Whalers owner Richard Gordon brought the media to his Trumbull Street office Tuesday to confirm he had fired Ed Johnston as vice president and general manager -- three years to the day he was hired.

But the more Gordon spoke at the 75-minute press conference, the more evident it became the decision was based on more than hockey.

There is a Hartford in the Hartford Whalers that Gordon said Johnston did not come to know, grow with and understand.

"This is a very small town in many ways," Gordon said. "This town needs to know you, all about you. It's a Yankee mentality. That means you've got to reach out and be involved in the community. That's something we negated the last three years. We lost track of our roots.

"This is a hard feeling, a difficult thing to do. But I'm kind of relieved in a sense. We've got to fill the void. Our next move has has got to be much more positive, more experienced. Ed did a good job in the draft and rebuilding the farm team. But we didn't win enough and it showed up in the box office."

Hockey statistics alone were grim enough to end Johnston's stay with the Whalers. With a 26-41-13 record and 65 points in 1991-92, the Whalers had their worst season since 1982-83 and finished 20th of 22 NHL teams.

In his attempt to boost the Whalers above .500, Johnston pulled the trigger on 32 trades and dealt one fan favorite after the other.

Ron Francis. Gone.

Mike Liut. Gone.

Kevin Dineen. Gone.

Ray Ferraro. Gone.

Ulf Samuelsson, Dave Tippett, Dean Evason, Joel Quenneville. Gone. Gone. Gone. Gone.

After Johnston had arrived from the World Hockey Championships in Czechoslovakia Monday night, Gordon called him to Avon Old Farms for a meeting. EJ soon got the message.

He was gone, too.

Gordon said coach Jim Roberts' fate rests with the next general manager.

Assured he would receive the $900,000 promised him on the remaining three years of his contract, Johnston went to the Whalers office, cleaned out his desk and went home. Tuesday morning, he left town.

Johnston had no comment for the media. Public relations director John Forslund said he believed Johnston had gone to Boston to spend some time with his close friend Bobby Orr.

Forslund said Johnston might be available for interviews in about a week.

Liut, the Washington Capitals free agent goalie, is seen as the frontrunner to replace Johnston. Gordon spoke to Liut Friday when he was in the area on a personal visit. They chatted again Monday and Gordon said he'll meet with Liut today.