Defenseman Marty McSorley arrived in Los Angeles five years ago as an afterthought, but he returned to the Kings on Tuesday from the Pittsburgh Penguins viewed as a returning hero, assigned the task of reviving his struggling teammates, who are five points out of a playoff spot.
McSorley, 30, was part of a four-player deal sending him and defenseman Jim Paek, 26, to Los Angeles in exchange for forwards Tomas Sandstrom, 30, and Shawn McEachern, 24. In one sense, it undid what was viewed as a disastrous transaction for the Kings in August when they traded McSorley to the Penguins for McEachern after matching the St. Louis Blues' five-year offer sheet of $1.8 million per season.
It might be the first time in NHL history two players were twice traded for each other. There is speculation McSorley's contract has been revised, but no details were revealed.
"It's been a long nine months," McSorley said Tuesday from his home in Sewickley, Pa. "Wow! It's been a long time since June 15.
"Once the trade was made, I would have had a tough time believing that I could ever come back. It'll be a challenge because there's been a fair amount of emphasis on the fact I've been gone. I'm going to need their help and I'll try to help them."
Tuesday's move signaled a clear power shift in the King hierarchy with owner Bruce McNall becoming involved as he started the deal by speaking directly with Penguin owner Howard Baldwin. All season, King Coach Barry Melrose and Wayne Gretzky lamented the McSorley trade. McSorley said he spoke several times to Gretzky before and after the trade.
McSorley originally came to the Kings from Edmonton in the Gretzky trade.
"I feel great," Melrose said. "We're in a battle for a playoff spot and if there's someone I want with us in a battle, it's Marty.
"This was all very hard and Bruce had to get involved. Bruce was great during this--it was a very complicated deal. There were so many elements and it had been talked about so much for so long. Bruce was the main factor."
As it turned out, McEachern broke the news of the trade to Sandstrom. Sandstrom had been with the Kings since January of 1990, when he came to L.A. from the Rangers with Tony Granato.
Sandstrom, who had 17 goals and 41 points in 51 games, became expendable almost from the moment he decided to play out his option this season. He was making $1.3 million this season and the Kings risked losing him to Europe for nothing in return next season. His ice time also had dwindled and he was scratched from the lineup Monday night against Boston, along with McEachern.
"Maybe they learned a lesson from Marty last season," Sandstrom said, laughing. "It worked out in a good way for me, especially you know how things have been going. The way things were going I couldn't see me sticking around. We have a lot of good players--12 good forwards. It's hard for all the players to get their ice time.
Said McEachern, who had 21 points in 49 games: "The first thing (Pittsburgh General Manager) Craig Patrick said to me was, 'You're not out lobster fishing this time.' "
Patrick couldn't find McEachern last year to tell him about the trade.
"The strangest thing is as soon as I got here they said they needed Marty back here," McEachern said. "Hey, I'm probably the only guy to play with Mario (Lemieux), Wayne and then Mario again."
Paek is a close friend of McEachern's and the two found homes together in the same neighborhood last summer. McEachern spent one night in the new home before the trade and now he is coming back to Pittsburgh, but Paek won't be there this time.
"I was on the ice for warm-ups before the game (against Winnipeg)," Paek said Tuesday. "I came off the ice and was scratched and told to see Craig Patrick. I don't know. This is new for me. I'm still in shock."
So was McSorley, even though he had been hearing trade rumors since training camp and never really fit in with the Penguins. His role was undefined and he played poorly in the first half of the season, even saying he was embarrassed by his performance.
But the Kings dwelt on his departure. They remembered the McSorley of last season: His 41 points, 399 penalty minutes and performance against Toronto in the playoffs. Forgotten was his ignominious role in Stickgate--when his illegal stick penalty in Game 2 helped Montreal climb back and go on to win the Stanley Cup finals.
"That was part of the deal, there was a stick check before the deal was made," McNall said, joking.
Were the Kings admitting they made a mistake?
"I owed it to the fans," McNall said. "The bottom line is we weren't playing well. Marty McSorley is not a savior. He is not going to single-handedly change the world, but I didn't like the way we were playing and something had to change. . . . He was missed. We didn't realize until he was gone how much we missed him."
No one among the Kings truly assumed McSorley's role in the dressing room or on the ice. They lacked a vocal presence in the dressing room and their three young defensemen--Rob Blake, Alexei Zhitnik and Darryl Sydor--have been erratic at times.
"Marty is a leader and in the room he's a winner," Melrose said. "He challenges players. The group has to police itself."
McSorley and Paek are expected to be at practice Thursday. "I'm not going to try to get in there and do too much," said McSorley, who had 21 points and 139 penalty minutes in 47 games this season. "I believe in our talent. I'm not going to try to be something I'm not."
Times staff writer Steve Springer contributed to this story.