Kings Notebook : With Contract Settled, Tonelli Likes New Line

Times Staff Writer

There was a spot waiting for John Tonelli when he reported to the Kings' training site Monday morning. A spot on a line with center Steve Kasper and right winger Keith Crowder.

Tonelli will be on a checking line with the two former Boston Bruins.

"Yeah, how about that?" Tonelli said with a grin of approval.

Coach Tom Webster had seemed rather pleased with the idea, too, when he mentioned it before the early morning scrimmage.

"I think most people will look at them as a checking line, but it's also a scoring line," Webster said. "They'll have a lot of scoring opportunities."

Said Kasper: "You know what they say, the best defense is a good offense."

Tonelli had 31 goals last season.

Kasper had scored 10 goals in 49 games with the Bruins before he was traded to the Kings last season, and he added another nine in the final 29 games with the Kings.

And Crowder had 15 goals for the Bruins. He signed with the Kings as a free agent during the National Hockey League meetings in June.

Before signing with the Kings, Crowder called his old friend Kasper for advice.

"I told him that even though I had enjoyed my years in Boston, I was never happier than last year when I was with the Kings," Kasper said.

If he had cared to call Tonelli, he would have heard much the same, even though Tonelli was spending the summer in a standoff with General Manager Rogie Vachon over his next contract.

Tonelli was obviously pleased to have the contract settled and be in camp--although he was a couple of days late.

"You know, I went through a holdout with the Islanders in '86, and that was terrible," Tonelli said. "I was out for 23 days and it became a bitter thing.

"That's something that I didn't want to have happen here. I told you that I was looking at other teams this summer. My agent was, really. My heart was right here."

Tonelli is a player who plays with a lot of heart, who inspires the younger players around him with his hard work and tenacity.

He's known for digging the puck out of the corners, doing all the dirty work that it takes to get the job done.

Kasper summed up Tonelli's game: "He's one of the best corner people in the NHL. He goes in hard and he goes in recklessly. If he doesn't come out with the puck, at least he lets the opponent know he's been there. He's a pressure player."

Agreeing that he plays much the way Tonelli plays, Kasper smiled.

"That's why they're talking about us as a line," he said. "Tonelli is also one of the best at doing that, and he also has a nice finishing touch scoring goals."

Which is why Webster was relieved at getting Tonelli in camp so that he could form that line.

Four lines will be set. After two days of camp, Webster said that it was too early to say how all four will line up. But three are taking shape.

Bernie Nicholls will center a line that includes left winger Luc Robitaille and right winger Dave Taylor. Those three played together most of the time last season, but even that line was juggled a little.

And Wayne Gretzky will center a line that, apparently, will include the only Swedish player who was able to report, right winger Mikael Lindholm. Webster has kept Gretzky and Lindholm together while experimenting with the third spot. For Monday's scrimmage, the spot went to Chris Kontos, the winger who had so much scoring success during the playoffs while playing on Gretzky's line.

Mike Krushelnyski may be the left wing on that line. Or, Webster said, he may be tried at center.

"We still have to work on this," Webster said. "I do want to have four lines, eventually, but even then I want to still be able to be flexible enough to make adjustments."

Of course. But most of the Kings seemed pleased to hear that there would be four established lines.

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