summer.

Co-owner Bruce McNall and General Manager Rogie Vachon flew from West Palm Beach, Fla., where they had been attending the National Hockey League Board of Governors meetings, to give the word to Murphy after Sunday’s practice at the Capital Center.


Vachon was behind the bench Sunday night when the Washington Capitals routed the Kings, 10-3, dropping the Kings’ worst-in-the-NHL record to 7-17-4.

The loss was the fourth straight for the Kings, who are 0-5-1 since beating the Chicago Blackhawks on Nov. 25.

Before the game, McNall and Vachon said the decision to fire Murphy was made late Saturday night and was based on the Kings’ dismal record.

“We just felt that we didn’t want to take the chance of falling any further behind--to where we’d never recover,” Vachon said. “At this time, we’re just trying to salvage the year.”

The leading candidate to replace Murphy, McNall and Vachon said, is Rob Ftorek, 35, who is in his third season as coach of the Kings’ American Hockey League affiliate at New Haven, Conn.

McNall and Vachon will meet this morning with Ftorek, a former center who played eight seasons in the NHL and five in the World Hockey Assn.

“There is a way that I might not say yes,” Ftorek told John Altavilla of the New Haven Register, referring to a probable offer from the Kings this morning. “I’ll talk to Rogie and then decide what to do. I know what my feelings are, but I’m not prepared to say what they are right now.”

Ftorek, a former assistant coach with the New York Rangers who was interviewed for the Rangers’ coaching vacancy last summer before the Rangers made a deal to lure Michel Bergeron from Quebec, may not want to uproot his family and move west.

Ftorek grew up in Massachusetts and lives with his wife and three children about three hours from his parents in Guilford, Conn.

His New Haven team has allowed fewer goals than any team in the AHL.

And Ftorek, whose teams qualified for the AHL playoffs the last two seasons, is said to be immensely popular with his players.

“He seems to be a real motivator and hard-working guy,” Vachon said. “We have made the playoffs there with, at times, questionable teams.”

But Murphy, too, worked hard and seemed popular with his players.

“This had nothing to do with (Murphy’s) work habits or any extraneous things,” McNall said. “It just comes to the point when your record is such that you have to do something. You can’t just sit there and do nothing.”

While conceding first place to the Edmonton Oilers, Vachon expected the Kings to challenge for second place this season in the Smythe Division.

Murphy stressed defense all through training camp to a team that last season allowed more goals than all but the New Jersey Devils, and in the first few weeks of the season, the Kings were involved in several low-scoring games.

However, they started 1-6.

Since then, they have been all but defenseless as Murphy, believing he had hindered the team offensively with his emphasis on defense, loosened the reins. They’ve given up more goals than any team in the NHL, including an average of 6.2 in their last 13 games.

McNall, Vachon and executive vice president Ken Doi watched Saturday night’s 6-4 loss to Montreal on Prime Ticket via satellite at a West Palm Beach bar. Said McNall: “We all looked at each other and said, ‘Well, maybe it’s time.’ ”

Afterward, they called owner Jerry Buss and discussed the situation.

McNall said that discussions with NHL executives at West Palm Beach influenced the decision to fire Murphy, who was in his first full season as head coach after replacing Pat Quinn last Jan. 10 after Quinn signed to become president of the Vancouver Canucks.

“I think the general view is that we have one of the league’s most talented teams--set of players, shall I say?--and yet, as a team, it’s the worst,” McNall said. “It doesn’t seem to make any sense.”

Said Vachon: “We certainly feel that we are not a last-place team.”

So, is Murphy to blame for the Kings’ poor record?

“I don’t know enough about it, to tell you the truth, to know whether it’s fair to put the blame on him,” McNall said. “It is true that coaches are always blamed.

“I don’t know whether it’s the coach or what it is, but certainly the chemistry wasn’t working.

“Something isn’t quite right.”