Charlie Simmer - The Final, And Most Unlikely, Jewel In The Kings’ Famous "Triple Crown Line."
Before the evening of Jan. 13, 1979, Simmer hovered on the NHL’s fringe. He had already been released by one team. He had spent all but three games of the previous season in the American Hockey League. He had been cut in training camp by the Kings months earlier. When Simmer’s moment arrived, he grabbed it.
Eager for some scoring on that January night, coach Bob Berry put Simmer, then 24 years old, on a line with Marcel Dionne and Dave Taylor. The move would prove to be magical, and would propel Simmer to a great heights in a 14-year NHL career, one in which he totaled 342 goals and 369 assists in 712 games.
Among all-time Kings, Simmer ranks seventh in goals (222) and ninth in points (466), and is remembered for his part in one of hockey’s most famous lines. Simmer will be honored, in a pregame ceremony, Saturday night at STAPLES Center as part of the Kings’ ``Legends Night’’
``I’m really excited and proud to be a part of it,’’ Simmer said in an LAKings.com interview.
The legend of the ``Triple Crown Line’’ is well-known to Kings fans, but what Simmer accomplished, particularly during a 2 1/2-year stretch starting in Jan. 1979, remains staggering.
When united with Dionne and Taylor, Simmer scored 21 goals in 38 games to close out the 1978-79 season. The next season, he scored 56 goals in 64 games. The next season, he scored 56 goals in 65 games. That’s a total of 133 goals in 167 games, or an average of 0.80 goals per game. For some context, in his brilliant NHL career, Wayne Gretzky averaged 0.60 goals per game.
``We got a lot of ice time and it just seemed to grow and blossom, for no particular reason other than we went out there as a line, a group, a unit, and we played as a unit,’’ Simmer said. ``It wasn’t a matter of setting Marcel up or setting me up. Each of us had our own little niche out there.’’
What heights could Simmer have reached? It’s impossible to know. His production dipped for a couple seasons after he suffered a devastating broken leg near the end of that 1980-81 season, and he left the Kings in 1984 after a messy contract dispute, but Simmer’s legacy with the Kings is secure.
``Charlie was the perfect complement to us,’’ Taylor told NHL.com in a 2009 story. ``He's a big guy with great hands. He could finish around the net. And he had excellent hockey sense. He knew where to go on the ice and find the open spots.’’
Early on in Simmer’s career, the signs of a breakthrough were there but it took a while.
Simmer was drafted in 1974 by the NHL’s California Seals and the WHA’s Cleveland Crusaders. Simmer chose the NHL and, ironically, the California franchise moved to Cleveland two years later. In his first three pro seasons, Simmer wasn’t able to make a huge impact. He split his time between the NHL and the minor Central Hockey League and totaled 11 goals and 14 assists in 80 NHL games.
After the 1876-77 season, Simmer, then 23, was cut loose by Cleveland. Simmer said he had two contract offers that summer, one from the Kings and one from the Buffalo Sabres.
``It was a matter of me trying to figure out which team I could make sooner, and prove myself hopefully, that I belonged in the NHL," Simmer said.
Simmer chose the Kings but didn’t immediately achieve his goal. In his first season, Simmer played only three games with the Kings but did have 42 goals in 75 games with the Kings’ American Hockey League affiliate in Springfield, Mass. The coach of that team was former Kings player Bob Berry.
The following fall, before the start of the 1978-79 season, Berry became coach of the Kings, but Simmer was cut near the end of the training camp and returned to Springfield, where he had 13 goals in 39 games. In the second week of January, Simmer got word that he had been called to the Kings.
Simmer’s expectations were not exactly high.
``They were at the end of a long road trip,’’ Simmer said. ``They had had some injuries, and they were going to Detroit and then to Boston. Of course, Springfield, Mass., is not too far from Boston, so I thought, `OK, I’m going to pack enough for the two games, and bide my time there.’ At that time, it was kind of discouraging. I had no idea what was going to happen. In fact, I was having such a tough time that it was a matter of, `I’m going to go to Europe or I’m going to quit.’’’
Fortune finally turned Simmer’s way.
Berry had been in search of a winger to play alongside Dionne and Taylor. With the Kings mired in a three-game losing streak, Berry put Simmer on that line. As Simmer recalls it, Dionne scored four goals, Taylor scored two and the Kings beat the Red Wings 7-3.
The Kings beat Boston 6-3 the next night to end the road trip. Simmer met with Berry and thanked the coach for the opportunity to play two games with the Kings.
``He said, `You’ve got to go back.’ And I said, `Yeah, I expected that,’’’ Simmer said. ``He said, `No, go get some clothes and be back on a flight to L.A.’ It was kind of a neat surprise.’’
Before long, the line took off. Simmer finished the season with 21 goals in 38 games.
``People always ask, 'What was the greatest coaching move you ever made?' And I say it was putting Charlie Simmer on that line,’’ Berry said last year. ``They say, 'What was the worst move you ever made?' I say, 'Sending him down to the minors in training camp.
``With us, Marcel and Davey were always OK, but that third piece was always missing on that side. Then Charlie stepped into it and just owned it."
In 1979-80, the trio combined for 146 goals. That season, Dionne led the NHL with 137 points and Simmer tied for the league lead with 56 goals. In 1980-81, they combined for 161 goals, and each player had at least 105 points (Dionne totaled 135). It is believed to be the first regularly-constructed line in NHL history in which each player totaled at least 100 points.
``Playing with those guys, it wasn’t a matter of who was going to get more goals or more points,’’ Simmer said. ``It was (about) playing together and realizing, very quickly, the chemistry that we had. There were no set plays until we tried things that would work, and then we would say, `Let’s try this again.’’’
Simmer was riding high until late in that 1980-81 season, when he suffered a broken leg. Still, Simmer missed only the first 30 games of the following season before he returned with the Kings.
``(The doctor) said, `We can cast you from hip to toe, and it will be six to seven months, or we can put metal in your leg and you’ll get going right away,’’’ Simmer said. ``It was amazing how, the next morning, it was all done. That next afternoon, after coming out of my sleepy time, there was a lady working on my leg already.’’
Simmer had only 15 goals in 50 games upon his return, but was able to play in the playoffs and the ``Miracle on Manchester’’ series against Edmonton. Simmer steadily improved, with 29 goals in 80 games in 1982-83 and 44 goals in 79 games in 1983-84.
Things turned sour for Simmer and the Kings in 1984, when a contract dispute led to a trade to Boston. Simmer played parts of four more seasons before he left the NHL for good in 1988 at age 34, after a 50-game stint with Pittsburgh in which he scored 11 goals.
After a brief stint as a minor-league coach, Simmer reunited with the Kings, in a way, during their 1993 run to the Stanley Cup Finals, when he served an an analyst for Prime Ticket. Shortly thereafter, the new Anaheim franchise hired Simmer for TV work, and he later worked in the same capacity for the Phoenix Coyoets. Now, Simmer does TV work for the Calgary Flames.
Simmer, though, said he continues to keep tabs on the Kings and is pleased to see the team’s renewed outreach to former players. The Kings, Simmer said, will always feel like his ``home’’ team, the team that first gave him a shot to thrive in the NHL.
``I was like, `I did it, I made the NHL,’’ Simmer said of first becoming a regular with the Kings. ``Then it just blossomed after that.’’