They were hockey’s premier tag team last season.
The heavyweight, defenseman Marty McSorley, and his middleweight partner, left wing Warren Rychel. During one of his suspensions last season, McSorley teased Rychel, ordering him to stay in his own weight class. But it did not slow Rychel, who was doing everything possible to make a favorable impression during his first season with the Kings.
At first, he was fighting everyone. One early season scrap with Mick Vukota of the New York Islanders helped turn the game the Kings’ way. Later, in the playoffs, Rychel started scoring and his teammates dubbed him “Connie,” as in the Conn Smythe Trophy given to the postseason’s most valuable player.
Now, it’s a solo act, since McSorley’s departure to Pittsburgh. From the start of training camp, Rychel wanted to make it clear he is not the new McSorley.
“I won’t change a thing,” said Rychel, who is 6 feet and 202 pounds. “I’m not Marty McSorley. I’m Warren Rychel. He’s totally a heavyweight, the toughest guy in the league. I’m not going to try to be something I’m not. I know what my role is. I’m not going to pretend I’m a scorer.”
Rychel had 13 points and 314 penalty minutes in 70 games last season and 13 points in 23 playoff games. Afterward, he found himself in an enviable and rare position--a 26-year-old unrestricted free agent. His leverage increased dramatically when it became clear that McSorley would be playing elsewhere. The Kings contacted Rychel’s agent, Tom Laidlaw, one day before Laidlaw was scheduled to close a deal with the Detroit Red Wings.
A contract offer of $1.6 million over three years rendered any further conversations with the Red Wings unnecessary.
The Red Wings were his second choice, behind the Kings, because Detroit is just across the river from his hometown of Tecumseh, Canada. After practice the other day, Coach Barry Melrose walked by and heard Rychel speaking to reporters about the Red Wings.
“What’s this about Detroit?” Melrose said.
Rychel and Melrose spoke frequently during the summer. Still, Melrose said he never reminded Rychel that he was the one who gave him an opportunity in the NHL. He did not need to.
“Warren Rychel doesn’t have any roles,” Melrose said. “He just has to do exactly what got him the ice time. I expect a lot from him. I think he’s going to score. He’s not a heavyweight, but he has a lot of courage and can fight with anybody.”
Even though Melrose often puts pressure on his players, he is not expecting Rychel to fill McSorley’s skates.
“Toughness won’t be a problem,” he said. “No one has to step in, except Luc (Robitaille) might have to fight seven or eight more times,” Melrose said, laughing.
Rychel has come a long way from last year’s training camp. Then, he was reluctant to speak to the other players.
“I was nervous all day,” he said. “I wouldn’t leave my room. Then I was running everyone (in practice).”
McSorley helped him get comfortable and his departure paved the way for Rychel’s new contract.
“How can you forget him?” Rychel said. “The day he got the offer sheet from St. Louis, he called me and said, ‘Big Boy, I’m driving the Brink’s truck.’
“Me, I’m just a valet guy on this team.”
It takes two to replace Marty McSorley--even as the NHL players’ union representative. Taking his place are defenseman Rob Blake, 23, and Darryl Sydor, 21, with some unofficial help from Tony Granato. “It’s time for us young guys to get involved,” Blake said. “Being a players’ rep isn’t a negative thing anymore.” . . . At training camp on Tuesday, the Kings were buzzing about Montreal goaltender Patrick Roy’s four-year, $16-million contract. Negotiations continue between King owner Bruce McNall and Wayne Gretzky, who joked: “I’m probably the only guy who wants to shorten my contract.”
Defenseman Charlie Huddy, who suffered ligament damage to his knee in the Stanley Cup final, continues to wear a brace but says his left knee feels fine. “The knee is a little loose,” King trainer Pete Demers said. “If we can make the muscles around the knee stronger, he’ll be that much better off.” . . . Center Jari Kurri said his left shoulder started to feel a little sore after Monday’s practice and on Tuesday as well but that it was nothing serious.