It was recently reported by Los Angeles Kings insider John Hoven that General Manager Rob Blake would be signing a new, multi-year contract. Blake’s contract was set to expire at the end of this season, but team president Luc Robitaille had no interest in letting Blake see the end of his contract. With the extension fresh in everyone’s mind, I wanted to take a look at what Blake’s done to earn the extension, and what the future might hold.
Blake’s Early Days
To properly assess Blake’s tenure so far you have to look at what he inherited. When he took over in April 2017, the team had just finished in 22nd place and missed the playoffs for the second time in three years. Blake took over from Dean Lombardi, and coach Darryl Sutter was relieved of his duties. The team was heading into a period of transition, several of the remaining stars from the dominant cup winning teams were fading into the twilight of their career and the team was on a downward trend. To make matters worse, they had one of the weakest prospect pools in hockey, having just three first-round picks in the previous seven draft: Adrian Kempe, Tanner Pearson, and Derek Forbort, with Forbort being the only player drafted higher than 29th in that period.
Sutter’s protege, John Stevens, was hired as coach, and together with Blake the Kings were hoping for a small retool to squeeze what was left out of the Stanley Cup-winning core they still had. Things started great for his tenure, the team made a postseason return in his first season, carried that season by Anze Kopitar, who finished with a Selke Trophy and third in the Hart Trophy race, and Drew Doughty, who finished second in Norris Trophy voting. Unfortunately, they were quickly dispatched by the newly formed Vegas Golden Knights, and reality would set in soon.
Blake wanted to load up for one more run, so he went out and signed highly coveted free agent, Ilya Kovalchuk to a 3-year deal, with an average annual value of $6.25 million. With Kopitar and Doughty back on the top of their games, as well as Kovalchuk added to the lineup, optimism was high for the Kings. Unfortunately, Kopitar and Doughty could not replicate their superstar seasons from 2017-18, and Kovalchuk was far from the player who left the league in 2013. It was clear the magic had left this team and by December of that season, the team was transitioning into rebuild mode. Stevens was fired in November of 2018, and in January of 2019, the team made the first trade that signified the start of a full-scale rebuild. Jake Muzzin was sent to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Sean Durzi, Carl Grundstrom, and a first-round pick.
With the team in full rebuild mode, Blake began loading up in the draft. In 2019 they fell to the number five spot despite finishing second worst in the league, but the team still had nine total picks in this draft, including four in the first two rounds. They finished as bottom feeders in 2019-20 once again, this time climbing up to the number two selection, where they drafted potential franchise center, Quinton Byfield. With nine total picks in the 2020 draft, they continued to stockpile prospects.
The shortened 2020-21 season was slightly better for the Kings, but they still finished as a bottom-ten team. In the 2021 draft, they went for quality over quantity, trading up three times to acquire the player they wanted, and finished the draft with just four selections. This was seen as the team adding its finishing touches to the rebuild, and its offseason moves after the draft also fell in line with that mentality. For the first time in a while, Blake made moves to improve the team in the here and now, not in the future. Viktor Arvidsson was acquired from the Nashville Predators in exchange for a second-round pick in 2021 and a third-round pick in 2023. Soon after, center Phillip Danault was signed to a six-year $33 million contract, and veteran blueliner Alex Edler was signed to a one-year $3.5 million contract.
The 2021 summer windows made by Blake indicated a team that is done rebuilding, and one that is looking to make the playoffs now. The three big summer moves have all worked out, as Danault has cemented himself on the second line, Arvidsson has hit his stride recently next to Danault, and Edler was one of the team’s best defensemen before his unfortunate injury. The early stages of this Kings rebuild are done, and Blake did an excellent job navigating it. He reloaded the team’s awful prospect pool, cut away most of their bad contracts, and now has his team sitting in a playoff spot. Based on his frame of work to this point, the contract extension is more than earned.
Of course, that’s not to say his work is done, it’s far from it. Having one of the league’s best prospect pools and a team that can compete for a playoff spot is great, but it will be in the next three or so years that Blake’s legacy is truly built. The reality is, the Kings have more high-end prospects than roster spots. Add in at least three current players who will be fighting for a top-six spot over the next 3-5 years in Danault, Kempe, and Alex Iafallo, and moves have to be made. This is where Blake can go from a good general manager who set the team up for the future, to an excellent general manager who built a perennial cup contender. He will have to identify who is a part of this team’s long-term future, and who is expendable in the next 12-18 months, aggressively pursuing team needs with those he considers expendable.
In a recent episode of Hoven’s Kings of the Podcast that featured Blake, he recognized this need and said the team is beginning to evaluate the talent within the organization. While it may still be a ways off, it appears there are certainly some blockbuster trades in the Kings’ future. A dynamic left-shot defenseman is surely a target and an elite goalie prospect may also be on the list. Ultimately, it’s these moves that will determine how successful Blake’s reign is. He has put the cornerstone pieces in place and now he must build around them.
Blake Deserved This Extension
While his future is still unknown, there is still plenty of work to be done. The job Blake has done over the last five years more than deserves this contract. Regardless of whether you are a fan of all his moves or not, he has undeniably improved this teams standing in the league. When Blake took over, this was an aging team on the decline that had almost no chance at future success considering their bone-dry prospect pool. Now, the Kings are a team on the rise, who has one of the best prospect pools in hockey, is winning games this season, and has the assets to make big improvements moving forward. His job is not done, but Blake certainly earned the right to see this rebuild to its end.
My name is Austin Stanovich, as a lifelong player and fan I’m hoping to bring my own unique perspective on the hockey world, specifically covering the Los Angeles Kings. As a SoCal native I grew up a Kings fan, and after graduating from Long Beach State in 2020 I’ve joined The Hockey Writers crew as a columnist for the Kings.