LOS ANGELES — As previously reported in this space, former Los Angeles Kings great Dave Taylor was one of the hardest-working, toughest players around, especially in terms of taking abuse in the corners and in front of the net, not to mention possessing underrated skill and skating ability.
But as his National Hockey League career wore on, multiple concussions took their toll, eventually forcing him to retire.
“I got a really bad concussion in 1993, and I missed two months,” he recalled. “I did come back late in the season, and I played through the playoffs until I hurt my shoulder in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final. I only took one shift in the third period, and I didn’t play in Games 4 and 5, so that was pretty disappointing for me to not finish that series.”
“The following year, I started the season, and then around Christmas, I got another concussion, and that was it,” he added. “I retired at that point. I think I had ten concussions over my career.”
“The doctor was terrific, but he said, ‘enough is enough. It’s not good to keep hitting your head.’ It was time. I was 38 years old, and I was fortunate enough to play 17 years [in the NHL]. It was time to step aside.”
As Taylor noted, the concussion he suffered in 1993 was especially bad.
“When I had the really bad one, I lost my helmet, and I hit my head on the ice, so I was really goofy from that,” said Taylor. “I had symptoms, like vertigo, and other things, for a couple of months. It cleared up, and now, I have great respect for players when they suffer concussions.”
“From my experience, when you have a bad one, it doesn’t take much of a blow to bring the symptoms back, and each time you [suffer another concussion], they seem to last longer and longer,” he added. “There’s already damage there, so you’ve got to be careful with it. Knock on wood—everything’s been good since.”
“You know, when you see stars, sort of? I had a few of those early in my career. The other thing I learned is that if you bruise your brain, and then if you bruise the bruise by coming back too early, then you can have some severe problems. Fortunately, I don’t think [that happened to me]. But after the concussion when I hit my head on the ice, the next setback really wasn’t a tough blow. But all of a sudden, the symptoms were back again.”
After retirement, Taylor moved into the Kings front office, working as assistant general manager under then-general manager Sam McMaster. But initially, Taylor was like a fish out of water.
“When I transitioned from being a player to going upstairs, like most players, I didn’t realize the extent of what went on upstairs, on the business side, [or in terms of] hockey operations,” he noted. “When you’re a player, you’re worried about getting one person ready to come to the rink and play. But up there, you’ve got your scouting staff, you’ve got others in the office, your players at the NHL level, your players in the minor leagues, [and your] prospects all over the world. It’s a big job to follow all that.”
A key detail when looking at potential draft picks illustrated just how green Taylor was.
“I was really green, even when I became the general manager,” he said. “I remember sitting in some of our scouting meetings when I retired that first year. The scouts were talking about late birthdays. I asked, ‘what the heck is a late birthday?’”
“[The scouts explained] that if we’re drafting kids, let’s say from the 2002 birth year,” he continued. “If they were born after September 15, , they would not be part of this year’s draft. They’d be pushed into next year’s draft with those born in 2003. That was just one little thing that I didn’t realize. I was drafted as a 20-year-old player, so I didn’t even know how it all worked. I had to learn about all that stuff.”
Taylor eventually became general manager, and he began the process of the Kings stockpiling draft picks and prospects, something that all franchises must do in order to build a winning team, especially in the salary cap era, which the Kings committed to even further under Taylor’s successor, Dean Lombardi.
“I like to think we started that,” said Taylor. “When I took over, we had three scouts in Canada. I traveled with them, learning. We had a scout in Ontario, a scout in Quebec, and a scout in [Western Canada]. The scouts from Ontario and Quebec would travel to the West to watch players, and they would go to the same games. Then, when we had our meetings, they would outvote the scout from the West regarding who the better player was. That made no sense to me because the scout in the West—that’s his territory. He saw those players more often. He saw them [all year]. So one of the first things was that we had to commit more resources, getting more scouts, and moving to a regional system with a couple of crossover guys.”
“Early on, we didn’t even have anyone covering the United States, and we only had one scout in Europe, Vaclav Nedomansky,” Taylor added. “At the same time, we purchased the franchise in Manchester, New Hampshire, so we had our own American Hockey League affiliate that we owned and controlled. They’ve since moved the team to Ontario, [California], but the first five years at Manchester, we had one heck of a franchise.”
Taylor indicated that ownership gave him better support than McMaster got while the Kings transitioned out of the bankruptcy caused by former owner Bruce McNall defrauding banks and the National Hockey League to the tune of $236 million (total).
“The new ownership, [Philip Anschutz and Edward Roski Jr., who currently own the Kings], was pretty good in that area,” he said. “I think they understood the importance—for many years, especially under [original owner] Jack Kent Cooke, the Kings always traded away their first-round draft picks. We tried to hold onto our picks—maybe acquire extra draft picks, and do a better job of drafting. But drafting is just one part of it. Then there’s the fact that you’ve got to develop the [draft picks] and get them to the NHL level.”
“We added a lot more scouts, and we invested more in drafting and development,” he added. “Towards the end [of his tenure as general manager], I thought we were doing a really good job. We drafted [Dustin Brown in 2003] and then Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick [in 2005]. Those are three really good building blocks for your franchise for the next 15 years.”
Indeed, even though he credits his scouts, it was under Taylor’s watch that the Kings began to establish the core players who would lead them to their first Stanley Cup Championship in 2012 with the drafting of the aforementioned Brown, Kopitar, and Quick.
“That wasn’t me,” Taylor noted. “That was [former Director of Amateur Scouting] Al Murray and the amateur scouts. I was the general manager, at the time. But those last couple of years, we were doing a much better job, as far as [scouting amateur prospects] was concerned.”
“At the end of the day, you want a good character person and a competitive person,” Taylor added. “They find ways to get better. That’s why I thought that Dustin Brown was the perfect L.A. King. He was going to help our team. He was going to get better, day after day. Al Murray said that he was going to be a future captain, and that’s exactly how he turned out. Those kinds of things were very rewarding.”
“He’s got the distinction of being the first U.S.-born captain to hoist the Cup twice, and we all take a lot of pride in that—guys who were involved when he first came [to the Kings], to watch him develop. It was pretty cool to be out there on the ice with him when he passed me [as the all-time leader in games played for the Kings], and Kopitar isn’t too far behind. I’m going to be down to number three pretty soon. But records are made to be broken. I’ve been retired for 25 years. It was about time.”
Looking back at his tenure as general manager, does Taylor have any regrets, or things he would do differently?
“I tried to hire good people,” he said. “I had good people around me. With Al Murray and other staff, we started to smooth out the bumps and become more efficient in identifying prospects and drafting them. We invested more in developing players after we drafted them. We got more involved in college free agents. We were moving ahead and getting better and better.”
“We ran into a crazy amount of injuries the couple of years, including some serious ones with Adam Deadmarsh missing almost two years because of a concussion,” he added. “Jason Allison missed a full season with a concussion, and Ziggy Palffy tore up his shoulder.”
In 2001-02, the rash of injuries began, with the Kings losing 211 man-games, only to eclipse that mark the following season, setting an unofficial NHL record with 536 man-games lost. But wait…it gets worse.
In 2003-04, they broke their own record, losing 629 man-games to injury for a total of 1,376 man-games lost to injury over three seasons.
“It was crazy, and it was key guys,” Taylor lamented. “25 to 30 percent of our payroll was out for the season. It was tough, but we didn’t want to trade Brown, Kopitar, [Michael] Cammalleri, [Alexander] Frolov—any of the good, young players. We were patient with them. We stayed with it.”
“My last year was the first year that we had the salary cap,” Taylor added. “We had the lockout, we missed the season, and that was the year that we drafted Kopitar and Quick. Kopitar—[coming from Slovenia, had a different background than we were used to]. To this day, [looking back on] all the different interviews that I’ve sat in on in the last 25 years, he is the most impressive kid I’ve [encountered in an interview], and to see how he still carries himself today, and how he’s developed into a great, great two-way forward—all of a sudden, the Kings had a center who could play against [Ryan] Getzlaf, the Sedins—all the big centers in the Western Conference, and hold his own or be better. That was a big moment in the draft, to acquire him.”
Indeed, Taylor started the process that Lombardi expanded upon to further build the team into a Stanley Cup Champion in 2012 and 2014.
“Ownership was good,” he noted. “They gave us resources. They allowed us to invest more in scouting and development. It was important to get our AHL team in Manchester up and running. Those were positives.”
“We left the franchise in a way better position than we found it, and in an excellent position to move forward.”
Although Taylor credited ownership, [the Anschutz Entertainment Group, AEG for short], with providing resources needed to improve the team, they failed to provide the resources necessary for the Kings to become a Stanley Cup contender.
Indeed, throughout much of Taylor’s tenure as general manager, the Kings struggled, often mightily, leading to him being relieved of his duties and replaced by Lombardi in April 2006.
Several factors contributed to the Kings fate during those years. But even though one could probably point to mistakes made in drafting, free agent signings, trades, or other player personnel decisions, Taylor’s biggest problem was that his hands were tied by ownership in terms of their budget.
In fact, it was widely reported, at the time, that team salaries were capped at about 20 percent below the league’s salary cap ceiling. As such, Taylor could not compete, especially in the free agent market, which adversely affected the team’s ability to compete on the ice.
But it wasn’t just salaries that were adversely affected by the budget imposed by AEG. Indeed, sources close to the Kings indicated that there were several NHL teams that had scouting and development that had been proven to be better than what the Kings were doing and they were outspending the Kings in those areas—more scouts and development staff. To be sure, ownership had begun to invest more in these areas, but they were not willing to make the investment that was needed until Lombardi convinced them otherwise.
In the final installment of this series, we’ll look at the question of whether or not Dave Taylor should be an honored member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Stay tuned.
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings star right wing Dave Taylor’s retired jersey number 18 hangs in the rafters at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Photo: Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net
Frozen Royalty’s Dave Taylor Coverage
- Former GM Dave Taylor Started LA Kings Down Championship Road: Anze Kopitar
- Former LA Kings Great Dave Taylor On Becoming a Stanley Cup Champion
- LA Kings Legend Dave Taylor Learned About Hard Work with a Pick and a Hockey Stick
- Former LA Kings Great Dave Taylor Took the College Route To Reach the NHL
- Another Big Break Helped Dave Taylor Secure His Spot with the LA Kings
- >Dave Taylor Was the Heart and Soul of the LA Kings Triple Crown Line
- Former LA Kings Star RW Dave Taylor: Sky-High Character On and Off the Ice
- Former LA Kings Star RW Dave Taylor’s Biggest Challenge Had Little to do with Hocke
- LA Kings Legend Dave Taylor Reminisces About The Miracle on Manchester
- LA Kings Legend Dave Taylor Looks Back at the Gretzky Trade
- LA Kings Legend Dave Taylor on the 1993 Stanley Cup Playoff Run
- Should LA Kings Star Right Wing Dave Taylor Be In the Hockey Hall of Fame?
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