With the Los Angeles Kings limping towards the finish line of another disappointing season, there was plenty of chatter regarding the future of head coach Darryl Sutter. We did not hear as much speculation regarding general manager Dean Lombardi, the man who instilled culture and respectability to a once aimless franchise, as most took it for granted he had his spot secure for the time being.
But sports is a cruel business and AEG wasted no time in dismissing the architect of the Kings’ two Stanley Cup winning teams, replacing him with franchise legend Rob Blake. Placing former stars in the GM chair has had mixed results over the course of history, to be charitable. The Kings of course are no strangers to this phenomenon, watching both Rogie Vachon and Dave Taylor have less-than-successful, though lengthy, stints running the show. Will things be different under Rob Blake?
Blake has spent the last four seasons as assistant to Lombardi, so it is curious the Kings elected to anoint the understudy of the man they just canned. If they were going to keep it in-house, the assumption was that Mike Futa, vice president of hockey operations and the man credited for revamping the Kings’ development system over the last decade, would be the choice. Instead, Futa will serve as the assistant GM to Blake.
Blake’s acumen as an executive is still a mystery. Before rejoining the Kings as Lombardi’s assistant, Blake served as Hockey Operations Manager for the NHL, working in the “war room” with Brendan Shanahan. In addition to his role as Kings’ assistant GM, he also served as the GM for the Ontario Reign and Manchester Monarchs, as well as serving as GM of Team Canada at the Men’s World Ice Hockey Championships.
Kings fans will sit by with bated breath that those executive positions held the last seven years were enough to prepare Blake for the rigors of running an organization. That Futa will be his right-hand man is encouraging. With Luc Robitaille assuming Lombardi’s role as President of Hockey Operations, Blake will hopefully be allowed to focus more on the player personnel side of the job.
Blake is your classic humble Ontario boy, so we do not get much insight into his philosophies as a hockey executive through interviews. He did bluntly proclaim that the team has issues scoring goals during his introductory press conference, a subject Lombardi loved to dance around. Subjectively, Blake is articulate (by athlete standards) and was presumably hired by Hockey Canada and the NHL for a reason.
Personally, I would have searched outside the organization for a fresh set of eyes, much in the way Lombardi came in and changed the culture of the team so many years ago. Putting a team’s former star in charge rarely yields results (check the current mess in Colorado with Joe Sakic). One has to question whether Blake was appointed based on name recognition as much as qualification for the job. This also reeks of the “old boy’s club” mentality employed by many NHL teams, as opposed to other professional sports leagues that have trended towards Ivy League graduates running their teams, with “insiders” serving in more of a consulting role. Blake did attend Bowling Green University for three years, so there is that.
Of course, with the upcoming expansion draft and the Kings securing the consolation prize of a top-10 pick in the entry level draft, this is among the more important offseasons we have seen in the history of the franchise. So perhaps the time was not quite right for sweeping changes, instead shifting power to someone who still has intimate knowledge of the players up and down this organization. The first order of business, of course, is hiring a head coach. Once that is announced, it should go a long way towards telling us Blake’s vision for the franchise.