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Kings Trade Robitaille to Penguins for Tocchet : NHL: Insiders says Gretzky was behind the deal that gives the team a scoring tough guy. L.A. also gets a second-round draft choice.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Keeping their promise to get tougher, the Kings delivered a roundhouse to their roster and their fans Friday.

Luc Robitaille, one of the most popular players in club history, was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins for right wing Rick Tocchet and a second-round draft choice next year.

While responsibility for the trade is being claimed by King General Manager Sam McMaster, insiders say the move contains the distinct fingerprints of Wayne Gretzky.

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Gretzky, who earlier this year engineered the return of Marty McSorley and the hiring of McMaster, openly coveted Tocchet when the two met at a recent wedding.

“He said ‘We might try to get you,’ ” said Tocchet, known as much for his hits as his goals.

On Friday the Kings fulfilled that vow, even though Tocchet is recovering from back surgery. And even though it cost them a man who has been with their organization longer than any player on the current roster.

Robitaille, who was drafted in 1984 and spent the last eight years with the Kings, has never scored fewer than 44 goals in a season or heard less than exuberant cheers from the Forum fans.

The trademark chant of “Luuuuc” will now been replaced with, well. . . .

“I don’t know, maybe they’ll yell ‘Rick,’ ” said Tocchet, 30, who is two years older and considerably more battered than Robitaille.

According to a family member, “there were tears” when Robitaille was informed of the deal. Robitaille refused to answer questions Friday but plans to hold a news conference today. He will read a statement that, in part, says: “I am sorry about leaving the Kings. . . . I really appreciate the wonderful support that I have received from the people of Los Angeles for all these years. I will always remember that no matter what.”

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One of Robitaille’s agents, Pat Brisson, addressed a touchy subject that Robitaille will certainly discuss today.

“Wayne Gretzky is one of the greatest players ever; Luc learned a lot from Wayne,” Brisson said. “But Wayne is a player and should not be making the decisions. I don’t know if he does or not.”

While Robitaille has scored 40 or more goals for eight consecutive seasons, the longest streak by any active player including Gretzky, Tocchet has scored 40 or more only three times in his 10 seasons.

Last season, while playing despite severe pain in his back and legs, Tocchet scored 14 goals with 26 assists in 51 games.

“He plays with grit, determination, he drives to the front of the net,” said McMaster. But it is that style of play that landed him on an operating table June 6.

After banging around enough to accumulate more than 100 penalty minutes in each of his 10 seasons, Tocchet’s lower back was injured to the point where doctors removed a piece of floating disc.

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Doctors assured Tocchet and the Kings that the operation was not career threatening, and he has recently been cleared to perform all necessary functions on the ice. Consulting on the case was Los Angeles-based Dr. Robert Watkins, a nationally renowned back expert.

Tocchet is expected to be able to fully participate in training camp beginning in September and be at full strength by the start of the season. The last time he was in top condition, two seasons ago, he scored 48 goals with 109 points.

“We understand that he will be 100% for us, that is a condition of the deal,” McMaster said.

If Tocchet is sound, league observers feel it could be a good trade, giving the Kings the offensive bruiser they so desperately need while removing a scorer who can be replaced by the likes of Gretzky, Jari Kurri and Mike Donnelly, according to McMaster.

Local fans will undoubtedly question how any team can deal a player who scored 63 goals two seasons ago, a league record for a left wing. Robitaille led the team in virtually every offensive category that season before their run to the Stanley Cup finals.

The Kings could counter that it was easy to trade a player who disappeared once that 1992-93 regular season ended. Robitaille scored only nine goals and 22 points in the Stanley Cup playoffs, with a team-worst minus 13 on the plus-minus scale.

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McMaster, who helped sign Tocchet both for a junior hockey team and the Philadelphia Flyers, says he knew just the bruiser to take Robitaille’s place.

“What we lacked up front is someone who played the game like Rick Tocchet,” McMaster said. “Marty McSorley is that type of individual, but his strength is on defense. We were lacking that type of person up front.”

Insinuations that Robitaille was not tough enough will anger his supporters, particularly since he played four months last season with a broken ankle.

“If that is not tough, if that is not playing tough in front of the net, then I don’t know what tough is,” Brisson said.

Tocchet also knows tough. A month after he was acquired by the Penguins in 1992 from the Philadelphia Flyers, he suffered a broken jaw in the second period of a game in Chicago. He returned in the third period to score two goals in the Penguins’ 4-3 comeback victory over the Black Hawks.

With this type of play, he later helped the Penguins win their second consecutive Stanley Cup championship.

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“I think the L.A. fans want to win, and if I come out and give 100%, they’ll accept me,” Tocchet said. “If you win, face it, the fans will back you.”

A Luc at the Trade

The statistics of the principals of Friday’s trade between the Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins:

RICK TOCCHET

REGULAR SEASON

Year Team GP G A Pts PiM 1984-85 Phi 75 14 25 39 181 1985-86 Phi 69 14 21 35 284 1986-87 Phi 69 21 26 47 288 1987-88 Phi 65 31 33 64 301 1988-89 Phi 66 45 36 81 183 1989-90 Phi 75 37 59 96 196 1990-91 Phi 70 40 31 71 150 1991-92 Phi-Pit 61 27 32 59 151 1992-93 Pit 80 48 61 109 252 1993-94 Pit 51 14 26 40 134 Totals 681 291 350 641 2,120

PLAYOFFS

Year Team GP G A Pts PiM 1984-85 Phi 19 3 4 7 72 1985-86 Phi 5 1 2 3 26 1986-87 Phi 26 11 10 21 72 1987-88 Phi 5 1 4 5 55 1988-89 Phi 16 6 6 12 69 1991-92 Pit 14 6 13 19 24 1992-93 Pit 12 7 6 13 24 1993-94 Pit 6 2 3 5 20 Totals 103 37 48 85 362

LUC ROBITAILLE

REGULAR SEASON

Year Team GP G A Pts PiM 1986-87 Kings 79 45 39 84 28 1987-88 Kings 80 53 58 111 82 1988-89 Kings 78 46 52 98 65 1989-90 Kings 80 52 49 101 38 1990-91 Kings 76 45 46 91 68 1991-92 Kings 80 44 63 107 95 1992-93 Kings 84 63 62 125 100 1993-94 Kings 83 44 42 86 86 Totals 640 392 411 803 562

PLAYOFFS

Year Team GP G A Pts PiM 1986-87 Kings 5 1 4 5 2 1987-88 Kings 5 2 5 7 18 1988-89 Kings 11 2 6 8 10 1989-90 Kings 10 5 5 10 10 1990-91 Kings 12 12 4 16 22 1991-92 Kings 6 3 4 7 12 1992-93 Kings 24 9 13 22 28 Totals 73 34 41 75 102

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