Outstanding in Obscurity : The Kings' Triple Crown Line Accumulated More Than 350 Points in 1980-81, but Support From Fans and Success in Stanley Cup Playoffs Didn't Follow

TIMES STAFF WRITER

They were blessed with each other, but they were cursed with those yellow-and-purple uniforms.

Marcel Dionne, Charlie Simmer and Dave Taylor made up one of those special combinations that becomes something better together than apart.

Dionne, the center, had the playmaking skills, the vision and the pride that would make him a Hall of Famer and the third-leading scorer in NHL history.

Simmer, the left wing, had a touch around the net that gave him two 56-goal seasons.

And right wing Taylor--"the youngest," Taylor reminds with a smile--had the dedication and work ethic that make him still a King today, playing in his first Stanley Cup finals at 37.

Together, they were the Triple Crown Line, the highest-scoring line in King history. But during the late 1970s and early '80s, they were Kings when being a hockey player in Los Angeles meant nothing.

"When we first got here, people would ask what your job was," said Simmer, 39, now a businessman and occasional hockey commentator who splits his time between Orange County and San Diego. "Then they'd ask, 'What do you do for a real job?' They'd think it was a hobby."

Simmer and Dionne are part of something that became ancient history only last month--a King organization that had never made it past the second round of the playoffs. You would think the congratulatory calls would have been made after the Kings had defeated Toronto in Game 7 to reach the finals, but Dionne phoned Taylor after the victory they never won together--winning the second round.

Dionne, 41, a businessman in Bedford Hills, N.Y., is even more pleased now, but he has loyalties on both sides, with his little brother Gilbert playing for Montreal.

"I'm pulling for both . . . I cannot lose," Dionne said.

Still, the Kings' success is particularly satisfying.

"To have played with them and see things and be isolated, to kind of be the laughingstock of the NHL for a while--La-La Land and Beach Boys--the proudest moment is to see that, yes, it can be done," Dionne said.

There was a time when glory was not so common for King games--and crowds of 7,000 were.

"We had the yellow jerseys, and until we got the purple pants, we had yellow pants, too." Simmer said. "You looked like a canary. The whole thing was yellow.

"You could have worn your yellow jersey to a restaurant and people would probably look at you funny, but they wouldn't have known who you were."

Dionne, who had already had a 121-point season with Detroit when he joined the Kings in 1975, was never quite so anonymous. He became the first offensive star on a team whose only real star before had been goaltender Rogie Vachon.

Taylor arrived in 1977, fresh from Clarkson University. Dionne saw a shy, soft-spoken boy whose perseverance on the ice impressed him. Now he is the veteran Dionne is so proud of, a man who has gone from a shy young player with a slight speech impediment to a quietly confident elder statesman.

"When I first saw him in training camp, I thought, 'What is this kid doing, bumping into everybody?' Doesn't he know you don't do this at the start?' " Dionne said.

One indication of how offense-starved the Kings had been was Taylor's second season. He scored 43 goals, becoming only the second King--after Dionne--to score 40 in a season.

Simmer was close to quitting hockey before he got called up from a minor league team in Springfield, Mass., to join the Kings on an East Coast swing during the 1978-79 season. He thought it would be a token visit, a chance to skate with the fourth line. But Coach Bob Berry put him on the ice with Dionne and Taylor, and it clicked. Simmer had 21 goals and 27 assists in the final 38 games, and a line was born.

"What makes great lines is that everybody has their little thing," Dionne said.

Taylor dug the puck out of the corners, and did a lot of the other dirty work.

"Dave Taylor, that was his game," Dionne said, then added, jokingly: "If he had the touch, somebody else would have to go get the puck for him.

"Charlie had the perfect touch around the net, Dave was perfect to drive and forecheck. Once you find that combination, you're home free. The game becomes so much easier to play."

At times, it seemed laughably easy. In 1980-81, all three were All-Stars, and remarkably, all three had 100-point seasons.

That season, too, they fell three Dave Taylor goals short of being the first team to have three 50-goal scorers in one season.

That mark has been accomplished only twice since, both times by Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri and Glenn Anderson, when they were Edmonton Oilers in 1983-84 and '85-86.

But at the end of the season, Dionne had 58, Simmer 56--despite having sat out 15 games--and Taylor 47.

Taylor remembers how close he was.

"Charlie broke his leg with 15 games to go, but I remember I scored 12 goals while he was out," he said. "But I missed eight games that season--I think it was a knee injury.

"It would have been nice for all three of us to do it, but all three of us scored our 100 points. It was kind of nice to have done that."

There were times when the three would sit together on the bench, plot a way to score on their next shift, then come skating back afterward, laughing, because they had done it just the way they planned.

But it wasn't always easy.

"We always had a checking line against us, because people pretty much knew if they could stop us they were going to win," Simmer said.

That was because after the Triple Crown line, the Kings didn't have much else.

Now, when Dionne and Simmer look at the Kings, they see a team with depth.

"As individuals, we got our share of things, but the organization, Los Angeles as a team, never did until Bruce McNall took over and went out and got the best player," Dionne said.

"We felt we could win there if there was patience, but they would keep making bad deals and giving good choices away."

Dionne played for eight coaches, and he remembers with particular distaste the firing of Berry, now with St. Louis.

The Kings finished second in the Norris Division during the 1980-81 season, then played a New York Ranger team that had Phil Esposito and Ron Duguay in the playoffs. The Rangers were a big, physical team, Berry's team didn't adjust, and the Rangers won the series, 3-1, winning the final game, 10-3.

"Every game, what we were playing for was our pride and the people we worked for, for Jerry Buss," Dionne said. "But every year there was a slap in the face. We got 99 points and Bob Berry was fired after the season. You can't recuperate from that.

"We had the elements. . . . We just didn't have a supporting cast. You've got to get by the first round or the next year you're starting over."

Almost every year, Dionne felt as if he was meeting a new team.

"I would have liked to have just come into camp and told everybody, 'We're going to have a heck of a team.' But in the back of your mind, you're saying, 'Who's kidding who? We'll be lucky to make the playoffs.'

"How many times can you get up in the dressing room and say, 'We've got to do this and we've got to do that.' There were unbelievable trades after trades. You didn't know who'd be there the day after or the day after that."

The Triple Crown Line had its days of glory, though--Simmer's 13-game goal-scoring streak in 1979-80 and Dionne's 11-game streak in 1982-83 are still among the longest in NHL history. The 1980-81 season speaks for itself--135 points for Dionne, 112 for Taylor, 105 for Simmer. And in 1982 they helped pull the "Miracle on Manchester" upset of Edmonton--only to lose to Vancouver in the second round.

But eventually Simmer moved on to Boston after a contract dispute and Dionne was traded to the Rangers in 1987.

They had played in Los Angeles when Los Angeles didn't take much notice. Dionne and Simmer believe some players struggled to adjust to that, and failed.

"Here, there wasn't the pressure--you could slide by," Simmer said. "Back East, if you had a bad game, you'd go to a restaurant afterward and everybody in the restaurant would tell you exactly what you did wrong. Here, nobody knew you."

Times staff writer Lisa Dillman contributed to this story.

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