Larry Regan, who was the Kings’ general manager when the team entered the National Hockey League in 1967 and built some respectable teams despite owner Jack Kent Cooke’s insistence that he trade first-round draft picks for established players, died Monday in a hospital in Ottawa, Canada. He was 78.
Regan, who also coached the Kings for the 1970-71 season and the early part of the following season, had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease and other ailments.
In the expansion draft that brought the Kings into the NHL, Regan claimed players such as “Cowboy” Bill Flett, Ted Irvine, Eddie Joyal and Real Lemieux. In what was then called the amateur draft, he added mainstays such as Butch Goring, Billy Smith, Vic Venasky and Neil Komadoski.
During his tenure as general manager, which lasted until December 1973, he also traded for popular players, including Ross Lonsberry and Juha “Whitey” Widing and reacquired Lemieux. In 1970, he acquired Bob Pulford, who later became one of the team’s most successful coaches, and a year later traded for Rogie Vachon, still the Kings’ goal-tending standard.
However, Regan had only two first-round picks in the seven drafts he directed. Ordered by Cooke to acquire players whose names might attract fans who had moved to Southern California from other NHL cities, Regan dealt those first-round picks for players who were well past their prime.
That set a pattern that would hurt the franchise for years.
“He was really a hell of a guy,” said Jiggs McDonald, the Kings’ play-by-play announcer for their first five seasons. “And if he’d been able to operate the team on his own M.O., it could have been so much better, but he had to operate under Mr. Cooke’s economics at that time. The fact that the building wasn’t full every night dictated that he couldn’t do some of the things he wanted.”
Born Aug. 9, 1930, in North Bay, Canada, Regan toiled for years in the minor leagues before reaching the NHL with the Boston Bruins in the 1956-57 season. A forward, he was voted rookie of the year at the age of 26. His NHL career lasted five seasons with the Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs.
After his playing days ended, he coached briefly in Austria.
Hired by Cooke first as a scout, he was later promoted to general manager.
The Kings finished second in the new Western Division in 1967-68 and were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.
They finished fourth the following season and lost in the second playoff round.
“Larry Regan was probably in that era as good a ‘hockey man’ as there was when it came to scouting and evaluating talent,” McDonald said.
“His approach to scouting and how you put together a team, what you required as far as veterans and youth and how that blend worked, I think was maybe a little bit ahead of the rest of the league at that time. And he knew the European leagues. Larry had been in the European scene for quite some time and knew what was coming.”
Bob Miller, who became the voice of the Kings in 1973, said Regan “did a really good job with no first-round picks to work with in most of those years.” He added, “Larry did a pretty good job of bringing in people like Eddie Joyal and Bill Flett, Rogie Vachon, Bob Berry, Whitey Widing, Butch Goring and Bob Pulford as coach.”
Regan is survived by his wife, Pauline.
Funeral arrangements were not immediately available.