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Looking to Get Tough, Kings Acquire Miller

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

There’s no mistaking the Kings’ intentions in trading for Boston left winger Jay Miller, a deal that was consummated by a phone call from King General Manager Rogie Vachon to Harry Sinden of the Bruins late Saturday night.

One look at Miller’s numbers this season will tell you everything you need to know: 37 games played, 2 goals, 4 assists, 168 minutes in penalties.

A figure skater, he isn’t. To his friends, the 6-foot 2-inch, 210-pound Miller is known as an enforcer. To others, he is known as a no-talent goon whose sole appeal is in his fists.

The Kings were willing to give up future considerations to have those fists flailing on their side.

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“Our division is getting so tough, we felt we needed one more tough guy,” Vachon said Sunday morning in Hartford, Conn., before flying here for Tuesday’s game against the Capitals.

“Not to start a war, but to stop one before it starts,” Vachon said. “We felt we were one tough guy short.”

The Kings, who have won just 3 of their last 11 games and have lost 3 straight, have fallen drastically on the macho meter since designated hitter Ken Baumgartner went into the hospital with pneumonia last month. Then swing man Marty McSorley injured his right shoulder in a New Year’s Eve exhibition against a Soviet team. Although McSorley is playing, he must exercise some discretion in his aggressive tendencies.

Baumgartner, who amassed 170 penalty minutes in 23 games, is out of the hospital but is still in a weakened state. Vachon said that there’s no telling when Baumgartner will be ready to play again.

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“It could be a couple of weeks, it could be longer,” Vachon said. “He’s in pretty bad shape.”

Without Baumgartner’s intimidating presence, Vachon said, it was open season on the Kings’ skill players.

“A lot of teams were taking liberties with our top players,” he said. “We had to stop that.”

Thus the call for Miller, 28, who was drafted in 1980 by the Quebec Nordiques but never signed with them. He played for the University of New Hampshire and for several minor league teams until he signed as a free agent with the Bruins on Oct. 1, 1985.

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Last season, Miller was the sixth most penalized player in the NHL, amassing 302 minutes in the box. This season, he has played sparingly--he dressed but did not play in Boston’s overtime loss to Buffalo Saturday--and word out of Boston is that whatever hockey skills he possessed have regressed in his 4 seasons.

Miller is expected to join the Kings in time to practice with the team here today.

Vachon said the Kings may make more deals before the March trading deadline.

“We’re one step closer to where we want to be,” he said.

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