LA Kings fans were stumped on Valentine's Day in 1995.
Why would General Manager Sam McMaster swap hotshot 22-year-old blueliner Alexei Zhitnik for veteran netminder Grant Fuhr? Especially with incumbent starter Kelly Hrudey still playing at a high level?
It was a seven-player blockbuster: Los Angeles sent Zhitnik, Robb Stauber, Charlie Huddy, and a 1995 5th round draft pick to the Buffalo Sabres for Fuhr, Philippe Boucher, and Denis Tsygurov.
The 32-year-old Fuhr had hoisted five Stanley Cups with the Edmonton Oilers. So at the time, McMaster pleaded for patience, telling Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times, "We know why people are going to be upset. They just have to trust our judgment."
People remained upset.
Fuhr was benched after dropping five of his first six decisions in LA - with a 6.14 GAA.
"It's like being lost at sea, being in a raft," he admitted to Helene Elliott. "It's all instinct now, no confidence, no feel."
The 2003 Hall of Fame inductee recounts now, "Coming in here, I hadn't played a whole lot in Buffalo."
However, what's forgotten is that Fuhr eventually found his game in Hollywood. He closed the campaign with a 1.91 GAA in his last six appearances.
"Right now Grant Fuhr is real sharp. He doesn't fight the puck," observed interim head coach Rogie Vachon to Mike Downey. "The last three weeks or so, he's been playing very, very well, and I hope people understand that."
That said, Fuhr finished his Kings career with a 1-7-3 record.
So it might be surprising to learn that he looks back at his Southern California experience with some fondness.
"To play those last few games, it gave me the opportunity to know that I could still play," Fuhr says. "That was the big thing. It gave me the confidence to know I could still play.
"It let me know that I wanted to play."
And play he would. The next year, he joined the St. Louis Blues and set the NHL record for most games played by a goaltender in a single season with 79.
After much expended to get Fuhr, the Kings made no effort to keep him.
"I think they were going to go a younger route," he suggests. "They drafted Jamie Storr early. Kelly [Hrudey] was coming off a career year. And it wasn't long after the season finished that St. Louis offered me a good contract.
"It was just one of those things … right time, wrong place."
Lombardi Checkmates Kings
Wayne Gretzky was chasing two things on March 19, 1994: the San Jose Sharks and Gordie Howe.
Stuck at 799 career goals, trying to catch Howe's NHL-record 801, the Great One contributed a couple assists as the Kings edged the Sharks 2-1. The victory put the defending Campbell Conference champs just five points behind the Sharks for the last postseason berth in the Western Conference.
Gretzky would catch Howe the very next night.
Los Angeles, however, would never get any closer to San Jose in the standings.
And for that, the Kings can thank … Dean Lombardi?
Back then, Lombardi and Chuck Grillo formed a so-called "two-headed Shark" which essentially shared GM duties. Hunting for the playoffs in just their third season of existence, the Sharks were fending off the Kings and the expansion Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.
That day, the Sharks acquired winger Ulf Dahlen, their lone trade deadline move. After that night's loss to the Kings, they went on a nine-game unbeaten streak, which culminated in the clinching of the franchise's first-ever playoff appearance on April 5th at the Great Western Forum.
During this 7-0-2 streak, Dahlen led the way with five goals and 11 points. Los Angeles was now 16 points out of the playoffs.
Dillman noted, "Lombardi's move checkmated the Kings and the Ducks."
Then-San Jose radio color commentator Chris Collins remembers, "Dean made the trade and drove it hard."
This would not be the last time that Lombardi would prove to be a scourge for the Kings.
The next season, the aforementioned Fuhr and his Kings barely missed the playoffs.
Two team finished just one point ahead of them in the standings.
The Dallas Stars and, of course, Lombardi's San Jose Sharks.
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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.