As Todd McLellan told us multiple times at his introductory press conference, the players gave themselves permission to take the season off. I want to tell you, I think Rob Blake took the season off as well.
Or maybe not…
Ever since October 29th, I’ve touted Rob Blake as the Mad Scientist, concocting a spicy of mix of present and future, lurking in the weeds Machiavellian-style, while executing a plan that few could ever conceive to pull off, changing the Kings on the fly while only tanking one season on the route to the playoff dominance we all got used to from 2012-2014.
In my Mad Scientist article, I was basically mocked. The gatekeepers in the media told us that tanking was a bad idea and these players were uncoachable. We were told that despite being one win away from a number two seed in the 2018 playoffs that this team suddenly couldn’t keep up with the new younger and faster NHL.
The Kings did everything to make that a reality. Keeping John Stevens instead of going hard for Barry Trotz. Not hiring an offensive assistant coach to replace outgoing Pierre Turgeon. Assembling the worst pre-season schedule ever, virtually guaranteeing that the first dozen games would effectively be the real training camp.
Right there, I outlined a three-point plan to restore the Kings to greatness once again:
1. Keep Coach Stevens because leaving Stevens at the helm turns potential wins into close losses which would get the Kings a top draft pick in June. Well, Rob did me one better here. He hired the worst coach ever in Willie Desjardins. A coach so bad that he couldn’t run a practice.
2. #LoseForHughes. Okay, okay, so the draft lottery didn’t exactly go as expect. I hear you when you say the fifth pick in the draft is like getting a Beanie Baby at the county fair when you really really want that giant albino white tiger. Especially when Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko are sitting there at picks one and two.
3. Get Ilya Kovalchuk to work the back channels to recruit the big prize: Artemi Panarin. Sound far-fetched? I bet you didn’t know that Kovy sold the Breadman his prized BMW that Vladimir Putin gifted to Ilya after the Russians took the 2018 Olympic gold, did you? Yeah, not so far-fetched now, is it?
After the hiring of the Kings’ 29th head coach, Todd McLellan, I was asked, “What do you think this says about Blake as General Manager and his vision?”
First and foremost, let’s say that Blake just started. This is only his third off-season. Dean Lombardi was on the job six years before the 2012 Stanley Cup run. We need to give Blake a little bit more time before he’s truly judged. Two years isn’t enough (and certainly six years will be too long).
Yes, I hear all of you blowing up my email about the one thing he had a full say in: his coaches. John Stevens was given the job in 2017. Was he was promised he would get the gig after Darryl Sutter retired? When Sutter was let go after the 2016-17 season, Rob did the lazy thing and gave Stevens the job.
That worked out pretty well but there were plenty of warning signs that Stevens wasn’t the right guy. From long stretches where the team couldn’t score to not being able to muster a tangible effort in the last game of the season that would have secured a second seed in the playoffs. “Vanilla Rob” (as one of my Jewels colleagues calls him) stood pat when Barry Trotz became a free agent (big mistake, huge!). We all know what happened from there with Lost Willie D. for the last 69 games of last season.
As much as we all hated Todd McLellan in San Jose and Edmonton, the fact remains that his teams respond to him. The Red Wings, Sharks, and Oilers were better with him behind the bench. Mike Babcock tabbed McLellan to work with all of the forwards and it paid off handsomely with the Wings becoming a power play monster for his three years there and taking home the Stanley Cup in 2008.
Side note here: Babcock has never been the same coach since McLellan left to coach the Sharks. Some playoff success, but look at the anarchy that almost was in Toronto this season. You could say that McLellan was the brains of those coaching staffs. Or you don’t have to...
The Sharks were perennial winners under McLellan but as Drew Doughty pointed out, the big guns for the Sharks typically shrink when it matters. Even in the year the Sharks decided to find new blood behind the bench, McLellan still willed 40 wins from a non-playoff team before being relieved of his duties.
And the dysfunctional Oilers who have made the playoffs only once since 2005? Well, under McLellan, they were one win away from the conference finals. They lost a seven-game series to Anaheim where two games were actually stolen by the Zebras in the closing minutes. (Don’t believe me? Fire up YouTube. The evidence is there.)
The aforementioned Doughty said after their season that the Kings needed someone to “kick their ass.” You can’t blame Blake for listening to his team. McLellan will definitely take names and kick a little ass.
Want an example of accountability that everyone spoke about at the press conference? Look at Pavel Datsyuk. The Russian points machine was turned into a 200-foot player by McLellan. He was a minus two the year before McLellan arrived in Detroit and turned him into a three-time Selke Award winner.
As a matter of fact, look at how well to Eastern European and Swedish players speak about him. Last I checked, the Kings have a lot of those guys, and are heard to be recruiting some too.
So, after three tries, it looks like Blake finally got the coach right. But, seriously, this is the off-season that determines whether Blake has what it takes to be a great GM.
For the last week, I keep hearing Blake wants to trade down in the draft for more assets. C’mon Rob. Not only is Kirby Dach* an excellent consolation prize, but proving your acumen as a wise drafter is absolutely essential to your legacy. Please stop sending your media henchmen to tell us that the picks are seldom decided by you and rather by your scouts. All of us who pay the bills in the cheap seats expect you to do the heavy lifting here.
As a matter of fact, I am fully expecting you to call Ray Shero daily until the draft to pry Jack Hughes from him. Start with this: Jeff Carter, Gabe Vilardi, the fifth pick, and a second rounder. Who says no? If Ray does say no, throw in Jonathan Quick if you have to.
I think it’s time for Blake to get super aggressive. I mean, he can’t mess this up much worse than it is. What, are the Kings going to finish 31st instead of 30th? The best lesson he can learn as an NHL GM is this: Build around your core guys, dump everyone else who doesn’t matter, clear as much cap space as you can.
Right now, he’s stuck in GM purgatory, which brings me back to the Mad Scientist conspiracy I cooked up. Following the plan will tell if he’s the man for Los Angeles:
- Hire the right coach (check-check and done!).
- Trade for Hughes or draft Dach. Whatever you do, don’t trade down. If you thought the heat was on with John Stevens’ 4-8-1 start or the disaster that was Willie Desjardins, try to spin why you traded down to an already angry fan base. Trust me, you’ll never dig out.
- Stop the public charade with Ilya Kovalchuk having to “buy in.” Give him full access to the private jet to fly Artemi Panarin out to party in Manhattan Beach with their significant others and show him why the beaches in LA are better than the beaches in South Florida.
- Clear as much salary space as possible.
Do these four things and Rob Blake will earn his stripes as a Los Angeles legend. Until then, the the jury is out if he’s a Mad Scientist or a Terrible GM.
* - Meet Kirby Dach: