By trading talented rookie goalie Mark Fitzpatrick and young defenseman Wayne McBean, their first-round pick in the 1987 National Hockey League draft, for New York Islanders goalie Kelly Hrudey, the Kings served notice Wednesday that they are serious about challenging for the Stanley Cup this season.
"Yes, right now," General Manager Rogie Vachon of the Kings said. "We're going for it. You can't win the Stanley Cup or go into the finals without good goaltending. In my book, Kelly Hrudey is one of the premier goaltenders in the league. With Hrudey and Glenn Healy, we have two good goaltenders."
But to get Hrudey, the Kings gave up two players with great potential, as well as some unspecified future considerations.
After giving up young talent and future top draft picks in August to get Wayne Gretzky, it might seem that the Kings are trading away the future.
Not exactly, according to owner Bruce McNall, who said he has given this some thought. "It might look like we're mortgaging the future with this move, but don't forget, we have a goaltender of the future in Robb Stauber."
Stauber, drafted by the Kings in 1986, is a junior goalie at the University of Minnesota. He has a 2.14 goals-against average, and Minnesota is leading the Western Collegiate Hockey Assn. with a record of 26-7-3. He has said he would like to play in the 1992 Olympics but that still would make him a pro before Hrudey is likely to retire.
Hrudey, 28, is in his sixth season in the NHL after being drafted by the Islanders in the second round in 1980. He had career bests last season, with 22 victories and three shutouts in 47 games, and he finished third in voting for the Vezina Trophy, behind Grant Fuhr of Edmonton and Tom Barrasso, then of Buffalo, now of Pittsburgh.
This season, as the Islanders have struggled to a record of 21-37-3, his record is 18-24-3.
Hrudey, who played with Gretzky during the '87 Canada Cup, was eager to join the Kings.
"Career-wise, it couldn't be better. From where the Islanders are now, it will be about three years before they're up to this level again," said Hrudey, who attended Wednesday's game at the Forum. "If I have to swallow my pride and get traded once or twice to get with a team like this, I'll take it."
Asked if he thought he would start the Kings' next game at Edmonton, Canada, Friday, he said he hoped so.
"I'm from Edmonton, so I'm really looking forward to the competition with the Oilers," he said.
Vachon said that he had been trying to make this trade all season, but Islander General Manager Bill Torrey wouldn't even talk with him until recently. Now that the Islanders are in last place in the Patrick Division, 18 points behind fourth-place Philadelphia, they have to start thinking about rebuilding.
The Kings, in second place in the Smythe Division with one of the best records in the league, have to think about cashing in on their momentum.
As McNall put it, "In life, timing is everything. My thinking is, if you have some great players at one age and some great players at another age, and they're not meshing, they're not peaking at the same time, both groups lose. We're bringing in a world-class goaltender who is the same age as Wayne Gretzky. Wayne likes that idea."
It's a calculated risk trading away so much of the future, but McNall wants to win a Stanley Cup, and he didn't make his millions by being cautious.
Betting on Hrudey, though, seems like a sure thing. John Tonelli of the Kings, who played with Hrudey when he was with the Islanders, says that Hrudey is "a winner, a character player, a hard worker, very determined . . . definitely a positive addition to this team."
Bernie Nicholls said that he has always considered Hrudey one of the best goaltenders in the league, right behind Fuhr and equal to Ron Hextall of Philadelphia.
Vachon figures Hrudey has five or six more years as one of the top goaltenders in the league. Hrudey also has playoff experience. Healy, who is 24 and has won 25 games for the Kings this season, does not.
"I had a good meeting with Glenn Healy this morning, and he knows that he's going to be with us and we're going to need him," Vachon said. "For the playoffs, we need both of them."
The Kings' trading of Fitzpatrick and McBean does not mean that they had any doubts about their talent. Fitzpatrick, the one the Kings called the Kid, is just 20 years old and is considered a star of the future.
McNall said: "I still think Wayne McBean will be one of the top defensemen in the league in the future. But the Islanders weren't going to give up someone like Hrudey without getting something in return."
Goalie Rollie Melanson probably will be reassigned to New Haven, since it has never been the Kings' policy to keep three goaltenders.
The trading deadline is March 7, and although Vachon said, "We're not going to close up shop," he also said that the team is starting to shape up as a team that management likes very much.