Growing up in the 1970′s as a hockey fan in Los Angeles, I was intimately familiar with three things very few Angelenos had even a remote grasp upon: 1) Los Angeles had an NHL hockey team, 2) said hockey team was named the Kings, and 3) the Triple Crown Line was bitchin’, man.
Thirty years later, after having been swept up by an exhilarating Cup run, the nouveau-riche of belated La-La Land hockey fans finally understands the city indeed has a team and its monicker is in fact the Kings. However, being 45 years late to the party, they remain largely clueless about the team’s history, especially that of events that occurred pre-Gretzky. The Triple Crown Line might as well be a railway route or a designer drug, as they know virtually nothing about the players or the accomplishments of one of history’s signature scoring lines.
On January 13, 1979, the Kings were well on their way to another ho-hum season (34-34-12, first round loss) when former head coach Bob Berry made what turned out to be a brilliant move, promoting left winger Charlie Simmer to the top line to combine with perennial all star center Marcel Dionne and prolific right winger Dave Taylor to form what would eventually be coined the ‘Triple Crown Line’. Simmer, at 6’3″ and 210 pounds, was the perfect net presence to contrast with the feisty, aggressive Taylor and the shifty, speedy, all-world Dionne. By the end of that season, Dionne notched a typical 59 goal, 130 point campaign, with Taylor registering 43 goals and 91 points and Simmer — in just 38 games, mind you — scoring 21 goals and 48 points.
The reason? For those of you who believe chemistry only belongs in a Bunsen burner, think again. “It was chemistry because nobody had a big ego,” said center Marcel Dionne. “We complimented one another and we never had a bad game because we would also pick up the slack for each other on nights when it was needed.”
Hitting their stride
That half season was, of course, just the beginning. With all three horses together for the entire 1979-80 campaign, production soared. Dionne won the Art Ross trophy after a league-leading 137 points. Charlie Simmer tied for the top spot in goals with 56 and finished 7th in the NHL with 101 points. Dave Taylor “only” registered 37 goals and 90 points, the latter ending up 17th best in the league. The Kings’ defense and goaltending failed them that season, finishing tied for fourth-worst in the newly-expanded 21-team NHL, but the groundwork was laid for better days to come.
In 1980-81, those days came with a vengeance. The perennially-mediocre Los Angeles Kings almost won the Norris Division, ending up with 99 points, edged out by Montreal for the title. The defense improved a bit but still finished in the bottom third of the league with 290 goals allowed. Much to the delight of the fans, however, that team didn’t operate with a defensive mindset; it was the supercharged offense that led the way in L.A. With that said, the numbers produced by Dionne, Taylor and Simmer were nothing short of breathtaking. To wit: it was the first time in NHL history that three players from the same team recorded 100+ points. Dionne ended the season with 58 goals and 135 points, second in both categories to Mike Bossy and Wayne Gretzky, respectively. Dave Taylor had 47 goals and 112 points, and Charlie Simmer finished with 56 goals and 105 points in just 65 games.
Frustratingly, without the injured Charlie Simmer, that Kings team lost in the first round to the New York Rangers 3 games to 1, as goaltender Mario Lessard was torched to the tune of a 5.45 playoff G.A.A.
The remainder of their tenure
The following season saw the line take a step back, as although Dionne (117) and Taylor (106) remained amongst the league-leaders in points, Simmer dropped back to a mere 39 in an injury-plagued season. As the Triple Crown Line went, so went the Kings, falling to a 24-41-15 record and yet, amazingly, actually squeaking into the playoffs and even winning their first round series. In 1982-83 it was Dave Taylor’s turn to suffer reduced numbers due to injuries, playing in just 46 games and recording 56 points. Without one-third of the high-powered attack, the Kings landed with a thud into the cellar of the Smythe Division, missing the playoffs altogether. By 1983-84, the wear and tear of the NHL was beginning to take its toll on the trio, not to mention Father Time. Although Simmer and Dionne still managed to register 92 points, Taylor (again, due to injuries) only had 69, and once again, the Kings ended up as cellar-dwellers.
Alas, the Triple Crown Line was at the end of its run as one of the league’s greatest scoring lines.
The end of an era
Sure enough, the end came on October 24, 1984, as Charlie Simmer was traded to the Boston Bruins for a first-round draft pick. Marcel Dionne played for the Kings for another three seasons, hitting typical Dionne-like numbers for the first two but falling off somewhat in 1986-87. He was subsequently traded to the New York Rangers for Bobby Carpenter and Tom Laidlaw. Dave Taylor stayed with Los Angeles through the end of his career in 1993-94, remaining a key player but never again reaching the heights he did during that prolific era. In fact, none of them did.
The legacy of the Triple Crown Line remains intact. Dionne saw his number retired by the Kings in 1990 and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1992. He currently serves as “Royal Ambassador” for the team. Dave Taylor played in more games (1,111) than any other King and eventually served as General Manager from 1997-2006, assembling what should have been the second greatest scoring line in team history when he put Ziggy Palffy, Jason Allison and Adam Deadmarsh together during the late 90′s/early 2000′s — only to see that line decimated by injuries. Charlie Simmer ended his career more quietly, finishing as player/manager of the minor league San Diego Gulls. He now serves as a part-time color commentator of the Calgary Flames.
A short retrospective of the Triple Crown Line can be seen here:
Although the Kings did not achieve the kind of success the Triple Crown Line deserved to see during their tremendous run, the players most certainly did. All three helped re-write the books during their stay in Hollywood, and all remain a cherished legacy for not only long-time Kings’ fans, but the NHL as well.
Bob Berry may have said it best: “As the coach, I always say my worst decision ever was assigning Charlie to the minors during training camp, and my best decision ever was recalling him to play on this line. Charlie and I played together the year before in the minors when I was a player-coach, so I knew the goal-scoring skills he had. He and I were always close. Marcel and I had a great relationship. He was always wonderful to work with and he was always good to me and my family. He was also a tremendous team guy. And Dave really paid the price to make some of the plays he made. He would come out of the corners with lots of bumps and bruises. In all, the trio just had great chemistry, and they were really, really special players and people.”
Indeed they were.