After a disruptive season in which the Kings failed to reach the playoffs, made questionable trades and were divided by an off-ice power struggle, General Manager Nick Beverley and Bob Owen, director of player personnel and development, were fired Wednesday.
Neither move was a surprise, coming two days after former majority owner Bruce McNall sold 72% of the franchise for $60 million to telecommunications executive Jeffrey P. Sudikoff and entertainment executive Joseph M. Cohen.
Beverley's two seasons as general manager were punctuated by two controversies that might have been beyond his control. In his first season, he exchanged words--in print--with Wayne Gretzky over the team's difficult travel schedule. This season, Beverley's philosophical differences with Coach Barry Melrose became public in December and divided the team into two factions.
Beverley had been with the organization since retiring as a player in 1980 and was named general manager in June 1992. In his first season, the team reached the Stanley Cup finals. This season, the Kings missed the playoffs by 16 points.
Beverley, 47, did not return phone calls from The Times. He had a little more than a year left on his contract, which pays him about $200,000 plus some deferred money, according to sources. Owen, 45, also has more than a year remaining.
"Obviously, Nick and I are very close and we've worked together a long time," Owen said from his home in Ann Arbor, Mich. "Today is not an easy day. There's new ownership and a new direction. They've spoken and you just have to go on."
Owen was asked if he ever felt hampered by the Kings' lack of first-round draft choices.
"In some instances we felt limited," he said. "We understood when Mr. McNall brought Wayne (Gretzky) to L.A. and the draft choices that had to be given up. There was nothing wrong with that. That was accepted, but there were some other times when other draft picks were traded.
"It's a business, and when you have a chance to improve the team, we've got to do what's best."
The majority owners and McNall were not available for comment, but McNall issued a statement, saying: "Both Nick and Bob have been loyal and dedicated employees of the Kings for many years. The future of the Kings looks very bright thanks to the hard work both have given to this organization. I am extremely grateful for the jobs they performed for us and wish them nothing but the best in the future."
The team is expected to interview a handful of candidates for the jobs and hopes to fill the positions within a week. A possible scenario has the workload being divided between two executives, the way it is done in Anaheim with General Manager Jack Ferreira and assistant GM Pierre Gauthier.
Cohen said Wednesday that there have been discussions with Bob McCammon, who had interviewed with the Mighty Ducks for a front-office job.
McCammon was a general manager and coach with Philadelphia in the late '70s and early '80s and drafted several prominent players for the Flyers, such as Rick Tocchet. McCammon also coached the Vancouver Canucks and more recently was a coach and front-office executive with the Tri-City Americans junior team in the Western Hockey League. Currently, he has his own business in Dallas.
Clearly, the Kings will need to act quickly, before the NHL's entry draft on June 28-29 at Hartford, Conn. For the first time since 1990, they have retained the rights to their first-round draft choice (seventh overall). There is almost no chance that Melrose would be named GM, according to sources.
As for Melrose, he questioned his own job status on ESPN Wednesday. Co-host John Saunders jokingly reassured him that he had a job with the cable network if the Kings fired him.
"Is that in writing?" Melrose said, laughing.