Tom Webster will be introduced this afternoon as the new coach of the Kings, ending the search that began when Robbie Ftorek was fired at the end of the season.
Webster also will be introduced to some of the Kings players, who said that they plan to make their way to the Forum to meet him.
Webster fits the description offered by King Owner Bruce McNall weeks ago when he outlined what he was looking for in a coach.
McNall was looking for “fresh blood,” not a coach who had been kicking around from team to team. And he was looking for a “people person,” someone who could get along with the players, the press and the front office.
Webster, 40, who has been living in Windsor and coaching the Windsor junior team in the Ontario Hockey League, is fresh enough, having only brief head-coaching experience.
He was hired as head coach of the New York Rangers in November of 1986 and resigned the following April because of medical problems.
An inner-ear infection, which kept him from flying to road games and finally required surgery on Christmas Eve of 1986, limited him to 15 games behind the bench.
Webster had a record of 5-7-2 with the Rangers.
Besides coaching the Ontario team for the last two years, Webster led the Canadian team to a fourth-place finish in the 1989 World Junior Championships in Anchorage. The ear problem has not kept him from flying lately.
Although Webster has been mentioned as a candidate off and on throughout the Kings’ search for a coach, Colin Campbell was always considered the favorite because of his close friendship with Wayne Gretzky.
Gretzky knows Webster, but they are not close friends.
In Wednesday’s edition of the London (Ontario) Free Press, Campbell said King General Manager Rogie Vachon phoned to say that Campbell didn’t get the job. Sources close to the Kings’ organization have indicated that Vachon was high on both Webster and Campbell, but preferred Webster. And Gretzky had no objection to Webster.
“This is pretty tough to talk about right now,” Webster told the Free Press. “All I can say is it has been narrowed down to Colin Campbell and myself. You’ve already talked to Colin and I am flying out to L.A.”
None of the Kings contacted late Monday night had any strong feelings about Webster one way or the other.
Kings captain Dave Taylor said that he was looking forward to meeting him. “I don’t even know anyone who played for him that year with the Rangers,” Taylor said.
“I don’t know much about him at all. I can say that I haven’t heard anything bad about him. Everybody’s pretty open-minded and ready to get to know each other.”
John Tonelli played against Webster when Webster (who played five years in the National Hockey League for Boston, Detroit and California) was playing for the Hartford team of the World Hockey Assn.
Tonelli said: “All I know about him is that he was a pretty good right winger. A really good goal scorer.”
In 102 games in the NHL, Webster had 33 goals and 42 assists for 75 points.
Bernie Nicholls also said that he had heard only positive things about Webster, adding: “Obviously, he’s been around in coaching for a while and he’s been in the league. He’s supposed to be a pretty knowledgeable guy. It’s not like he’s a new, young guy.”
And Herb Brooks, who had Webster on his staff when Brooks was the head coach of the Rangers, said: “Oh, you’ll really like Tom. He’s a good man and I’m sure he’ll do a good job for L.A.
“He’s a hard worker. And he’s known as a people type of guy. He’ll be good for that team.”
The Kings finished second in the Smythe Division this past season and rallied from a 3-1 deficit to eliminate the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Edmonton Oilers 4-3 in a first-round playoff series.
However, the Kings were swept in four games by the Calgary Flames in the second round, and it was announced nine days after that series ended that Ftorek wouldn’t be back next season.