Tomas Sandstrom and Tony Granato, the newest Kings, won’t be blinded by the glare of the spotlight in Los Angeles. After all, they are coming from New York, where the glare is even harsher.
And they might not be worried that their new team is struggling at 21-21-5 and fourth in the Smythe Division. They are leaving the New York Rangers, fourth in the Patrick Division at 18-21-9.
But whereas they might have been part of the problem in New York, they are regarded as part of the solution in Los Angeles. And that is pressure.
When his club’s struggles culminated in a 0-6-1 mark in the last few weeks, King owner Bruce McNall promised a drastic move. Saturday, he delivered, trading center Bernie Nicholls, who had 70 goals last season, for Sandstrom and Granato.
Sandstrom, however, said he doesn’t feel any added burden.
“There’s been a lot of pressure the last three or four weeks,” he said. "(The Rangers) have been struggling real bad. So they made a deal that they think will help their team. I hope it works out for both teams.”
Rogie Vachon, King general manager, said that he swapped a center for two right wings because he wants more speed up front, more backchecking from that position, which he hopes will result in better team defense. So he couldn’t be too happy with a comment from Sandstrom.
“I’m not the best defensive player,” Sandstrom said. “But I’ll go down there and do the best I can.”
Vachon’s expectations don’t surprise Granato.
“I have concentrated a lot on defense,” he said. “I think I can be a good, two-way winger. I have to play two ways.”
Granato and Sandstrom are 25. Sandstrom was in his sixth season with the Rangers after joining the club as a second-round pick from Sweden in 1982. In the previous five seasons, he appeared in 359 games, getting 154 goals and 189 assists. This year, he had 19 goals and the same number of assists in 48 games.
Granato, of Downers Grove, Ill., spent four years playing at the University of Wisconsin and the winter of 1988 as a member of the U.S. Olympic hockey team. He was a sixth-round choice of the Rangers.
With 36 goals and 37 assists in 78 games, he was impressive enough to finish third in balloting for rookie of the year last season. Bothered by a groin injury recently, he has appeared in only 37 games for New York this year, getting seven goals and 18 assists.
He hopes to play tonight against the Vancouver Canucks. He says he can’t wait to play for the Kings, but can hardly imagine playing with Wayne Gretzky.
“That’s something not many people get the chance to do,” he said. “People have already told me, ‘Just get Wayne’s autograph,’ or ‘Just say hi.’ He was my idol and to see him play firsthand will really be something. Just sitting on the bench with him, well, it’ll take a while to sink in. I haven’t gotten a whole lot of sleep since I found out. I can’t wait to get out there.
“I was treated real nice and I can’t say anything bad about New York, but putting on a King jersey will really be something. I’m so fired up.”
Both Sandstrom and Granato had heard the trade rumors last week. And they knew both their names were being mentioned. But beyond that, they didn’t know much more than the average fan.
“After a while, I just figured, ‘If it happens, it happens,’ ” Sandstrom said.
“I just wanted to know, was I a King or was I a Ranger?” Granato said. “Let the phone ring and tell me. It’s a relief to know it finally happened.”
There had been talk that Sandstrom might leave the NHL altogether and go home to Sweden to play.
“If I had been traded to a Canadian team, I might have considered it,” he said. “But now, I’m just happy to be going to the Kings. That’s a great team to get traded to, if you have to get traded.”
Vachon, the man who made the deal, sees his new players this way:
Sandstrom--"A tremendous hockey player. A great skater. Has great hands. He plays in traffic and he can get under your skin. He goes to the corners. A good all-around player.”
Granato--"I don’t know if, realistically, he’s a 35- to 40-goal scorer, but he’s feisty. He’s a scrapper. He has tremendous speed and he penetrates.”
If there is added pressure on the new Kings, there is certainly no less on Vachon and Coach Tom Webster. They advocated a change and they got it.
McNall has made his move.
Can the Kings now do the same?