However, despite his glittering resume, which includes 777 points in 1270 games, seven all-star appearances, a Norris trophy in 1997-98 and a Stanley Cup with Colorado in 2000-01, the sure-fire Hall of Fame defenseman paradoxically has his share of detractors as he begins this new phase of his career: thousands of Kings fans.
Rob Blake’s bitter contract dispute
Blake and Kings’ management became embroiled in a contentious contract dispute prior to and during the initial part of the 2000-01 season. Although there was certainly more to the story than what was made public, reports are that the team offered a three-year contract extension for $7.5 million per season, but Blake and the club could not agree to the length of the deal and some of the specifics. As one of the standard-bearers of his era, it has been widely speculated that the NHLPA put pressure on Blake to hold firm to his initial demands.
Ultimately, the two sides could not come to terms. Blake voluntarily resigned his captaincy in September, 2000 and was subsequently traded away in February, 2001 for a package of players that included eventual fan-favorite winger Adam Deadmarsh.
Blake booed loudly
After the trade to Colorado, Blake spent years getting booed by Kings fans whenever he touched the puck when visiting the Staples Center. The enmity was so pronounced that after he rejoined the team in 2006-07, there were still some fans who could not let it go, even as he was scoring 14 goals and throwing bruising body checks for the home team once again.
Upon leaving for division-rival San Jose in 2008-09, the boos intensified, although nowhere near the fever pitch seen immediately after the trade to Colorado. Despite declining skills, he was an effective member of the Sharks’ defensive corps for two season, scoring a total of 17 goals. Blake retired from the NHL after the 2009-10 season.
Unfortunately, Blake’s leaving for San Jose fanned some of the embers of a bygone era, and as such, there are still those that cannot forgive him for the circumstances which led to his leaving the first time — even if, as always, there is another side to the story which he has been reluctant to fully open up about. Speaking of opening up, he did discuss his new position with the team to the press shortly after being hired.
Blake’s comments about becoming part of Kings management
“It’s definitely a challenge,” said Blake, commenting on his new role with the team. “As far as the personal throughout the league, I think I’ve stayed pretty familiar, like I said earlier, with the job I had and paying attention to the games and that. A lot of my perspective on the game is what I’ve gone through over 20 years as a player. Like I said, it’s definitely a transition and a great learning experience.”
Regarding his duties, Blake said, “One of the responsibilities will have to do with Manchester with the farm team. Also, probably on a day-to-day basis, just learning everything. I’ve had lots of talks here with Dean lately on the structure of his staff and how things will go forward. But yeah, you’re correct, one of the main objectives will be watching Manchester.”
Lastly, with respect to his feelings about the team’s improbable Stanley Cup run in 2012, he said, “I’m sure it would have been great to be involved, but the good thing for me was just seeing that that was attainable here. For a lot of years, you weren’t too sure. To see how Dean came in and transformed the organization and took it to it’s highest plateau ever and ultimately winning the Stanley Cup.” Blake summed it up by saying, “I think the best thing about that is that now that all becomes the standard — not just making the playoffs or not making the Stanley Cup finals, but winning the cup is the standard. It’s great to be apart of that going forward.”
Back to the future
The small but loud contingent of critics notwithstanding, bringing back the future Hall of Fame defenseman should portend good things to come for a franchise that has come a long, long way since General Manager Dean Lombardi took the helm in 2006. Blake’s name cache, relationship with the league post-career, and vast hockey knowledge make him the idea candidate to replace Hextall.
Hopefully, over time, the holdout remainder of fans can go back to the future as well. Another Cup or two would go a long way toward making that wish come true.
Walter McLaughlin is a Los Angeles Kings correspondent for The Hockey Writers. He is an avid sports fan, having followed the Kings since living in L.A. in the mid-1970’s, as well as suffering through Seattle sports teams’ general futility. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Finance and has worked in community banking for over 25 years, specializing in SBA loans. He is married and has two daughters.