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Kings expect to be busy ahead of Trade Deadline, GM says

Blake discusses strategy, ongoing rebuild, trying to be patient with NHL.com

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

NEW YORK -- Rob Blake understands what the Los Angeles Kings players are dealing with in the run-up to the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 24 at 3 p.m. ET because he's been there before himself as a player on a struggling team.

A Hall of Fame defenseman, Blake, now the Kings general manager, watched teammates get moved prior to the NHL trade deadline, including Wayne Gretzky in 1996, and was part of a deadline trade too, in 2001 from the Kings to the Colorado Avalanche.

"I've obviously been through it before as a player," Blake said, "and it's not easy on those veterans every day."

Blake is now the one in charge of putting veteran players through the challenge they'd rather not experience, getting prepared to uproot everything to go play for another team or being ready to watch teammates they won championships with walk out the door.

They already traded forward Kyle Clifford, a two-time Stanley Cup champion with Los Angeles, and goalie Jack Campbell to the Toronto Maple Leafs. More players are expected to be on their way out of L.A.

The Kings (19-33-5) are last in the Western Conference and Blake may as well hang for sale signs around pending unrestricted free agents Tyler Toffoli, Trevor Lewis, Ben Hutton, Joakim Ryan and Derek Forbort at the top of the list.

Alec Martinez, a defenseman signed through next season, is also expected to be traded, either prior to the deadline this season or in the offseason.

This is all happening because Los Angeles is in the early stages of a rebuilding plan operated by Blake.

Video: LAK@VGK: Martinez capitalizes on turnover

The GM took time in between periods of yet another loss, 4-1 against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, the Kings' fifth in a row in regulation, to update NHL.com on his thought process and what he's thinking with the deadline coming into focus.

 

I'd have to imagine you're a popular guy among your fellow general managers these days. Has it been busy, phone ringing, texts going off, emails coming in regularly?

"Yeah. I think you look at the UFAs and the teams that are out in the playoffs, they're ready to move those UFAs. The teams that are looking for something they're all checking options. Those calls are made here pretty regularly."

 

You've already made one trade. Do you see this deadline -- especially because of the number of players you have that are pending UFAs -- as a best-chance scenario to push ahead the plan to rebuild the roster?

"I think yes with the number of unrestricted free agents. We know we have to get some of these kids playing too. A lot of them have had the accumulation of the season in the minors and we'll stick to that plan going forward, but that kind of plays out here as we go."

 

How close are some of your top prospects and are you looking at them at all for next season? For example, can Alex Turcotte come out of the University of Wisconsin? What about Jaret Anderson-Dolan?

"Anderson-Dolan got a little bit of a look this year. Kale Clague is another one. [Carl] Grundstrom is getting a little bit more of a look this year. [Gabriel] Vilardi is back healthy, but he missed a lot of hockey, so he needs to play. It's early to say if they're ready to play next year. I think we're looking forward to at least getting them the full year in the American Hockey League, and then adding some more to that stable next year."

 

Is there a window here that you're looking at for this rebuild, for when the Kings will be ready to compete for a playoff spot again?

"There's things we look at. You can go over the you know the statistical analysis of a first rounder and a second rounder and these types of picks and when they do play in the NHL. But then it's one thing just to play in the NHL, but to be competitive in NHL and to put up points is another thing. We know there is a process to it."

 

Describe the challenge of being patient now?

"It's hard. It's very hard. It's difficult because a lot of times the moves you make, they're not bringing you back a player immediately to put into the lineup. It's tough to watch and it's hard on some veteran players."

 

Is it similar with coach Todd McLellan, the conversations?

"Todd is real good. I think the impact he's had on the type of game we're going to play and the style we're going has been good this year. We don't get a lot of conversion. Our guys aren't scoring at a very high rate. We generate a lot of shots and you hope the more skill you can put in the lineup, the better that conversion is, but his whole focus this year when I talk to him is make sure that process and how we're going to play is hammered home every day."

 

 

How hard is this to go into games, go into a season, next season too probably, with the understanding that the team is not expected to do anything big and you probably don't have high expectations either, especially as a competitive person who wants to expect to win?

"Yeah, it's difficult, but we put on different expectations. I know one of them this season obviously was with the game plan and the process, and the other is to be competitive. Be in the games and give yourself a chance to create that excitement. But a lot of our focus within the team internally this year was on the type of game we will play, and we understand that we have to add some skill to that too."

 

Have you found that a player like Alec Martinez, who is signed through next season, has more value on the trade market? Is that legit?

"Right, but different teams have different needs. We look at a lot of different options. I don't know if we can specifically pinpoint it down right now." 

 

Fair to say that you're just in the market for picks and prospects now?

"Yes. We've been very vocal this year about that. Last year and this year when we sat back and we looked at the structure of our team structure, the contracts, expiring contracts at hand, and the lack of draft picks over the years there, we had to replenish that. Last year and this year, the main focus has been on that."

 

When you took over as the GM was this what you expected to happen, and in this timeline, too?

"I knew it was going to come to that point at some time. In an ideal world I would have liked to push it out one or two years based off of some of the contracts and some of the different dates on expiring. But last year wasn't a good year at all and we had to kind of speed that process up, but when we looked at it originally, we knew at some time that we'd be in this type of position."

 

Todd has talked about it a number of times that the trade deadline almost seems like it's hanging over the team. Are you getting that too?

"Well, yeah, I felt that last year and I feel a sense of it this year. Hopefully we can get past it this year because I don't see that need as much next year based on some of the contract structures. But, listen, it is hard. I've been in the same position as the players. It's hard when their names are in the press, in the media a lot, but they do have a job they have to come and do."

 

So, are you looking forward to getting past this too?

"Oh, yes. Yes. You want to get your team going in the right direction. Todd will have a big hand in that, and different types of players will get different looks in the NHL here too."

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