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Four The Kingdom

by Jon Rosen / Los Angeles Kings

A banner season for the Los Angeles Kings will be followed by a banner night for Hall of Fame defenseman Rob Blake, whose jersey will be hoisted to the Staples Center rafters during a ceremony prior to the Kings-Ducks game on Saturday, January 17.

So, if you’re keeping score at home, that’s a Stanley Cup ring, a Hall of Fame induction and a jersey retirement ceremony all in the last seven months for the player who leads all Kings defensemen with 805 games played, 161 goals, 333 assists, 494 points, 92 power play goals and 29 game-winning goals as a member of the club.

“It’s a little overwhelming,” Blake said. “After this it’s all downhill.”

The presentation will mark the first time the organization has retired a jersey since Luc Robitaille’s #20 was raised to the rafters during a pre-game ceremony on January 20, 2007. Blake’s #4 will join Rogie Vachon’s #30 (retired February 14, 1985), Marcel Dionne’s #16 (retired November 8, 1990), Dave Taylor’s #18 (retired April 3, 1995) and Wayne Gretzky’s #99 (retired October 9, 2002 by the Kings; retired league-wide in 2000).

That Blake would have his jersey retired wasn’t as much of a matter of “if” as it was, according to Kings and AEG Sports Chief Operating Officer Kelly Cheeseman, “more about the timing of when and how.” According to Cheeseman, the topic of Rob Blake’s jersey retirement had been discussed for several years.

“I think there are certain guys who are elevated above anybody else amongst the franchise and they become natural fits,” Cheeseman said. “Luc obviously was one of those and it was no doubt a retired sweater the next year. It magically landed on January 20. It was perfect timing. Guys like Luc and Rob are natural players that you don’t have to think much about when it comes to retiring a sweater. As you start looking at who’s next, you start saying, ‘Alright, what are the criteria?’

“If guys are in the Hall of Fame, I think it’s a no doubt discussion, and that’s where we’re at with Rob.”

That means Blake, for the second time in two months, will be arranging family travel and preparing a speech at a significant life event that reflects the contributions he has made both to the sport and the Los Angeles Kings. It’s a profound honor and a labor of love.

Blake started speaking with Robitaille, the team’s Alternate Governor and President of Business Operations during the 2014 off-season to try and pin down the best possible time to hold the event.

“We felt after the announcement of the Hall of Fame and different things coming in this season, something like this could happen,” Blake said. “I’m fortunate to be able to play here a number of years to have that type of an accomplishment.”

The accomplishments go beyond the statistics. The Kings’ only Norris Trophy Winner – he captured the accolade in 1998 – Blake combined punishing physical attributes with an offense bent that featured a cannon of a slapshot. His hybrid attributes on the blue line are inherent in the skill sets of many modern defensemen, many of whom modeled their games after the 6-foot-4, 220-pound presence who retired from the sport in 2010.

“I think back in the day there were stay at home D-men and there were offensive D-men,” Drew Doughty said prior to Blake’s Hall of Fame induction. “It was rare you got the complete package, and he was one of those first guys. I try to emulate my game after him, that’s for sure.”

The respect travels on a two-way street. Because the Kings have won two of the last three Stanley Cups, and because there’s an inside chance that there’s a future Hall of Famer or two on the club’s current roster, it’s not a stretch to think that the team will have to significantly expand the area where it hangs its retired jerseys.

“All these [current Kings] have something that even the [jerseys] that are up there – and mine going up there – we never accomplished here. They won Stanley Cups,” Blake said. “You know that eventually there is going to be a list of guys going up there....The biggest thing for me is being in the franchise or being in the organization for 25-plus years or whatever I’ve been around in and out of it, but the winning aspect of it now [is impressive]. It’s become a tradition here, which it never was before.”

Los Angeles has developed a strong product in its Legends Nights, which have evolved into honorable pre-game ceremonies that allow the organization to laud key figures from the team’s nearly 50-year history.

While fans have taken to Legends Nights well – the first one in 2014-15 will honor Barry Melrose on February 12 and will feature the debut of the Kings’ new gold Legends Night jerseys – next Saturday’s ceremony will be on a much broader scale.

It will be similar to Robitaille’s jersey retirement and should last roughly half an hour. There will be collection of Kings alumni and members of Blake’s family seated around a central stage on the ice. Bob Miller, naturally, will emcee, while the ice crew, youth hockey representatives, in-arena hosts – and even the players during warm-ups – will don #4 jerseys. According to Kings Game Operations, when the team placed its Stanley Cup Banner order with New England Flag and Banner over the summer, it also purchased Blake’s jersey banner with the understanding that a jersey retirement night was likely follow in the near future.

It’s likely to serve as the last jersey retirement ceremony prior to those that will honor members of this current Kings team.

“So the question is ‘What are the criteria [of retiring jerseys] moving forward?’” Cheeseman said. “Because the bar probably will be raised, but there are going to be some no-brainer conversations when it comes down to this team that raised the first Cups. These guys are going to have numbers that well eclipse any of our franchise records in most categories. There is no question about it. I’d say that we would reserve that debate, but it’s probably something where you’re going to see a significant amount of numbers being retired and we’ll start looking like the rafters of Detroit and Montreal and some of these great historic franchises.”

Of course, the 35 combined Stanley Cup banners between Detroit and Montreal are worthy of emulation as well. Between the pair of Stanley Cups he won – one as a player in Colorado and one as part of Los Angeles’ management – the Kings, with Blake serving as Assistant General Manager, will look to continue to chip away at that the totals of those two Original Six teams.

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