Despite its recent run of success, Los Angeles wasn’t always a prime destination for NHLers. These days, it’s atop the list of preferred places to play for many free agents, but there once was a time when it was a league backwater that had won all of bupkis and had zero NHL neighbors.
So you can forgive former King Mike Krushelnyski for not wanting to go there when his lawyer called him Aug. 9, 1988.
“He said, ‘Are you sitting down?’ And I’m like, ‘Why?’ He goes, ‘You better sit down,’ Krushelnyski said. “There was some talk of trade prior to that, and I said, ‘I’ll go anywhere except L.A.’ ”
At the time, Krushelnyski, now 54, was on top of the hockey world, having won his third Stanley Cup with Edmonton and entering the peak of his career at 28 years old. ‘The Trade’ changed that. The Oilers shipped Wayne Gretzky along with Marty McSorley and Krushelnyski to the Kings for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, a trio of first-round picks and a whole heap of California cash.
“The press got the trade all wrong,” Krushelnyski jokes. “ ‘Gretz’ went for the three first-rounders, Marty went for Gelinas and I was the guy that went for the 15 million bucks. Let’s clarify that right now.”
At the time of the trade, the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks and Arizona Coyotes didn’t exist, so L.A.’s nearest opponent was the Vancouver Canucks, more than 1,000 miles away. Two-week road trips were the norm for the Kings, and Krushelnyski wanted no part of it. But then he took a look at a roster with Steve Duchesne, Bernie Nicholls, Larry Robinson, Luc Robitaille, Dave Taylor and John Tonelli. Add in Gretzky, McSorley and himself, and the Kings looked like a contender.
And they were. The Kings scored the most goals (376) in the NHL in 1988-89, finishing second in their division. Krushelnyski and Co. then beat his former team, the defending champion Oilers, in the first round before losing in the Smythe Division final to the Calgary Flames, who went on to win the Stanley Cup.
‘Krusher’ ended up loving L.A., and Hollywood reciprocated.
“L.A. was a great place to play,” he says. “Hollywood was infatuated with hockey. I’ve got pictures with John Candy, Sylvester Stallone, everybody. I even have a picture with Bruce Springsteen, and I only have a towel around me.”
Krushelnyski played nearly 900 NHL games over stops in Boston, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Toronto and Detroit, scoring 241 goals and 569 points. His final season came in 1994-95 with the Red Wings. After one season in the American League, followed by a two-game cameo in the Italian League, Krushelnyski returned to Detroit as an assistant coach in 1996-97 and won his fourth Stanley Cup.
“I got to admit, ’97 as an assistant is right up there, or even surpassing it,” he says. “It was extremely rewarding.”
Krushelnyski then spent two seasons as head coach in the Central League with Fort Worth, followed by one with German team ERC Ingolstadt and a pair with the Kontinental League’s HC Vityaz.
For the past few years, he’s been working with the NHL Alumni Association, supporting causes around the world and representing the organization on the TV show Battle of the Blades last fall.
“They keep you hopping and bouncing around the planet, so it’s been a lot of fun,” Krushelnyski says. “No matter how much money you got, you still need something to do in life.”
Ronnie Shuker is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. Follow him on Twitter at @THNRonnieShuker.