Former Kings Superstar Defenseman Rob Blake Joins LA Kings Braintrust As Assistant GM

ROB BLAKE NAMED ASSISTANT GM: Frozen Royalty brings you in-depth coverage of the Los Angeles Kings naming their former superstar defenseman Rob Blake as their new assistant general manager, replacing Ron Hextall. For those who are critical of bringing Blake back into the fold, be sure to read the next story on Frozen Royalty, featuring Dean Lombardi explaining why the criticism is unwarranted.

Former Los Angeles Kings defenseman Rob Blake was named as the team’s assistant general manager on July 17, 2013.
(click above to view a larger image).
Photo: Wendi Kaminski/NHLI via Getty Images
and the Los Angeles Kings
LOS ANGELES — July 18 turned out to be a big news day for the Los Angeles Kings, who named former Kings defenseman Rob Blake as their assistant general manager, replacing Ron Hextall, who has accepted the assistant general manager position with the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Kings also signed winger and captain Dustin Brown to an eight-year contract extension. A story on that, with comments from Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi, as well as from Brown, will be published later here on Frozen Royalty.

Blake played the majority of his National Hockey League career with the Kings, who selected him in the fourth round (70th overall) of the 1988 NHL Entry Draft, beginning his NHL career with the Kings in the 1990-91 season.

In all, the 43-year-old native of Simcoe, Ontario played 14 seasons with the Kings, from 1990-91 to 2000-01, and from 2006-07 to 2007-08. He also played for the Colorado Avalanche from 2001-02, when he helped led the Avalanche to a Stanley Cup Championship, to 2005-06. He played his last two NHL seasons with the San Jose Sharks in 2008-09 and 2009-10.

Blake had a storied career, which includes becoming the first Kings defenseman to win the James Norris Memorial Trophy in 1998, winning the gold medal with Canada at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, he holds numerous Kings records for defensemen—the list goes on and on.

Blake was also a key member of the 1992-93 Kings team that made it to the Stanley Cup Final, only to be eliminated by the Montreal Canadiens in five games, three of which went to overtime.

Blake indicated that among his fondest memories of his time with the Kings are his first game in a Kings jersey, and reaching the 1993 Stanley Cup Final.

“The biggest one was the first game I played with the Kings,” said Blake. “Walking out of that locker room with Wayne Gretzky, Larry Robinson, Tony Granato, and guys like that, it was a pretty special time.”

“Playing in the Finals in 1993 in Montreal, and having to go through Toronto—I kind of grew up in that area,” added Blake. “I have great memories of the time I was here in L.A. I’ve made this home for the past twenty-plus years, so it’s great to be back involved here.”

Blake will assist Lombardi in all facets of the Kings’ hockey operations, and, like Hextall was, he has also been named as the general manager of the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League, the Kings’ primary minor league affiliate.

Evidence suggests that the move to bring Blake into the fold happened very quickly.

“This all happened pretty quick, early this week,” said Blake. “I was fortunate to be working with Brendan Shanahan in [NHL] Player Safety. When the position opened up here, I heard from Dean Lombardi, [and] had a couple of good meetings with him the last few days.”

“I just thought the opportunity to get back with the team, be in L.A., and with my history with the Kings, I thought it was a great opportunity,” added Blake. “Things kind of moved forward from there. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Blake indicated that working on the management side of an NHL team has been something he has wanted to do since he retired as a player.

“I wanted to be involved in management sometime down the road,” said Blake. “I was never really sure in what capacity. Right when I retired, the opportunity to work with the league with Brendan and [Colin Campbell] came up quick. It was a great transition towards understanding all the different positions in management.”

“In the back of my mind, I always hoped to get into a spot with a team sometime down the road,” added Blake. “Things progressed pretty quick early this week, and being able to step into the situation that Dean has built here, and with the success they’ve had the past few years, they’ve got everything working in the right manner going forward. For me, hopefully, it’ll be an easier transition to jump into it right away.”

Blake also noted that his work with NHL Player Safety will be an asset in his new position.

“With Player Safety, and with Brendan, on a nightly basis, we were watching the games, and getting very familiar with the players on all the teams, so understanding that transition will be good,” Blake noted. “Also, one of the benefits of working with the league was attending the general manager meetings, attending Board of Governors meetings, and understanding the game from a different perspective after I retired. All those things from the past few years that I’ve been with NHL Player Safety will be a benefit.”

Although Lombardi said that he had a “short list” of potential candidates, it appears that Blake was at the top of that list.

“The other guys we were considering, we researched very well on their potential,” said Lombardi. “But looking at the whole package, looking at {Blake]—other than getting into the management experience, which you’re not going to get even when Hexy came in—he only had scouting experience. There’s a break-in period. Other than that, his resume and credentials off the ice are tough to beat.”

“I had some informal discussions with Rob, even when he first retired,” added Lombardi. “You’ve got to be prepared for these things, but I was fortunate to have a guy like this right in our own backyard.”

Although it is highly likely that Blake was indeed at the top of the list, and that the process moved quickly, Lombardi stressed that this was not a hasty decision, by any means.

“Particularly when a franchise has success, you’re going to lose some people,” Lombardi noted. “On the one hand, that’s difficult, but on the other hand, it’s a compliment. You see, whether it’s the Patriots or the Packers in their heyday, it’s just part of the business. When you start having success, other teams want those people. But that’s part of your job as the general manager.”

“I don’t want to say that you have a definitive succession plan, but I knew this day was going to come, eventually, so I had this in the back of my mind,” Lombardi added. “I wasn’t caught completely off-guard, so this wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment thing.”

Why was Blake at the top of his list?

“First and foremost, I think this job entails so much more than people can generally imagine, and I don’t think you can prepare for this in any course, or in any other line of work, so the most important thing, to me, was the willingness to extend the work effort, have a good mind, and dive in,” Lombardi explained. “The critical point for me was the evidence I saw when he worked for the league. He took the job very seriously. He spent a lot of time on the road, and then, when he spoke, it was very clear that he done his homework, and that he’s well respected.”

“That’s the biggest key to this job, in terms of mapping out, and seeing all the trends,” Lombardi elaborated. “That’s almost impossible, because the job entails so many facets, so it basically comes down to a good man and work ethic, and I saw that on display with the league. Working for the league, although the job is different, clearly, you are very much abreast of hockey, You’re sitting there every night, watching three games at once. Sometimes, former players have a tendency to drift away from the game, and not really watch it. But in that job, he had to do it religiously, almost every night.”

The one thing Lombardi emphasized the most was how highly respected Blake is throughout the league.

“The third thing—talking to [people] around the league, whether it was players, general managers, league officials, right down to trainers and equipment guys, I was amazed at how universally respected he is, and that wasn’t anything political,” Lombardi noted. “He’s held in such high regard by so many facets of our business that it’s a real tribute to him—the type of reputation he’s built, as a person, throughout his career. Those types of things are invaluable. Then you throw in the idea of having a former great player who wore the Kings uniform—that’s always been my feeling on hiring former players. They have a wealth of information, but there’s a thinking process you have to go through to get it out of them. There’s a wealth of information in that head of his, and I’m looking forward to mining it.”

“I really like the fact that he commands so much respect from the players,” Lombardi added. “That was universal, across the board. Combine that with his work ethic, and I like the fact, too, that when you talk to him, and this is the other thing, sometimes when guys have played for twenty years, they think they’ve got all the answers. I really like the way he asked a lot of questions, and not questions about whether or not he wanted the job. They were about how to do the job. To me, intelligence is asking the right questions, not having the right answers. That came very naturally to him. He’ll learn in a hurry with that type of mindset.”

Lombardi also pointed to the significance of Blake becoming another alumnus who has returned to the fold.

“It’s tremendous to be able to bring back a guy who’s identified with the Kings, to be part of the culture we’re trying to create, and embrace that culture,” he said. “It’s great to be able to bring back a guy who’s synonymous with this organization. He’s been in this community, so in terms of things away from the rink, his family is here, there’s no issues about how great it is to be in Southern California, so you throw that into the mix.”

“When you look at this group of former Kings who now identify with this franchise, you have [Daryl Evans], Jim Fox, Glen Murray, Nelson Emerson, Mike Donnelly, certainly Luc Robitaille, and now you add Rob Blake to the mix. It’s a great group, and I think that’s important, when we talk about culture, to have a stable of [former] players involved, in some way, with the franchise. It sends a message every day.”

“It’s tremendous that these guys, I’ve noticed, all get along. They have a great amount of respect for each other, and you can definitely see that they still feel that they’re teammates. Those are things that resonate and transcend the organization, and I think that’s just another bonus of being able to bring in a [former] player like this.”

Lombardi also said that Blake will be eased into things, but will have to hit the ground running, nevertheless.

“We started sketching that out last night,” said Lombardi. “The way to approach this is to go to the core issue, which is analyzing cores, and understanding the process we go about in evaluating players.”

“In terms of the core issues, we have the pro meetings coming up in two weeks, and then there’s getting up to speed on how we think,” added Lombardi. “There’s parts of this that I want to take to another level—that always needs to be the case. Getting a handle on what the scouts think, what kind of templates we use, From there, everything branches out. The management job entails so many facets, but the bottom line is that we’re still only as good as our players, and it has to start there. Throughout that process, you learn the basics of the [salary] cap. It’s one thing to get your players [ranked] around the league, but it’s another to value the players.”

Don’t forget the Monarchs.

“In terms of managing Manchester, the roster is almost filled out,” Lombardi noted. “He’ll be getting a handle on how things are run down there. Then you give him certain line items to manage the budget side. He’s also got a meeting scheduled with our amateur guys in Ontario during the first week of August.”

“There’s plenty to do, but like I told him last night, I don’t want to give him 100 things at once,” Lombardi added. “So we start with the core, and as the ancillary issues come up, we deal with them, because I think it could be overwhelming if we throw too much at him. Then you become a jack of all trades, and not a master.”

“That’ll be one of the responsibilities, dealing with Manchester, the farm team, and also, on a day-to-day basis, just learning everything,” said Blake. “I’ve had lots of talks with Dean lately, about the structure of his staff, and how things will go forward. But one of the main objectives will be watching Manchester.”

Blake indicated that the new job will be quite the challenge, but that he relishes it.

“It’s definitely a challenge,” he said. “As far as the personnel throughout the league, I think I’ve stayed pretty familiar with the job that I had, paying attention to the games. A lot of my perspective on the game is [based] on what I’ve gone through over twenty years as a player. I don’t think a lot of that changed over the past few years. I can still have these conversations with the players, and understand that I’ve been through a lot of those situations.”

“As far as the scouting, the amateur and the pro, it’s all fairly new to me,” he added. “I’ve probably been involved with it for twenty years without really understanding it all that well. It’s definitely a transition and a great learning experience.”

Blake noted that he already has a leg up on the development side of the job, thanks to the fact that one of his closest friends is Emerson, who is in charge of player development.

“We go back a long time,” said Blake. “We grew up in the same hometown, spent time together in college, and in the NHL. I’ve been real familiar with his development program the past few years. You start seeing it pay dividends the past few years, with the players who are in the lineup. I think he’s taken that to a whole new step, and has put a lot of involvement in it, working with Dean, and with the rest of the staff. Once they draft a player, the development part of it is of the foremost importance. It’s great to see.”

“It’s kind of nice,” added Blake. “I’m very familiar with him. I’ve been able to watch a lot of his camps, and I’ve spent a lot of time with him the past few years, so I’m kind of up to speed on what he’s doing with the development part of it.”

Blake also noted the recent success of the Kings, something that eluded him while he played for them.

“The good thing for me was seeing that [winning the Stanley Cup] was attainable here,” he emphasized. “For a lot of years, you weren’t too sure. But then, to see how Dean came in, transformed the organization, and took it to its highest plateau ever, and ultimately, winning the Stanley Cup, I think the best thing about that is that becomes the standard. It’s not just making the playoffs, or making the Stanley Cup Final. Winning the Stanley Cup is the standard, and it’s great to be part of that going forward.”

For Lombardi, helping someone get into a career in management of an NHL team is an important fringe benefit.

“That’s one of the neat parts of the job,” he said. “It’s similar to when Hexy came in. He basically only had scouting experience. But it’s very similar, in terms of his aggressiveness in pursuing the job, pursuing knowledge, and putting the time and effort in. That was a hallmark of Hexy, as a player, and it’s the way he pursued this job.”

“It’s all about winning here, but the relationship with the players, or grooming people who are younger, and want to get into this field, and guiding them along the way, it’s a benefit of this job that I thoroughly embrace,” he added.

Despite that, Lombardi warned that Blake might end up regretting his decision, when he quipped, “What he’ll do after one week on the job is say, ‘what did I want to work for this nut for?’”

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