Laughable Ducks should turn out to be mighty helpful to Kings HOCKEY NOTES


Discounting the mouse-eared balloons and the incongruous sight of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman blowing through a duck call, there is one underlying message that emerged from Monday's silliness.

The birth of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Calif., has done more to enhance the image of the Los Angeles Kings than anything since the Wayne Gretzky trade of August of 1988:

* The Kings now have a comic foil in the very next county. It has worked for the Dodgers in baseball. The Dodgers lost 99 games last season and what happened? Fans continued to deride the Angels on the radio call-in shows and in letters to the editor.

With the sound of quacking less than an hour away, Kings jokes have become passe. So what if Ottawa Senator and former King Bob Kudelski scored his 21st goal of the season? The Pond in Anaheim? Why should fans bemoan the Jimmy Carson-Paul Coffey trade when there is a whole litany of bad puns waiting to be created?

* Disney can keep the silliness; the Kings now become the "serious" hockey team in Southern California, by default, appealing to true connoisseurs. There shouldn't be much of a fan crossover. Eight-year-olds can watch the Ducks. Adults can watch the Kings.

Check the uniforms. It's a safe bet black won't be part of the Ducks' color scheme. You won't see any gang members in Philadelphia or Detroit wearing Duck garb.

* Bruce McNall can have his $25 million cake and eat it, too. Most likely, there will be no conflict between Kings and Ducks home games. Usually, the Kings play at the Forum on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, with only a couple of matinees per season. The Ducks are going to try to play their games on opposite days -- Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Look for a lot of Sunday afternoon games.

Will this be a problem for the NHL?

Did Bettman blow through a duck call?

Disney could ask to let Mickey Mouse play a shift at center and the league would probably start looking for a customized helmet.

* Not only is McNall's wallet $25 million heavier -- the sum of his territorial-rights indemnity fee -- but his team's once-brutal travel schedule is now a whole lot lighter. In all likelihood, Anaheim will -- replace Winnipeg in the soon-to-be realigned Smythe Division, meaning the Kings will be trading an all-day flight for an hour's drive.

There are no direct nonstop flights from L.A. to Winnipeg, which meant it took the better part of a day to reach Manitoba. After trying to get to Winnipeg in winter weather, a few traffic jams in Orange County will mean nothing to the Kings.

Quipped McNall: "Now the team will be mad if I don't provide a team helicopter for them."

* Winnipeg's imminent departure from the Smythe Division all but guarantees playoff berths for the Kings for the next four or five seasons. As it stands now, the top four teams in the Smythe make the playoffs, two do not. Barring a total collapse, the Kings should be one of the top four this season. Next season, the Kings will be cushioned by the two weak links, the San Jose Sharks and the Ducks.

Of course, if the Minnesota North Stars had ended up in Anaheim instead of probably heading to Dallas, the Kings wouldn't have had the comfort zone they figure on for the next few seasons.

The Kings will play the Sharks seven times this season. Double thatwith the Ducks and suddenly the Kings have 28 easy-to-reach points within the division, there for the taking.

Olympic plans

For U.S. Olympic coach Tim Taylor, it was a bit of a relief to have the issue of NHL player participation in the 1994 Games finally settled. Taylor and his staff had been in limbo since last summer, when NHL president Gil Stein started drumming up support for the concept.

pTC "We now know the task before us," Taylor said. "We can go ahead. I'd be lying if I told you we weren't prepared for this. We have some of our ducks in a row."

No pun intended.

He had two plans for the formation of his team.

"More or less, there was a Plan A and a Plan B," Taylor said. "Plan A was these tryouts and events. If there had been NHL participation, we didn't know what Plan B was. It was outlined, but it would have required a lot of thought.

"Now, this puts us in a situation where we will have a very young U.S. Olympic team."

One of the next events for talent will be a three-team international event in Campbellton, New Brunswick, April 8-10. There were will be several other tournaments and tryouts camps during the summer. The main training camp for the Olympic team will start Aug. 8 in Cromwell, Conn.

"There was our game on Saturday against St. Lawrence," he said. "We tied 8-8 after trailing 8-3 in the third period. And our last two goals came with the goaltender pulled for an extra attacker."

After the season, it will be easier for him with one job, not two. Especially now that he knows who won't be playing for him next winter.

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