Frustrated and annoyed. That’s how I feel…
…and it’s all because of #EastCoastBias.
The Kings have placed the official “C” on 14 players: Bob Wall, Larry Cahan, Bob Pulford, Terry Harper, Mike Murphy, Dave Lewis, Terry Ruskowski, Dave Taylor, Wayne Gretzky, Luc Robitaille, Rob Blake, Mattias Norstrom, Dustin Brown, and Anze Kopitar.
Dave Taylor was the captain who captivated me. Maybe it was because he wasn’t destined for greatness. No one selected 201st overall ever is. He avoided the press as much as possible his first two years because of a stuttering issue so severe that he faked hyperventilation to get out of interviews.
Last week frustrated me as Dustin Brown passed him for all time games played in a Kings uniform. It wasn’t because of Brown. Goodness gracious no. He has his place in my Kings heart (as in yours as well). I’m frustrated because he never got his due from the league despite having everything the league wanted performance-wise from a player. Popularity-wise, he was always behind Rogie Vachon and Marcel Dionne in those first years as a King. He was the one player who meant a disproportionate amount to me during a period when sports meant a bit too much. I was in no way part of his life, but he was a enormous part of mine.
Now, the annoying part part: The Hockey Hall of Fame hasn’t found a place for him. He hasn’t even gotten a sniff. Well, that’s not acceptable anymore. He should have made it already. I wrote about this ongoing prejudice for another project when Jonathan Toews made the NHL’s Top 100 list and Kings like Drew Doughty, Jonathan Quick, Anze Kopitar, and Taylor weren’t there.
Taylor never had a chance to be there because of a greater injustice that started when Taylor was playing and there was no way for the media to see him consistently. With all of the press centered in New York and Toronto, no one ever paid attention to a Kings team that never did anything once the playoffs rolled around. The net sum is that it’s about a great hockey player who never got his just due.
Consider the following:
1) Indisputably, Dave Taylor was the forgotten player of his generation. A two-way forward that would have been considered a better Bob Gainey had he played in Montreal, Philadelphia, or even Buffalo. From 1978 through 1992, no player from west of Chicago received a top five Selke Trophy vote. Montreal took it six times (Gainey four times, Guy Carbonneau twice), Chicago (Dirk Graham, Troy Murray) and Philadelphia (Bobby Clarke, Dave Poulin) each nabbed it twice, while St. Louis (Rick Meagher), Buffalo (Craig Ramsay), Washington (Doug Jarvis), and Boston (Steve Kasper) each garnered one. The Craig Ramsey voting in 1984-85 was particularly laughable as it became his going away gift from the NHL media. Playing against third liners, Ramsey mustered a plus-17 and 33 points with incredibly poor advanced stats. Meanwhile there are few superlatives that begin to describe how destructive he played on defending his zone (only Gainey rivaled his talent for completely disrupting another team’s offense in this ear). Taylor soaked up the available plus stats for a Kings team that was only +13 as a team and only made the playoffs because Vancouver finished 23 points behind them in the Smythe Division. His stat line went something like this:
92 Points (41G, 51A), +17, 132 PIM, 23.9 S%
Only one Kings player (Marcel Dionne) finished with double-digit plus/minus and forwards like Steve Shutt (-19), Phil Sykes (-17), Doug Smith (-17), and Bernie Nichols (100 points, -5) made a mockery of playing defense.
That wasn’t the only slight in the Selke. In 1980-81, Taylor finished seventh behind Gainey, Craig Ramsay, Larry Patey (St. Louis), Kasper, Bob Bourne (NYI), Robbie Ftorek (Quebec). I watched every home game this year and another 10 on television. Trust me when I say that Taylor was easily on par with Bob Gainey, far exceeded the other five above him, and that was on a 99-points Kings team with a .619 winning percentage. The only thing that got the attention of the league was the Triple Crown line, and Taylor got the least of the publicity between Dionne and Simmer.
An all-defensive team from 1979 through 1991 should never have excluded Taylor. Yet, no one saw him, so no one noticed him, and no one voted for him.
2) At a peer-level, Taylor will be remembered by everyone who was there as one of the best forwards to ever suit up, a difference-maker on the ice and in the locker room:
Barry Melrose [speaking about the trouble of a season when Taylor was hurt and the Kings couldn’t follow-up a Stanley Cup Final run]: “I think our troubles began when Dave left the lineup. Looking back, if this guy’s in the lineup, I think it is a different story. I think you’re seeing one of the greatest players in league history leaving the game.”
Triple Crown linemate Charlie Simmer: “He was able to adjust each season. He went from being one of the premier scorers in the league to a different style than was expected from him. He became one of the best checkers. That takes talent. He was able to master both offense and defense.”
Luc Robitaille: “Barry Melrose took me aside at the morning skate and he said, ‘Wayne might miss the whole year and I got to name a new captain, who do you think it should be?’ I said, ‘Well, Dave Taylor.’”
Marcel Dionne: “What makes great lines is that everybody has their little thing. He [Taylor] dug the puck out of the corners, and did a lot of the other dirty work. Dave Taylor, that was his game. If he had the touch, somebody else would have to go get the puck for him. We didn’t have many ever like him.”
3) Let’s face it, Taylor never received his accolades because of the Kings’ collective playoff record. His mediocre teams only won 36 of the 92 playoff games he played in. Why? Because defense matters in the playoffs and the Kings were never known for their D until Drew Doughty showed up. There’s not much doubt that Taylor could both defend the puck and put it in the net. He retired as the number two Kings scorer in 1,111 games:
1,069 Points (431G, 638A), +186, 1,589 PIM, 17.8 S%
Masterton Trophy (Perseverance): 1990-91
King Clancy Award (Community Service): 1990-91
Frank J. Selke Award (1980-81 and 1984-85); Note—although Taylor should have won, he was not awarded due to apathy.
I chose Toews earlier because in their respective careers, Taylor is an afterthought and Toews is a Top 100 player. Both are known as elite leaders and two-way players with a grinder’s edge. One is expected to eventually head to the Hall of Fame and the other can’t get in without an admission ticket. Here’s Toews’ quick resume:
869 Games Played, 750 Points (325G, 425A), +195, 475 PIM, 14.1 S%
4) Uniqueness. Who could you compare Dave Taylor to? I contend, no one. He splashed onto the scene as a 150-pound rookie whom no team seemed to want. He quickly turned into a high-scoring winger, evolved into more of physical scorer that the Kings seldom had for the last 45 years, then reincarnated himself as a heady checker, peaking in the 1984-85 season. He could stop anyone regardless of speed or size and lock them down. He was such an intelligent player that he seemed to have ESP. While he would go to the corners to get those hard to find pucks, his linemates would linger near the front of the net knowing he would emerge with a deft pass.
Everyone loved playing with him in Los Angeles; he was so competitive and carried himself with such class.
I loved so many things about watching him play: The way he’d suddenly strip an unsuspecting forward at center ice (you NEVER see that anymore), like a pickpocket swiping a wallet; the ESP plays with Dionne and Simmer; the supernatural way he would flick off a poor play and be just as effortlessly tenacious as anyone you’ll ever see, his unsurpassed knack for getting the most out of the corners.
Of course, few people remember any this, just like few remember how great of a hockey player Dave Taylor was and how special and dominant he was at the humblest of levels.
He should have made the trip to Toronto for a Hall of Fame induction. It doesn’t have to be that way. If you’re reading this, and you have some Hall of Fame sway and you didn’t push for Dave Taylor the last two decades, hang your head in shame.
Oh, and, P.S., as general manager of the Los Angeles Kings, Taylor was responsible for drafting Dustin Brown, Jonathan Quick and Anze Kopitar. Imagine life without those three. I can’t.