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Kings Pay Dearly for a Worn Fuhr : Hockey: They acquire veteran goalkeeper, 32, two young defensemen from Sabres in exchange for Zhitnik, Huddy, Stauber.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Does anyone remember Larry Murphy, Garry Galley, Steve Duchesne or Paul Coffey?

All four were offensive defensemen who once played for the Kings and were traded. In acquiring goaltender Grant Fuhr and defensemen Philippe Boucher and Denis Tsygurov on Tuesday from the Buffalo Sabres for defensemen Alexei Zhitnik and Charlie Huddy, goaltender Robb Stauber and a fifth-round draft pick, the Kings’ new management has taken the same path of peril as the old one.

The two cornerstones of the deal are Zhitnik and the 32-year-old Fuhr. Unlike Boucher, 21, and Tsygurov, 23, the 22-year-old Zhitnik is a proven commodity. He has 105 points in two-plus NHL seasons and displayed a mix of moxie and skill in the Stanley Cup finals in 1993.

Fuhr was a No. 1 goaltender stuck behind another No. 1 goaltender, Dominik Hasek. But easily forgotten is that Fuhr’s prime is well behind him. He was beaten out for the No. 1 spot in Edmonton by Bill Ranford and by Felix Potvin in Toronto.

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The owner of five Stanley Cup rings, Fuhr will be reunited with former Oiler teammates Wayne Gretzky and Marty McSorley. He has shown occasional flashes of brilliance, shutting down the Rangers in the season opener. Then there is the Fuhr who gave up 11 goals in his last two appearances.

The Kings were aware the deal would be decidedly unpopular. But the negative reaction to the Luc Robitaille trade didn’t scare General Manager Sam McMaster or Coach Barry Melrose.

“After the first one we made, everything else seems easy,” Melrose said. “It’s easy to sit there and whine about what you don’t have.”

Said McMaster: “We know why people are going to be upset. They just have to trust our judgment. We’re getting a potential All-Star in Boucher and Tsygurov has tremendous ability. Now we feel we have six outstanding defensemen.”

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Boucher, known as an offensive defenseman, is 6-3, 190 pounds and has five points in nine games. A first-round draft pick in 1991, he is in the final year of a contract, making $200,000. The 6-3, 200-pound Tsygurov, who is from Chelyabinsk, Russia, is mobile and moves the puck well and has no points in four games and is also in the final year of his contract at $400,000.

McMaster first approached Sabre GM and Coach John Muckler in the summer about Fuhr’s availability since it became clear he wasn’t in Buffalo’s plans once the team signed Hasek to a three-year, $8-million contract.

Fuhr, who is making $1.6 million this season and will be an unrestricted free agent, has had a tumultuous career riddled by injuries and a suspension by the NHL in the 1990-91 season when he admitted to drug use. NHL president John Ziegler suspended him for a year but later commuted it after Fuhr missed the first 59 games.

The Oilers traded Fuhr to Toronto before the 1991-92 season and he ended up in Buffalo in 1993. “The last three teams I was playing behind a guy who really got hot, that’s nobody’s fault,” said Fuhr, who is 1-2. “Dom is playing great right now. He’s probably the best goalie in the game. But I still think I can be No. 1 and I want to be No. 1.

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“When I came here, (the Sabres) wanted to win a first-round playoff series. I wanted to win a Stanley Cup. And I still do.”

Said Muckler: “Grant happened to be in the same place as the best goaltender in the NHL. That was very difficult for him. He wasn’t going to change mentally. He wasn’t prepared to take a secondary role because he still looks at himself as a No. 1 goalkeeper, and I think he’s right.”

Kelly Hrudey, who faced 92 shots over the weekend in two games, said he was comfortable with the move, pointing out that the schedule was much more grueling because of the shortened season.

As expected, the Kings assigned 19-year-old rookie goaltender Jamie Storr to his junior team in Windsor. “I’m disappointed because I played well and I had fun but at the same time they’re going for a Cup here,” he said.

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Gretzky indicated the Kings could not totally think in terms of the future.

“But we missed the playoffs last year,” he said. “That’s the bottom line. You can’t keep thinking, ‘OK, he’s going to be great, the future is good.’ You can’t keep losing and not making the playoffs. It’s a hard situation for everybody.” It was that way for Zhitnik, who immediately told a reporter that Tuesday’s temperature in Buffalo was: 24.

Said Zhitnik: “It was a big surprise. I don’t know what to say. I know it’s a business. I didn’t expect trade so soon. Maybe it happened next season but not right now.”

Stauber and Huddy were happier. "(Muckler) said, ‘We’re excited about having you,’ ” Stauber said. “I said I was excited about coming. I’m surprised it took this long.”

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Said Huddy, a King since 1991: “It always happens--my name was never mentioned. In Edmonton, I was always being traded and never went anywhere.”


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