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50 Forgotten Stories: Charlie Simmer's Regret

The high-scoring left winger was sent to the Boston Bruins for a 1985 first-round draft pick, after the Kings refused to renegotiate his contract

by Sheng Peng @Sheng_Peng / LAKings.com

Charlie Simmer regrets how he left Los Angeles.

On October 23, 1984, the high-scoring left winger was sent to the Boston Bruins for a 1985 first-round draft pick. The trade was at Simmer's request, after the Kings refused to renegotiate his contract. Over the summer, a contentious back-and-forth had erupted between Simmer, his agent, general manager Rogie Vachon, and owner Jerry Buss.

"Now that I look back on it," concedes Simmer, "I would hope that I would have done things differently. And the Kings too."

***

To understand what went wrong, go back to March 2, 1981. That's when Simmer shattered his leg in Toronto.

At the time, the 6'3" winger was the second-leading scorer in the NHL with 56 goals. Even a season-ending injury couldn't prevent the 26-year-old from earning his second straight first-team All-Star selection.

Before this catastrophe at Maple Leaf Gardens, Simmer and Buss had verbally agreed to a six-year contract extension which would pay the best left winger in hockey about $250,000 a season.

"They didn't know - because he broke his leg pretty badly - at that time, they didn't know if he was going to be able to play, if he was going to be the same player," recalls Vachon.

Jeanie Buss, Jerry's daughter, observed in her autobiography Laker Girl, "My dad could have said, 'What contract? I don't remember agreeing to anything.'

"Instead, he signed the contract even though it took Charlie over a year to get back to full strength."

***

By 1983-84, Simmer was back to 100 percent, pacing Los Angeles with 44 goals. His agent Jack Childers began calling Vachon to renegotiate.

Simmer's $250,000 annual salary had been surpassed by a number of players, including right winger Mike Bossy's $500,000. Even his Triple Crown linemates made substantially more, as Dave Taylor earned $450,000 and Marcel Dionne about $600,000.

The center got where his big winger was coming from.

"Marcel was good. We all wanted to stick together," Simmer remembered. "But he said, 'At this point, it's a business. You've got to do what's right for you. You're not here for a long time, so you definitely need to earn what you think you deserve.'" (Mahovlich, Ted. Triple Crown: The Marcel Dionne Story.)

Buss, however, was livid. "He thought he did Charlie a favor," recounts Vachon, "even though he wasn't sure if [Charlie] was going to come back 100 percent. Therefore, he took that as an insult."

The Kings star formally requested a trade in early August 1984, hoping to be dealt quickly.

"Since April 3, the Kings haven't returned my calls," noted Simmer then. "My agent has tried to call. I've tried to call Dr. Buss, and he never calls back." (McManis, Sam. "Simmer to Kings: Trade Me; I'm Tired of Losing." Los Angeles Times, August 3, 1984.)

Vachon fired back at the time, "If he wants to be traded, well, I'm not going to give him away."

***

Initial reports stated that the 30-year-old did "not want to continue playing for the perennially losing" Kings. LA was coming off consecutive non-playoff campaigns.

He had even sold his Woodland Hills home over the summer, moving into a temporary apartment.

Simmer, however, denies that he really wanted to go, "In my heart, I was hoping we would get everything settled and I wouldn't go anywhere.

"My wife was from the area. I had a baby.

"It would've been nice to play a couple more years with Davey and Marcel."

***

However, training camp commenced with both sides in a stand-off.

Simmer reported four days late. Vachon was waiting for his price to be met.

Of course, there was plenty of interest in the prolific scorer. The Los Angeles GM was re-buffed by the Washington Capitals in his attempt to steal 25-year-old Mike Gartner. Multiple reports had the New York Islanders dangling veteran goalie Billy Smith, though Vachon claims today that such a swap was never close.

In LA's season opener, Simmer was booed at the Forum during pregame introductions. The following game, he was benched.

"I don't know what's going on," declared Coach Pat Quinn. "I don't think he showed up to play the other night and that's why he wasn't in the lineup tonight." (Baker, Chris. "Kings Blow Three-Game Lead, Lose in Overtime." Los Angeles Times, October 14, 1984.)

***

Simmer's days in Southern California were numbered.

A week-and-a-half later, he was shipped off to Boston, but not before he reportedly "ripped Vachon and the Kings in an interview on the Islanders TV network between periods. Vachon, who was watching in the press room, got angry." (Baker, Chris. "Vachon, in Charge, Has Got the Team Off Thin Ice -- So Far." Los Angeles Times, October 14, 1984.)

Ultimately, the trade was a relief for everybody. LA was off to their worst-ever start at 0-6-3. Simmer had just one goal in five appearances.

"It gave them an opportunity with a draft pick," says Simmer. "It gave me an opportunity to play for an Original Six team."

The Simmer deal was the first time in their 17-year franchise history that the Kings - famous for exchanging first-round picks for veterans - acquired a first-rounder in a trade. They selected Dan Gratton.

***

Simmer returned to the Forum just two months later - but this time, clad in black and gold. He was booed vociferously every time he touched the puck, not scoring a point in a 6-6 tie.

"When the big left wing skated onto the ice for the first time with 18:24 left in the first period a fan yelled, 'Renegotiate!'" (Baker, Chris. "Kings Blow 4-Goal Lead in a 6-6- Tie." Los Angeles Times, December 28, 1984.)

Simmer can laugh about it now, "I would've booed me too.

"That's natural. I expected it. I deserved it. I had no issue with that at all.

"They've got the right. They paid their money for their tickets. They're Kings fans; I wasn't a King anymore."

It didn't hurt that about a week later, Simmer cashed in the overtime game-winner to beat his former teammates 5-4 in Boston.

"You always remember the game-winning goals, come on," chuckles Simmer. "I did have a couple good games after that against LA, but it wasn't anything to do with going back and playing the old team."

Playing in Boston Garden, the NHL's smallest rink, agreed with the not-as-fleet-of-foot Simmer, as he potted 69 goals in just 118 games over the next two seasons. Meanwhile, LA regained respectability under Quinn, recovering from their early season struggles to make the playoffs.

Boston never renegotiated Simmer's contract, though they did add some bonuses.

***

Fortunately, all have made their peace with Simmer's once-bitter departure.

"Jerry and I talked about it after. I expressed my disappointment in myself. He also said we probably could've done better both ways," relates Simmer. "I think the friendship we were able to continue after that is something I felt very good about.

"I still talk to Rogie.

"You know, it's business."

Kings fans have also forgotten and forgiven.

"Next trip in, there were less (boos)," Simmer says. "And the trip after that, there were less.

"That's just part of the game."

Now, there are only cheers for the Triple Crown Line's left winger whenever he returns to Los Angeles.

Leave it to Simmer to put it all in perspective:

"[Boston GM] Harry Sinden [eventually waived] me. I hated his guts that day. And I'm still best friends with him."

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Sheng Peng is a freelance hockey writer based out of Los Angeles, California. He covers the LA Kings and Ontario Reign for HockeyBuzz. His work has also appeared on VICE Sports, The Hockey News, and SB Nation's Jewels from the Crown.

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