Vachon tries another hat on for Kings

Rogie Vachon became president of the Los Angeles Kings on Friday. Yesterday, his soft, French-accented voice carried equal traces of sadness and hope as he talked about the team he has worked for one way or another for the past 24 years.

"It's certainly not a very happy time," he said yesterday. "I've been a King for almost all my life, and my hope is that I will be able to help turn things around, that I can bring more stability. We have a lot of problems -- but as bad as it has been, we're still, somehow, in the hunt for a playoff spot.


"We just have to work on our problems one day at a time."

He took the job in the same week that rumors were everywhere: The Kings had offered the head coach and general manager jobs to ESPN commentator Mike Milbury; even if Milbury didn't take the job, coach Barry Melrose's job was on the line and he could be gone as early as this weekend; and Wayne Gretzky is too old.


Vachon replaces Bruce McNall, the former owner of the team who sold a majority interest last spring when his personal troubles upset a previously stable franchise.

Vachon began with the Kings as a goalie (1971 to 1978) and most recently worked as an assistant to McNall and then to Kings chairman Joseph M. Cohen. His immediate goals are to get the team into the playoffs and to take "pressure off our new owner [Cohen]" so he can work on getting the Kings a new arena.

Besides being one of the most popular Kings players (his No. 30 was retired in 1985), Vachon, 49, has been a Kings assistant coach (1982 to 1984), interim head coach and general manager (1984 to 1992).

"I probably should be in the 'Guinness Book of World Records' with so many titles in the same organization," said Vachon.

Instead, he has yet another title and will be directly responsible for all the Kings' operations.

"There have been a lot of rumors," he said. "To be very fair to our general manager [Sam McMaster], his job was never on the line. As for our coach, he knows what's going on. He had a tremendous year two years ago, but we missed the playoffs last season and are in danger this season. He knows he has to produce, and over the last seven games, we've been playing very well."

Vachon says the Kings have to face the fact that Gretzky, who had his first two-goal game in a year Monday night, is not going to play for the franchise forever.

"Hopefully, he'll be here another two, three or four years," said Vachon. "But we've got to start planning the post-Gretzky era."


Buffalo quandary

The Buffalo Sabres have had one heck of a seesaw ride the past week. The high came when all-star center Pat LaFontaine returned to the ice Thursday (one goal, one assist) for the first time since Nov. 13, 1993. The low, when Vezina Trophy winner Dominik Hasek (9-6-5 with 1.93 goal-against average and a .933 save percentage) suffered a rotator cuff strain in the same game. He will be out another seven to 10 days.

On top of that, usually cool Sabres coach John Muckler reportedly slapped Vincent LoTempio, an assistant district attorney, after being heckled after a 6-1 loss to Tampa Bay Sunday.

Muckler won't be charged, and the incident may be the least of his worries.

While LaFontaine was out, Muckler turned in a first-class coaching job by turning the offensive-minded Sabres into a hard-nosed, board-mucking, defensive team. With LaFontaine back, he'd like to go on the offensive again.

But can he reinvent what was? And can he do it without the terrific goaltending of Hasek, who could have covered up a lot of mistakes by his teammates during the transition?


Muckler has seen his backup goalie, Robb Stauber (1-2, with 4.42 GAA and an .871 save percentage), and he's no Hasek.

High-flying Flyer

Philadelphia Flyers center Eric Lindros is the NHL Player of the Week for his four-goal, three-assist performance last week. Lindros celebrated by scoring his second consecutive hat trick Monday, as Philadelphia beat Montreal, 8-4.

The line of John LeClair, Lindros and Mikael Renberg is being called the Doom, Gloom and Zoom line, with reason. They have combined for 114 points on the season.

Picking on the Caps

The only team hotter than the Washington Capitals, 8-1-1 in their past 10 games, is the Flyers, who are on an 8-0 run and play at USAir Arena Saturday afternoon. So if someone is going to take a shot at the Caps, wouldn't you know it would be a Flyers writer?


Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News wrote after Washington lost to the Flyers Feb. 28 that the Caps were "awful and seemed either too old [Dale Hunter] or too soft [Joe Juneau]." Two days later, the Caps began winning.

But did that stop Bowen? No. Friday he lamented that no Caps fans had called to complain about his disparaging words. (Obviously, he's looking for pen pals.)

"Undaunted, I offer another bold prediction," Bowen writes. "If [goalie Jim] Carey finishes the season atop the goalie rankings, the Caps will make the playoffs. But they still won't be any good."

OK, Caps loyalists, sharpen those pencils.

Down to the nitpicking

New Jersey businessman Bob Teck, who is trying to work out an agreement that would bring an AHL expansion franchise to the Baltimore Arena, said yesterday that he and Gary Handleman of Centre Management are down to "nitpicking the details" that will give both sides a comfort zone.