Philadelphia? Buffalo? Los Angeles?
In the aftermath of an Eastern blizzard, the possibilities seemed endless. Minutes after boarding their team jet at an adjacent terminal for private planes, the Kings were told by their public relations director, Rick Minch, that they would travel to Buffalo to play the Sabres on Monday night at 2:30 PST.
Reaction from the players ranged from disbelief to anger. And that was before they sat on the plane for more than five hours, waiting for additional de-icing fluid and a cleared pathway to the runway.
Wayne Gretzky was angered about having to play the Sabres on Monday, returning to Los Angeles in the early morning hours on Tuesday and then playing an important divisional game that night against third-place Winnipeg, which is one point ahead of the Kings. He derided the NHL, the Players Assn. and the Kings' upper management.
"It's crazy," Gretzky said. "We're getting shafted. I think it's absolutely asinine. We're battling with Winnipeg and Edmonton for a playoff spot. I don't see any sense why we have to play tomorrow and have to play back in Los Angeles on Tuesday. We're going to get there, and we'll be penalized because we can't play because they (the Sabres) don't have their rink ready."
Apparently, the Aud in Buffalo couldn't be prepared for a hockey game Sunday because city workers had been sent home. But the Sabres, who played in Hartford on Saturday, returned here by 1:30 EST Sunday afternoon. The Kings reached Buffalo by 6:25 p.m. EST, although they presumably could have gotten here more quickly if the game hadn't already been postponed.
Gretzky criticized the Kings for giving way.
"We never do that, never take a stand," he said. "This organization is always being the nice guys. We're the ones in the end who are bending over backward to help the league. . . . This organization is always too accommodating. We're too nice. We get pushed around. We've got to stand up and say that this is not the best for the L.A. Kings."
He wasn't alone in his sentiments, merely alone in going on the record. Others pointed out that they never would expect Edmonton General Manager Glen Sather to agree to such a plan. "This never would have happened in Edmonton," one player said.
King General Manager Nick Beverley was already in Buffalo, and he been doing the talking with NHL President Gil Stein and the Sabres. Because there are few games remaining, Beverley didn't have many extra dates at his disposal. Although the King players and Coach Barry Melrose wanted an afternoon start today, Beverley claimed that "this was the best possible alternative."
Beverley was told that the Kings were unhappy.
"(They) can say what (they) want," Beverley said. "But the league did everything possible to find the best possible solution. We could have refused to do this, and the league could have mandated us to play. But it didn't happen that way. Everyone was cooperative. I don't think having that attitude is putting any kind of positive light on the situation. Just go and do the job."
Said Gretzky: "The NHL should be talking to (NHL Players Assn. Executive Director) Bob Goodenow, and Bob should be talking to the players reps. It's another situation where the players have no say and the NHL says go and play the game. We want to play the game and play the best to our ability. Winnipeg will be sitting by the pool waiting for us when we get home. Any little thing that happens in baseball and their players association gets involved.
". . . We should have said, 'No, we're not playing tomorrow. We're going home.' The players are in a state of amazement. . . . Shock is not the right word. We're catering to everyone, and we're giving in on everything. They should be catering to us."