He is the king of the Kings -- not to mention, arguably, of all hockey. "He," of course, is Wayne Gretzky, whose scoring mark stands at 1,999.
"I think 2,000 is a hell of milestone that nobody else in this league will achieve," said Los Angeles Kings General Manager Rogie Vachon.
Gretzky had two assists Tuesday night in the Kings' 6-4 victory over Calgary to move him within one point of 2,000. He will try to take that next step Friday night when the Kings play in Winnipeg.
Gretzky became the NHL's all-time leading scorer on Oct. 15, 1989, when he passed Gordie Howe's mark of 1,850 points. There were gifts galore when he passed Howe. The recognition of this passing will be more subdued; Gretzky, who has a $27 million contract, will have to buy his own little red Corvette.
Gretzky is leading the league in scoring this season with 20 points -- one ahead of Pittsburgh's John Cullen. Although Gretzky has amazed people for years, what is surprising this season is that the Kings have the best record in the NHL at 7-1-1.
Since losing to Vancouver in their second game, the Kings have won six of seven, including five in a row. But they have played only one road game. Friday's Winnipeg game is the first of six straight on the road. The fifth stop in that trip will be in Landover for an encounter with the Washington Capitals Nov. 2.
Only Calgary scored more goals than Los Angeles last season, so the idea that the Kings are leading the NHL this season with 45 is not strange. But only three teams allowed more goals than Los Angeles last season. So far in '90-91, the Kings have allowed 24, just one more than league-leading Edmonton, which has played two fewer games.
At the end of last season, the Kings changed their defensive system. It's not revolutionary for hockey, but it is for them. The third forward entering the offensive zone is showing more restraint, and defensemen are more careful about venturing deep into opposition territory.
"We were very successful against Calgary, but against Edmonton, we were too many men short," Vachon said of the Oilers' second-round elimination of his team last season. "We implanted the same system in training camp. It doesn't take too much away from the offense, but the whole team is playing better defense and we've had superb goaltending."
An important addition has been 6-foot-3, 200-pound defenseman Rob Blake, who leads the league's rookies in scoring with 11 points.
"He's big, tall, uses his range well and he has a fantastic shot," Vachon said. "He'll be a big star in this league." Manson Suspended
Chicago's Dave Manson was given a four-game suspension yesterday for a cross-check he laid on Toronto's Drake Berehowsky Oct. 20. NHL Executive Director Brian O'Neill said in a statement: "After reviewing the tape and the statements regarding this incident, it is clear that Manson deliberately cross-checked the Toronto player in the head area and did so at a time when he was not in possession of the puck.
"It is acknowledged that he was not attempting to check the player and, therefore, the foul was a deliberate and severe action which could have resulted in serious injury. Fortunately, no injury occurred." Coffey Agreement
Pittsburgh avoided an arbitration hearing by reaching agreement with all-star defenseman Paul Coffey on a reported five-year, $6 million contract.
The Penguins would not confirm the length or terms of the contract, only that Coffey agreed to a multiyear deal.
Coffey had warned that if the arbitration hearing, scheduled for last night at 7, had been held, he would have ended contract talks with the Penguins.