Saturday, 12.08.2007 / 3:14 PM / Feature
By John Tranchina
Dave Taylor brings a wealth of experience gained over a legendary career to Stars’ front office, and his presence is already paying dividends.
In a move that was largely overlooked this past summer, the Dallas Stars made a key addition to their management team which should bring a positive impact to the club for years to come. In hiring Dave Taylor as their new director of player personnel, the Stars acquired over 30 years of NHL experience, from his outstanding 17-season playing career to a distinguished nine-year run as general manager of the Los Angeles Kings.
In fact, Taylor spent every year of his NHL life with the Kings organization before joining the Stars, and there is no question that adding such a highly-respected talent-evaluator to the front office mix will pay huge dividends for the franchise.
“I think he’s been a positive addition with his abundance of experience and knowledge,” added Stars Co-General Manager Les Jackson. “He’s been a general manager in the league and I think Dave’s been good for all the guys in the evaluation field. He’s brought what he’s had for experience and has integrated it with what we have.”
Taylor is primarily in charge of the Stars’ professional scouting department, which is responsible for scouting and evaluating players in other organizations, whether on other NHL teams or in the minor leagues, so that Dallas has a good working knowledge of opposing players that could eventually become targets for acquisition.
“I work closely with Les Jackson and Brett Hull in a lot of aspects of hockey operations, but my primary focus is on the professional side of the game, which means scouting NHL games and American Hockey League games,” Taylor noted. “Evaluating our own players first and foremost - I wanted to get a good base feel for our own players, and from there, any possibilities to improve our club, whether it’s through a trade or addition.”
Stars coach Dave Tippett worked under Taylor for three seasons as the Kings’ assistant coach and has nothing but positive things to say about his former boss.
“He’s an excellent hockey man and a great person,” Tippett said. “He’s a guy that for years was always known as an unbelievable team player who did whatever it took for a team to win. He has been in management for quite a while now and is very adept at that. He’ll be a great asset to our organization, evaluating and acquiring new talent.”
Taylor, whose number 18 jersey hangs from the rafters of the Staples Center, has a unique viewpoint on player development, since his own evolution – from late-round draft pick (210th overall in 1975) into a gritty, scoring power forward – was an unusual one.
“I think there are different perspectives on the game and players have one perspective,” Taylor noted. “People that have strictly been executives for a lot of years maybe have a little different perspective. It doesn’t necessarily mean that one view or the other is correct. There’s a lot of different ways to approach the game, but it’s good to have the different viewpoints, and be able to weigh those, balance those and kick ideas around.”
Taylor’s path to the NHL began at Clarkson University in New York. Despite being drafted by the Kings in the 15th round of the 1975 Entry Draft, didn’t turn pro until after his senior season. In fact, seven of his first games at the professional level came with the old Central Hockey League’s Fort Worth Texans during the 1976-77 season. Now, over 30 years later, Taylor finds himself back in the Metroplex.
“I grew up in Canada and had aspirations of playing major junior, but I was a late bloomer, so I was never drafted by a major junior club,” Taylor recounted. “So I went to Grade 13 in Canada and when I got the offer to go down to Clarkson, that was a great break for me. I got outstanding coaching there from Jerry York, who’s at Boston College today, and I had a chance to mature physically. I spent four years at Clarkson and was drafted by the Kings after my sophomore year. I stayed in school to graduate and then felt I was ready after my senior year to make the step to the pros, which I did.”
After his brief stint in Fort Worth, Taylor made the Kings the next fall and collected 22 goals and 43 points in 64 games as a rookie in 1977-78. The next season, he teamed with Hall of Fame center Marcel Dionne and winger Charlie Simmer to form one of the most potent offensive lines in NHL history, ‘The Triple Crown Line.’
“Forwards like to score goals and I was no different,” Taylor recalled. “We had a lot of scoring in those days and Marcel was an unbelievable player. The Kings signed me out of college and then signed Charlie Simmer as a free agent. It was in my second year that Bob Berry put us together in a game in Detroit and Marcel had a couple of goals, and that was the birth of the Triple Crown Line. We had a lot of success together.”
“It was a lot of fun,” added Simmer, now a color analyst on Calgary’s broadcasts. “For me, being a ‘too-slow minor-leaguer’ and he was a ‘too-small college player,’ to be successful was tremendous. Marcel was the key to the whole line and definitely a superstar in his own right. I just remember the chemistry that was developed very quickly and it was to the point where you could sit on the bench and say, ‘Okay, we need two goals, let’s go out and get them,’ and you would. It just seemed that we knew where everyone was on the ice at any time. It almost looked too easy sometimes, but there was a lot of hard work by all three of us.”
Taylor racked up career-high numbers skating with the trio, recording 90 points or more five different seasons, including personal bests of 47 goals and 112 points in 1980-81. The next year, Taylor was part of one of the biggest upsets in sports history, as well as one of the most memorable comebacks ever, in the Kings’ first-round playoff series in 1982. LA had posted just 63 regular season points, and few gave them a chance against the burgeoning juggernaut of the Edmonton Oilers, who had racked up 111 points. With the best-of-five series tied 1-1 and Game 3 in LA, the Kings entered the third period trailing 5-0, but pulled off the impossible, tying the game with just five seconds left in regulation and then winning 2:35 into overtime. After losing Game 4, the Kings came back to claim Game 5, and the series, in Edmonton.
“People in L.A. still call that the ‘Miracle on Manchester,’” Taylor noted of the incredible comeback at the L.A. Forum. “What made that more impressive was the Oilers were such a great team. They probably hadn’t fully matured yet, but players like Gretzky, Messier, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey, Kevin Lowe, Glenn Anderson and Grant Fuhr, were all emerging in the league. Besides being down after two periods by 5-0 and coming back to tie it - Steve Bozek tied the game with five seconds to go, and Daryl Evans scored a beautiful goal off a face-off, where he just whistled a shot into the top corner to win that game - besides the fact that it was one of the greatest comebacks in a single game, it was a real upset in the series for the Kings to put the Oilers out.”
In fact, the series upset still ranks as the biggest in NHL history, based on the 48-point differential between the clubs’ regular season records, and the Game 3 victory remains the biggest single-game post-season comeback ever. The Oilers would go on to reach the Stanley Cup Finals five of the next six seasons, winning four Cups.
Of course, when Gretzky was traded to the Kings in August 1988, his arrival altered the hockey landscape forever. Not only did his presence help transform the Kings, it heralded a hockey popularity boom in California and across the United States.
“Wayne was the one person in my 30 years in Los Angeles that transcended the sport and brought the casual fan to the game,” Taylor stated. “Certainly, when we had good teams that were competitive, our crowds were good, but when Wayne was in L.A., it was a totally different level. There’s no questioning the impact his coming to L.A. had on the NHL. There wouldn’t have been teams in Anaheim, Phoenix or Florida if not for him.”
In addition to all the extra excitement Gretzky helped generate in Los Angeles, he helped lead the club to its only appearance in the Stanley Cup Final in 1993, which for Taylor, whose role had evolved into a gritty veteran forward by then, was the highlight of his career.
“We won a very good semifinal series over Toronto in seven games, and then we played the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Final,” Taylor remembered. “We actually won the first game and even though we ended up losing the series, the ability to play in the Finals gave me a lot of respect for the teams that have won the Cup and won the Cup on multiple occasions, because you certainly need a lot of things to go right for you. It’s a grind over two months, where you hope you don’t run into injuries and you hope your best players are your best players and you get the goaltending that’s necessary. To break through and win the Cup is quite an achievement.”
One season later, Taylor retired as one of the franchise’s all-time greats. His name is still very prominent in the Kings record book, starting with his club-record 1,111 regular season games, not to mention 92 playoff contests, second-most by a King. He also ranks second in penalty minutes (1,589), and third in goals (431), assists (638) and points (1,069). Additionally, Taylor skated in four All-Star Games – he missed a fifth due to injury – and served as the club’s captain for four seasons (1985-89) until he gave the ‘C’ to Gretzky.
Upon his retirement, Taylor immediately joined the Kings’ front office as assistant general manager and director of player development. He ascended to the club’s vice president and general manager position in 1997 and compiled a 290-254-84-21 mark in nine seasons, reaching the post-season four times during that span, including an first-round upset victory over Detroit in 2001, teams that included current Stars defensemen Mattias Norstrom and Philippe Boucher.
“He’s a great guy,” said Boucher, who was a member of the Kings organization from 1995-2002. “I was there for a long time with him. Times weren’t always easy, but he was always someone you could talk to, and was always fair and dealt with everything with a lot of class. It’s good to have people like that in your organization.”
Unfortunately, after three straight years out of the playoffs, Taylor was relieved of his duties following the 2005-06 season, but he remained with the organization last year as director of amateur development. When his contract expired last June, he probably could have gone almost anywhere, but the chance to work for an organization he had a great amount of respect for, along with the opportunity to be deeply involved in the decision-making process, brought him to Dallas.
“I always viewed the Stars as a professional organization,” Taylor noted. “They’ve been a good, solid and very consistent team for a number of years and have built a very strong foundation. I probably could have gone other places, but when this opportunity arose, it made a lot of sense. The opportunity to work with good people in a good organization and to have a voice in the direction of the team is really what I was looking for. I view this as a great opportunity and a great challenge, and I look forward to helping the Stars continue a winning tradition.”