Game Day #45: Kings-Ducks Preview
The Rob Blake "I really like you but I'm not in love with you" jersey retirement ceremony
Los Angeles Kings v Anaheim Ducks (Staples Center)
Time: 6:30 PM
Enemy reading: Anaheim Calling
Ducks (projected) lineup:
Patrick Maroon-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry
Matt Beleskey-Ryan Kesler-Kyle Palmieri
Andrew Cogliano-Rickard Rakell-Jakob Silfverberg
Devante Smith-Pelly-Nate Thompson-Tim Jackman
Cam Fowler-Ben Lovejoy
Hampus Lindholm-Francois Beauchemin
Clayton Stoner-Sami Vatanen
Kings (projected) lineup:
Marian Gaborik-Anze Kopitar-Justin Williams
Dustin Brown-Jarret Stoll-Trevor Lewis
Kyle Clifford-Mike Richards-Jordan Nolan
Jake Muzzin-Drew Doughty
Jeff Schultz-Alec Martinez
Brayden McNabb-Matt Greene
Go back to 1993. I remember an uber-talented youngster, the leader of a trio of boy defenders who was supposed to anchor LA's defense for a decade. As that fellowship dissolved—Alexei Zhitnik was sacrificed for a worn Grant Fuhr in 1995, while Darryl Sydor was booed out of town a year later—Kings fans came to know Blake as a tease, a disappointment. From 1994-97, he missed 120 out of 212 games because of various injuries.
Then came his 1998 Norris campaign. I remember being thrilled by the win simply because it was the first time since Gretzky's January 1996 departure that the national media had recognized the franchise's relevance. That would also be the only year that Blake would win the team award for Most Popular Player.
And while everybody respected the homegrown, world-class defender in our midst—it was a long 15 years since Larry Murphy—fans gravitated to Luc and "Lappy." In the Blake era, Dan Bylsma & Eric Lacroix were voted Most Popular Player as many times as the future Hall of Famer.
(An aside: Maybe Blake lacked a catchy nickname? Sure, there was plain "Blakey"—I also remember the occasional, not-quite-so-endearing "Big Butt." But it was no "Lucky" or "Little Beaver" or "The Great One.")
Speaking of numbers already in the rafters, Blake didn't have Luc's heart-on-sleeve gregariousness. He wasn't the flamboyant, cheeky last line of defense a la Rogie. Nor did he paint with Gretzky or Marcel's otherworldly artistry. And he lacked that "everyman" Dave Taylor can-do spirit that hockey fans have always felt kindred to.
Neither relatable nor divine, Blake was a state-of-the-art, intimidating-as-hell tank. Move, get out of the way or be crushed by butt or puck. That is, until he inadvertently bowled over Kings' fans when he surrendered the captaincy in 2001.
The details of that drama aren't for here. But all this helps to explain my own conflicted feelings about Blake's jersey retirement. Simply, for a number of Kings fans and for a variety of reasons, he was never truly beloved.
There's no doubt he was the greatest defenseman developed by Los Angeles before Drew Doughty. He is Hockey Hall of Fame material. But a jersey retirement isn't just about on-ice accomplishments; it feels like it should also be about the connection between star and fans.
Among Kings fans, everybody respects Blake's on-ice ability. Some still like him. But how many really love him?