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Kings Get Injured Stevens From Boston for Tocchet

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Through a long litany of dreadful deals, at least the acquisition of right wing Rick Tocchet in exchange for Luc Robitaille was one trade some King fans could handle without screaming into the night.

Now the Kings have dispatched Tocchet to Boston, replacing him with left wing Kevin Stevens and his aching back.

Ear plugs, anyone?

In trading Tocchet for the out-of-favor Stevens, the Kings managed Thursday to pull off yet another confounding move--spending more money for a player who has scored fewer goals and points than Tocchet this season as well as last season.

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Stevens, with 10 goals and 23 points, is in the first year of a $15-million, five-year deal, making nearly $3 million this season. Tocchet, who has 13 goals and 36 points, has two years left on his contract, at about $2.1 million per season.

King General Manager Sam McMaster denied that the deal was in direct response to Wayne Gretzky’s request for a 50-goal scorer and an offensive-minded defenseman. Clearly, this wasn’t what Gretzky meant, asking the team to trade his close friend for someone who last scored 50-plus goals in the 1992-93 season and has dwindling numbers.

Gretzky declined to speak with reporters after the Kings’ 8-2 loss to the Whalers but sent word that he was sorry to see Tocchet leave.

“My biggest regret is that I didn’t get to play that long with Wayne,” said Tocchet, who was traded to the Kings in July 1994. “I’ll miss him.

“Who knows? Boston might need a center.”

Tocchet, 31, knew he was going to be dealt before the trading deadline but thought he might return to Philadelphia. Earlier this week, rumors had him going to Chicago with another King player in exchange for Patrick Poulin, Eric Weinrich and Joe Murphy.

He had grown unhappy under King Coach Larry Robinson’s insistence on staying with four lines, which minimized his playing time.

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“I wanted to play more, and I let it affect me,” Tocchet said.

Tocchet was visibly pleased to be leaving the chaotic situation in Los Angeles but felt sad for those left behind. He flew with the Kings on their charter Thursday night back to Los Angeles, along with Stevens, and will join the Bruins on Saturday.

“I feel bad for Tony Granato and Wayne and Kelly Hrudey and Kevin Todd and Patty Conacher and the list goes on,” he said. “They’ve been through more stuff here, stuff you wouldn’t go through in 50 years. Bankruptcy, changing owners and people questioning them.”

As for Stevens, 30, his dream of returning home in August to play in Boston after spending seven-plus seasons in Pittsburgh rapidly turned bitter. He feuded with Coach Steve Kasper--who let him and Cam Neely sit on the bench the entire game in Toronto on Jan. 3.

“They’re a bunch of liars,” Stevens said. “[Assistant GM] Mike O’Connell swore on his kid’s head that he wouldn’t do it [a trade]. “I wouldn’t have come here [to Boston] if I had known this was going to happen. I gave up a lot of money and a lot of bonuses to come here.

“It stinks; a lot of people told me I shouldn’t believe anything they tell me. But when someone looks you in the eye and tells you something, like he [O’Connell] did, well, I believed him.

Boston General Manager Harry Sinden shot back, saying: “It was a marriage made in heaven that seemed to deteriorate to hell in a hurry. For whatever reason, and there are probably numerous reasons, we couldn’t put our finger on it.”

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Stevens’ ailing back, apparently, was the least of the problems as he had only three points in the last month, going pointless in the last four games.

But the Kings can’t seem to stay away from trading for creaky players, constantly shopping at the damaged goods bin. Sinden was forthcoming about the situation, saying: “We are sending them Kevin Stevens with a bad back. They are sending us Rick Tocchet with a bad shoulder. It’s a risk for us, a concern for us, but we went in with our eyes wide open.”

Meanwhile, the Kings--perhaps remembering Philippe Boucher and Dave Karpa--were understandably nervous on Thursday.

“A mild muscle pull,” McMaster said. “He’s 100%. Every hockey player has a back problem.”

But before the trade, the back was going to keep Stevens out of the lineup for the Bruin game against Tampa Bay on Thursday but he said it was improving and could play Saturday against the Mighty Ducks.

“Kevin gives us something on the left side--our right side is strong--and he has size [6 feet 3, 217 pounds] and speed,” Robinson said. “Wayne can get it [the puck] in front of the net, and Kevin can score goals. And he’s a great power-play guy, as you saw tonight, which we need badly.”

*

* TOO LATE? Columnist Helene Elliott believes the Kings are 13 years late in trading for Kevin Stevens. C7

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* NO CHARACTER: Those were Coach Larry Robinson’s words after Kings’ embarrassing 8-2 loss to Whalers. C7

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