Continuing to remake their team, the Kings addressed their need for a legitimate top-line center Wednesday by acquiring restricted free agent Jason Allison, the NHL's No. 5 scorer last season, in a trade with the Boston Bruins.
Allison, who had been holding out this season in a contract dispute with the Bruins, joined the Kings along with left wing Mikko Eloranta in a deal that sent former Bruins Jozef Stumpel and Glen Murray back to Boston.
Allison, 26, signed a three-year, $20-million contract that will pay him $5.5 million this season, $6.5 million next season and $8 million in the 2003-04 season. The deal puts him at No. 2 on the King payroll behind right wing Ziggy Palffy, his new linemate, who will be paid $6 million this season and $7.25 million next season.
Murray, who will be 29 on Nov. 1, was the Kings' leading scorer this season and Stumpel, 29, was nine games into his fifth season as their No. 1 center. But the Kings believed the price was right to acquire Allison, the Bruins' captain last season and their leading scorer in each of his last three full seasons.
Allison, 6 feet 3 and 218 pounds, led the Bruins with 95 points last season, including 59 assists and six game-winning goals, and played in the All-Star game for the first time. The Bruins improved 15 points in the standings from the previous season, when Allison was limited to 37 games because of a wrist injury, though they missed the playoffs for a second consecutive season.
"We really wanted to add a dominant player at center and one of the top young players in the game and that's what we feel we've added with Jason," General Manager Dave Taylor said of Allison, who averaged more than 30 goals and 54 assists over his last three full seasons.
Allison had bitterly cut off contract negotiations with the Bruins last month, vowing to never again play for them and accusing the club of using the financial effects of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center as a bargaining tool against him.
That set the stage for more serious trade talks. Taylor said the Kings had been pursuing Allison for several months and that discussions between the teams intensified over the last week.
"We looked at a lot of different options over the course of the summer, including discussions with the Bruins about Jason," Taylor said. "He was very high on our list, particularly because of his age. ... When you're only 26, you're going to improve. We expect Jason to continue to put up big numbers and improve as a player over the next few years."
Allison and his agent, Bryant McBride, flew from Boston to Tampa on a 6 a.m. flight Wednesday, only about four hours after the deal was completed.
The native of North York, Canada, practiced with the Kings in the afternoon, skating on a line with Palffy and Adam Deadmarsh, and is expected to make his King debut tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Eloranta, 29, was due to arrive late Wednesday and also will play tonight.
Allison, who had been training this fall at Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass., said he was thrilled to join the Kings, who beat out a group of pursuers that reportedly included the New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, St. Louis Blues and defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche.
"Of all the teams that were interested," he said, "this was probably my first choice and I was fortunate enough to end up here. It's a great young team that's building and getting better and better every year. Hopefully, I can help them build."
McBride said that as the trade talks between the Kings and Bruins grew more serious in the last few days, Allison often spoke of his desire to play with the talented Palffy, who led the Kings in scoring last season while playing mostly on a line centered by Stumpel, his oft-derided Slovak countryman.
"His eyes light up when he talks about Ziggy," the agent said. "I think this is going to be one of the great new tandems in the NHL. They're going to be really fun to watch. And you add Deadmarsh and I think that's going to be one of the best lines in the league. You've got speed, grit, toughness and size."
The acquisition of Allison continues the reshaping of the Kings. Five of their top 10 players--forwards Allison, Deadmarsh and Steve Heinze, defenseman Aaron Miller and goaltender Felix Potvin--have joined the team in the last eight months.
A former first-round draft pick of the Capitals, Allison gives the Kings their first true top-line center since they traded Wayne Gretzky in February 1996. They tried to get by in recent years with the unsteady and, some said, uncaring Stumpel, whose lack of production and on-ice presence belied the label of No. 1 center.
Murray too was often a source of frustration for the Kings. A powerful, athletic forward, he often failed to deliver on the promise of his immense physical gifts.
Only last month, less than a week before the start of the season, Coach Andy Murray questioned the winger's commitment and suggested his days with the Kings could be numbered. But Murray got off to a fast start and led the Kings with 11 points; he had four goals in his last three games.
Allison is not the marquee name that some say the Kings need to draw fans to Staples Center--few outside hockey have probably heard of him--but the Kings believe his youth and talent give him an unlimited upside.
In fact, it was Allison's age that really appealed to the Kings, who balked in the last year at paying market value for all-stars Rob Blake and Luc Robitaille, trading Blake to the Avalanche and losing Robitaille via free agency.
"Age played a factor in all of those decisions," Taylor acknowledged.
Eloranta was in his third season with the Bruins after establishing career highs last season with 12 goals and 23 points in 62 games.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
A look at the players involved in Wednesday's trade between the Kings and the Boston Bruins:
Jason Allison, 26, center, sixth season in NHL
One of the top young players in the NHL, the former Bruin captain gives the Kings their first legitimate top-line center since Wayne Gretzky. Fifth in the league in scoring last season with 95 points, the native of North York, Canada, is "the best 26-year-old player in the world right now," says his agent, Bryant McBride.
Mikko Eloranta, 29, left wing, third season in NHL
A 6-foot, 200-pound native of Turku, Finland, the versatile Eloranta will be plugged into the Kings' No. 2 line tonight to play alongside center Bryan Smolinski and right wing Steve Heinze. Established career highs of 12 goals and 23 points in 62 games last season, but is scoreless in five games this season.
BOSTON BRUINS GET
Glen Murray, 29 on Nov. 1, right wing, 10th season in NHL
With 11 points in nine games, the gifted winger from Halifax, Canada, was off to the fastest start of his career, a pace that projects to a 100-point season for a player who established a career high with 62 points two seasons ago. Murray, the Bruins' No. 1 pick in the 1991 entry draft, played parts of four seasons in Boston.
Jozef Stumpel, 29, center, ninth season in NHL
The native of Nitra, Slovakia, scored a career-high 79 points in the 1997-98 season, his first with the Kings after being traded by the Bruins, but never seemed comfortable in the role of top-line center. Played parts of six seasons with the Bruins before trade to Kings.
* Jason Allison--Center, 26, fifth in the NHL in scoring last season with 95 points.
* Mikko Eloranta--Left wing, 29, scored 23 points in 62 games last season.
* Glen Murray--Right wing, 28, disappointed Kings by scoring only 39 points last season.
* Jozef Stumpel--Center, 29, in fifth season with Kings, scored 55 points last season.