Manor OPINION: Rob Blake Will Return as Kings GM Next Season

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Borrow upon any cliche you’d like, it’s almost certainly been a rough week for Kings GM Rob Blake and those in LA management circles. Hell, it’s been an unsettling year.

The pitchforks have been out among even the team’s most faithful fans for weeks, if not months. ‘Fire Rob Blake’ was even trending on twitter at one point.

For whatever it’s worth, we don’t believe there will be a change in the days or weeks to come.

We’re expecting Blake to return as LA Kings GM for the 2024-25 NHL season.

Nothing has been announced by the team, this is an opinion. Early next week, there could be clarity that will officially cement this notion.

The question really shouldn’t be why. If that’s the organization’s decision, the most important question becomes, ‘What’s next?’

People can certainly ask why. Some can even lay out their case against it, arguing vehemently it’s the wrong decision. In the end, it won’t change a thing, if that’s the decision that’s been reached.

Determining what’s next is the best hope the Kings (and their fans) have in turning things around.

For those who absolutely feel the need to argue the point, we’ll engage — although only briefly. There’s something to be said for consistency. Hockey is a sport, and it’s also a business. Consistency and continuity often lead to greater results than constantly changing with the wind. NHL success is not a linear equation either. With only one Stanley Cup winner each year, there are at least 15 other teams who are disappointed, perhaps even as many as 31.

Dean Lombardi had an extended run as GM. He came away with two Cups for his efforts. He also joined a team that had never experienced that type of success before, so he had more forgiveness when he made grave errors. Many fans have argued he should have had an even longer tenure with the club, in spite of some rather horrific blunders. That’s not a slight directed at Lombardi in any way. He will forever be a legend in LA and he more than earned all the praise he’s given. It’s simply pointing out there is a flip side to every coin.

Blake hasn’t been GM nearly as long as Lombardi, it just feels like it. And he inherited the chair after the organization’s most successful run ever. So, there’s less patience and a greater desire to get back to the Stanley Cup Final.

What many fans are likely sick of is that the Kings haven’t won a playoff series in a decade and the big moves they’ve made don’t appear to have gotten them any closer to ending that streak.

Speaking as objectively as possible, Blake has his list of wins as GM, and plenty of losses to stack right alongside of them. If running an NHL team is like high stakes gambling, Blake has yet to win the big pot of chips. Few GMs can say they have, though. And the ones who have guided their teams to a Cup, rarely get to do it a second or third time in their career.

Fortunately for them, though, it only takes that one win to forever brand them a winner.

Will Blake ever get to that point as GM of the Kings? We can’t predict the future.

Which brings us back to reality and the present.

Are the Kings players and management mad? Absolutely.

Can every single person be better and give more next season? They damn well better if they expect different results.

For three consecutive seasons, LA has been eliminated by the Edmonton Oilers. The team and the number of games is rather irrelevant. A loss is a loss. While a seven-game series might be a moral victory in some circles, it doesn’t help a team become better the following year.

The fact the recent trio of postseason exits came against Edmonton may make for great stories and continue to stoke the flames of a rivalry that’s been burning for more than four decades, yet it’s actually inconsequential when looking at things objectively.

Sports are about winning.

The Kings need to win, not regular season games, but playoff games.

So, again, how will they get there? What’s next?

It’s not really one question. It’s a series of questions that will all unfold in the weeks ahead as spring turns to summer.

As we’ve written about before, the team will have roughly $15M to play with this offseason (a quick explanation can be found here, with one of our more traditional full salary cap breakdown articles to come soon).

Priority No. 1 will be signing Quinton Byfield to an extension. It’s not too far-fetched to suggest the Kings would prefer a short-term bridge deal, while his camp may be thinking about something with more term. Keep in mind, Anze Kopitar’s contract expires in two years, and that could be money to funnel Byfield’s way. A shorter-term deal gives the Kings much more flexibility next season and the season after.

Once that is settled, priority No. 2 becomes the goaltending situation. Rookie Erik Portillo is ahead of the curve, yet still not NHL ready. He isn’t expected up with the Kings next season. What does that mean for next year? Great question, still too early to fully evaluate. Ideally, the Kings would look to add a goalie in the $5M range via trade or free agency; something easier said than done. Next year could be another transition year in net. We’ll have to wait and see.

Blake has long maintained he’d like to re-sign Roy, if possible. The math simply suggests that’s a longshot. And perhaps Arvidsson ends up being more important for a team starved for offense — especially considering he’s one of their few right shots.

Next year’s roster will look different regardless of what happens with those two. Defenseman Brandt Clarke is expected to be up with the club next season. At forward, Alex Turcotte and Akil Thomas will be full-time NHL players, as well. What about Sammy Fagemo? Another great question. He lit up the AHL this season, doing everything he set out to do to prove to management he’s a legit NHL option. That will be a situation worth monitoring as the summer rolls along.

How those players are ultimately used — especially in the case of Fagemo — likely comes down to who is behind the bench as head coach. Don’t count out Jim Hiller being the guy. Like we said on the most recent Kings Of The Podcast, a first-round win would have all but guaranteed he’d be back. A Kings exit probably put it at 50/50.

Nothing is set in stone just yet. but those odds have likely increased to about 70/30 Hiller returns. He is widely considered to be one of the brightest minds in hockey. Primarily known as a power play genius when the Kings first hired him two years ago, he’s spent plenty of time under the NHL coaching learning tree and has a plethora of his own broader ideas about running a team. Those thoughts weren’t able to be implemented when he took a team over with just 30-something games left in the regular season. His mandate was make the playoffs. That didn’t leave much time for tinkering. Perhaps a full summer will. We’ll have to see.

If nothing else, Hiller and DJ Smith seem to make a pretty solid 1-2 punch given their previous years together behind the bench in another organization.

What about the line combinations? If you’ve made it this far in the article, how about something juicy to chew on?

We have a long way to go before training camp, but we’re proposing something similar to this:

Dubois – Byfield – Fiala
UFA – Kopitar – Kempe
Moore – Danault – Laferriere
Lewis – Thomas – Turcotte

Anderson – Doughty
Gavrikov – UFA
Englund – Clarke

No. 1 Goalie (starter)
Rittich

There’s a lot to unpack there and we’ll look at it all in-depth in an upcoming article. We’ll leave you with a few nuggets, though.

– Dubois at wing could be just the fresh start he needs (and no we don’t think he’s going anywhere)

– Byfield back to center is the most likely plan for next year

– Danault at 3C just makes too much sense

– Yes, we think there’s at least a decent chance Lewis comes back for one more season at a league-minimum AAV

– If Arvidsson doesn’t return, would Tyler Toffoli be a realistic option as the UFA forward? It’s not impossible to see it happening.

– Where is Jordan Spence? That’s a great question. Is he part of a trade package or does he return?

– What are some names of goalies the Kings could chase after? Patience, we’ll get there eventually.

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