Benning's playoff King-dom collapses, but traded defenseman glad to be Flyer

February 23, 1992|By Jay Searcy | Jay Searcy,Knight-Ridder Newspapers

PHILADELPHIA -- When Brian Benning boarded the plane with his Los Angeles Kings teammates for Edmonton, Alberta, on Tuesday, he was the top-scoring defenseman on the team, a big part of the power play, a solid part of a team that includes Wayne Gretzky and some other of the NHL's high-profile players. The Kings were in second place in their division and headed for the playoffs with a shot at the Stanley Cup.

But Benning wasn't on the return flight with the Kings. He won't return to Los Angeles until March 3, when he will be traveling with the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers, as in the last-place Patrick Division Flyers, a team desperately chasing the last playoff spot, nine points away with time running out.

It happened so suddenly that Benning didn't even have a chance to go home to Manhattan Beach, Calif., and pack. He hasn't seen his wife. He just got a telephone call in his hotel room in Edmonton on Wednesday morning and was on a flight to Philadelphia that afternoon.

"Hello, Brian?" It was Kings general manager Rogie Vachon. "It's Rogie. I'm afraid I have some bad news for you. Your name came up in a trade. We've moved you in a three-way deal, and you'll end up in Philadelphia."

Usually, you have a warning. A rumor. A story in a newspaper somewhere. That's the way it was when Benning was traded to Los Angeles from St. Louis, the team that had made him its first choice (26th overall) in the 1984 draft. Not this time. This time it was total shock. He couldn't even remember what day it was.

"Everything changes," Benning said Friday after his second practice session at the Flyers' complex in Voorhees, N.J. "You change friends, change teammates, change the family. I just picked up the phone and called my wife," he said. " 'Hello, Caroline? We're moving again.' "

Caroline, a registered nurse, will have to quit her job and look for another. Again.

About the only thing that won't change, Benning said, is his game. "The coaches called me in yesterday and today and talked about team style and what I'll offer to the team -- skating with the puck, making quick plays, getting involved physically, being feisty, power plays, penalty kills -- and that's basically me. They obviously knew all about me, know what I'm capable of."

There is never a problem with loyalty when an athlete is traded, he said. So few players today finish playing where they start. You treat it as business, work your hardest. It's whatever uniform you're wearing. It's much harder for a fan to change loyalties.

On the plane here, his mind stopped spinning long enough to think about his new life. He thought of the Broad Street Bullies of the '70s, seeing them when he was a boy growing up in Edmonton. He thought about wearing the Flyers' emblem and all the tradition it represents. He thought of the vocal Philadelphia crowds and of the Spectrum, traditionally one of the toughest arenas in the NHL on visiting teams. "It's a good hockey town, and that's important," he said. "In Los Angeles, it was more of the thing to do."

He tried not to feel rejected, but every traded player subconsciously looks at what or whom he was traded for and gets a sense of his worth. "You think about it," he said. "But you don't know all the reasons or the personalities involved. You can't look at it that way. It's sad sometimes. There's a lot you have to give up, a lot you have to redo. But it's part of the game of hockey."

Against Washington last night, when he wore the Flyers' emblem for the first time, he was listed as the sixth-best scorer on the roster (with 32 points), behind leader Mark Recchi (70 points), the former Pittsburgh right winger who was the star of Wednesday's trade.

Recchi was making his first Flyers start, too. And in a sense, it was a new start for all the Flyers, because this isn't the team that lost to New Jersey in overtime on Tuesday night. That team had Rick Tocchet, Kjell Samuelsson and Ken Wregget, all with Pittsburgh now.

The initial, admittedly selfish, thoughts about being in the Stanley Cup finals this year with Los Angeles have passed, Benning said.

"That's over. Right now, I'm excited about being here," he said. "Right now, I'm fighting for a playoff spot with a new team. I think I can help."

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