LOS ANGELES — When Rob Blake stood up in a team meeting and addressed the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday as their new general manager, he got the same feelings he used to get when he was the Kings’ captain during his playing career.
The Hall of Fame defenceman has new responsibilities and sky-high standards to meet in his role charting the Kings’ return to championship contention.
The Kings introduced Blake and team President Luc Robitaille on Tuesday, one day after coach Darryl Sutter and general manager Dean Lombardi were fired despite winning Stanley Cup titles in 2012 and 2014.
Blake and Robitaille are beloved former Kings who became club executives in recent years. Both were promoted in the seismic front-office shakeup immediately following Los Angeles’ failure to make the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.
“The success this organization has had, Dean and Darryl took it to new heights,” said Blake, an assistant GM in Los Angeles since 2013. “The opportunity that arose to come and get back to that level again is something you would only dream of.”
Blake plans to turn his attention immediately toward hiring a head coach, but he isn’t in a rush. He also hasn’t decided whether to interview or retain associate head coach John Stevens, the former Philadelphia head coach. The Kings fired assistant coach Davis Payne later Tuesday.
Blake didn’t commit to a plan for a specific style of play in Los Angeles, but it’s clear that the Kings’ days as a deliberate, defence-first team could be ending.
“We don’t score,” Blake said of the Kings, who scored just 201 goals this season, fifth-fewest in the NHL. “It’s been that way this year. There needs to be some emphasis on how we’re going to do that.”
Although they smiled and held up a Kings jersey for photos with AEG CEO Dan Beckerman, the news conference was no celebration for Blake or Robitaille, who praised their departed colleagues for building a winner.
The Kings, who won no championships and had minimal success in four decades before Lombardi’s arrival, fired the winningest coach and longest-serving GM in franchise history.
“We have tremendous respect for Dean and Darryl,” Robitaille said. “Everyone who had the opportunity to work closely with them is better for it.”
Beckerman, who runs Phil Anschutz’s sports-entertainment conglomerate that owns the Kings, also effusively praised Sutter and Lombardi. Yet he also flatly described the Kings’ recent failures as unacceptable, no matter their previous successes.
Los Angeles has won just one playoff game since raising the Stanley Cup for the second time in franchise history in 2014. The Kings also played a deliberate, defence-first style of hockey in recent years, often appearing out of step with a young, fast league.
“With what this team has accomplished in the last several years, in 2012 and 2014, the bar is set extremely high,” Beckerman said. “This business is about success, and we have not met our goals the last three years. We need to be competing for championships every year, and we haven’t met that objective the last three years.”
An inability to fire the players is a common refrain used to justify a coaching change, but the Kings don’t want to turn over much of their roster.
A veteran group led by captain Anze Kopitar, defenceman Drew Doughty and All-Star forward Jeff Carter — who all attended Blake’s news conference — appears to be staying in place.
“We believe this team has the core in place to compete for the Stanley Cup,” Robitaille said.
Kopitar, Doughty and Carter all expressed regret and disappointment about the team’s failures leading to their mentors’ departures, yet they also were excited about two former players taking over the franchise’s direction.
Kopitar played alongside Blake from 2006-08 during his first two NHL seasons. Doughty also has developed a tight bond with Blake, his fellow defenceman and southern Ontario native, in recent years while Blake was an executive.
“It’s no secret that we don’t score goals,” said Doughty, the 2016 Norris Trophy winner. “We’re a defensive-minded team. I don’t want that necessarily to change, because defence wins championships. If we can keep our defensive structure in place, so that at the same time we find a way to open up and score more goals, I think we’d be an unbelievable team (if) we could get those two together.”