Rob Blake Saga Part I: The Precursor

Credit: Jae C. Hong, Associated Press

The predecessor to Rob Blake was Dean Lombardi. Lombardi steered the organization to two championships around a Western Conference Final loss to a surging dynasty in the form of the Chicago Blackhawks. In fact, between 2010-2015, the LA Kings and Chicago Blackhawks claimed Lord Stanley every year except for a 2011 Boston triumph. 2015 marked a pivotal year for both franchises in Chicago and LA. While winning the Cup in 2015, the Blackhawks have since been practically dismantled and seem to act as cannon fodder in the Central division, with one remaining player from their dynastic years. Unfortunately, their one championship member, their longtime captain, Jonathan Toews, is considering retirement due to long-term covid. The Kings, however, held on to four core players until Dustin Brown’s retirement after 21-22′ and the trading of Jonathan Quick this past season. They have back-to-back playoff berths the last two seasons and have established a competitive team.

To start this saga and the pathway that opened up for current Kings’ GM Rob Blake, we look at 2015, which marked the end of an era for the organization.

2015: A Trip Down Memory Lane

The Kings were expected to defend their throne after winning the Stanley Cup for the second time in three years. This was not the case. In the video above, the Kings ended up losing their home opener to the San Jose Sharks, 4-0, backstopped by two goals by Tommy Wingles. The season turned into a proverbial ‘hot mess.’ Slava Voynov, a vital component of the Kings’ two championship runs, as the right-handed defenseman splitting time with Drew Doughty as a potent 1-2 punch, was charged with domestic violence just six games into the season. Slava’s NHL career was finished, while Drew Doughty finished that season averaging 29 minutes a night, starting a trend of Doughty finishing in the top 3 TOI every season since.

One of the better moments of the 2014-15 season

Injuries plagued the LA Kings, which included significant time lost to Tanner Pearson, Marian Gaborik, and Alec Martinez. They also dealt with the substantial decline in Mike Richards. The once captain of the Flyers, and the team’s heart, had his play jump off a cliff. He was waived down to the AHL, where he joined a deep Manchester Monarchs club (they went on to win it all that year). Also: The Mike Richards dilemma will continue in due time. Don’t you worry? 

To try to curb the losses and try to regain momentum in the season, Dean Lombardi made a stunning move that had implications for years to come. Roland McKeown and a first-round pick were sent to the Hurricanes for Andrej Sekera. Sekera would only play 16 games in a Kings’ uniform before a season-ending injury. The 16-game rental cost the Kings a top prospect on defense and a first-round pick in the 2016 draft: which turned out to be Julien Gauthier.

The play that might have signaled the end of Mike Richards, who was never the same impact player after this hit by Dave Bolland in game one of the WCF, 2013.

Lombardi made a last-ditch effort to make a wildcard spot, calling up Mike Richards for a pivotal game vs. Edmonton on April 7th, 2015. The Oilers would strike first in a tense game where the Oilers, a bottom feeder at the time, were looking to play spoilers. While the Kings returned to make the game 3-2, they lost via an EN 4-2. By failing, it was ensured elimination from playoff contention, unable to defend its throne. Disaster, distraught, and dismayed. The Kings sat on the sidelines while their dynastic rivals won the Cup.

The Summer was a prelude to the falling of grace of the championship era. Mike Richards was caught with drugs at the Canadian border, and Jarret Stoll was caught in Las Vegas with Drugs. Both would never suit up for the LA Kings again. The Kings will be paying a yearly penalty for terminating Richard’s contract until 2031-32.

2016: Into the Thick of It

Dean Lombardi wasted no time, and at the time NHL draft, he made another highly controversial trade. It was a trade that shook the hockey world. The Kings acquired Milan Lucic for goaltender Martin Jones, Colin Miller, and the 13th overall pick in the 2015 legendary NHL Draft. It was the only draft that was comparable to the HOF-heavy 2003 class. Yes, with that pick, the Kings could have had Matthew Barzal. Anyways, let’s move on.

After dropping their first three games of the year, the Kings went on to win the next seven. They went on another run in November through December, cultivating a six-win streak. The Kings were a force in the West. The primary issue that was apparent was the Kings D core. Dean Lombardi had signed Christian Erhoff during the offseason to solidify the defense, but his presence was hurting the Kings. Lombardi also addressed snarl/center depth issues due to the drop-off after Kopitar and Carter (Sorry, Nick Shore/Nic Dowd) in a trade with the Flyers for Tampa Bay legends Vincent Lecavalier and Luke Schenn. Erhoff was eventually sent to Chicago in a swap for old Kings’ rearguard in Rob Scuderi.

It wasn’t more than two days later that Lombardi was back at it, sending Valentin Zykov to Carolina for veteran forward Kris Versteeg. After a busy January and February from Dean Lombardi, the team was solidified and remained quiet at the deadline.

The Kings, once solidified, went on a tear in the first three weeks of March, going 7-1-1, which included some thrashings of Chicago on the road 5-0 and Dallas on the road 5-2. Unfortunately, the team looked as if they peaked early, finishing the season 4-6-1, conceding their grasp over the Pacific Division by one point to the Anaheim Ducks.

Rematch with the Sharks

Finishing second in the division meant a rematch with the Sharks, whom, when they last played, the Kings completed a reverse sweep en route to a championship.

The series unfolded as if the Kings were never indeed in control. Joe Pavelski took over the series from game one. Marian Gaborik returning from Long Term IR was less sweet than Patrick Kane the year prior, or years since with Nikita Kucherov, or as recently as Mark Stone. The Corsi giant LA Kings held their advantage in games 1 and 2 and lost. They were steadily controlled by Corsi in game three and won in overtime. In game four, San Jose scored the first three goals on the powerplay and never looked back, finishing 3-2. In game 5, San Jose scored on their first shot on goal less than two minutes in from Kings’ killer Joonas Donskoi and clawed out a 3-0 lead. While the Kings mounted a comeback to tie it up 3-3, the Sharks scored the next three and eliminated the Kings.

The bittersweet season came to an end. Dean Lombardi’s era ended with his termination on April 10th, 2017. He was a two-time Stanley Cup-winning general manager who was forced to deal with the Mike Richards and Stoll drug situations and the falling of Slava Voynov. He tried to keep the championship window open by being aggressive on the trade market, trying to patch the gaping holes of championship pedigree sails.

However, The Sekera trade failed him, as did the trade for Lucic, failing to resign him due to Lucic wanting a long-term plan. Lombardi and company missed out on the most glorious draft since 2003 and are fortunate to walk away with at least a 2014 late first-round gem in Adrian Kempe.

(Takes centerstage): Rob Blake

Next week: Rob Blake saga continues with the breakdown of the 2017 season.

Connor Doyle

US Navy Veteran and UCLA Class of 2024. Background in International Development Studies. Los Angeles born and raised. Following hockey for over a decade.

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