Kings Lose but Unleash Criticism of Bettman

TIMES STAFF WRITER

There was solidarity before the exhibition game, a few scraps during it and a sense of futility by the end Wednesday night as the San Jose Sharks defeated the Kings, 8-4, at the Forum in what might have been the final hockey game for quite some time.

Yet, almost all ire seems to be directed at NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman--from the outspoken Wayne Gretzky as well as other players around the league.

"I have as much to lose as anybody," Gretzky said Tuesday after an exhibition in San Antonio. He did not think Bettman would back down from his decision to lock out the players, largely blaming him for the situation.

"He'd be showing a weakness if he did that. . . . I just hope three months from now, everybody is not regretting this. I'm afraid that's not going to be the case."

If there is a lockout, Gretzky was asked what he would be doing on Saturday, the day of the Kings' scheduled season opener at San Jose.

"Watching baseball," he said.

For Gretzky, it was as outspoken as he gets. But that was nothing compared to the harsh words from Chicago defenseman Chris Chelios.

"If I was Gary Bettman, I'd be worried about my family, about my well-being right now," Chelios said in Chicago after practice. "Some crazed fan or even a player, who knows, might well take it into his own hands and figure if they get him out of the way, this might be settled.

"You'd hate to see something like that happen, but he took the job. The main thing is, he doesn't know anything about hockey. That's obvious. He doesn't recognize players like Jeremy Roenick and Brendan Shanahan at the meetings. Maybe it's the little-man syndrome. . . . He's the problem."

The comments were telecast and picked up in Los Angeles, shocking King coaches and others connected with the organization.

It was pointed out that Chelios would probably be getting a phone call from Bob Goodenow, executive director of the NHL Players Assn.

"He probably already has," said a source close to the players union.

Meanwhile, the Kings finished the exhibition season 4-4-1, losing their last three games.

King Notes

The paid attendance was 10,872 at the Forum. General Manager Sam McMaster said the team has one plan to travel to San Jose on Friday, another not to make the trip and a third option for him to go to Phoenix to watch the Kings' minor league team open the season. He also said he will continue to negotiate with the agents of rookie forward Matt Johnson and rookie goaltender Jamie Storr.

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