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Rob Blake says Kings don't need to rebuild

New Los Angeles GM has long to-do list, including hiring coach

by Lisa Dillman @reallisa / Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES -- All of the photos taken of Rob Blake at Staples Center on Tuesday could eventually serve a purpose … for Blake.

The new Los Angeles Kings general manager said he received congratulatory text messages from his peer group, some of them former opponents, former teammates, and some fellow Hockey Hall of Famers. One was from former teammate Joe Sakic, the executive vice president of hockey operations for the Colorado Avalanche, the last-place team in the NHL.

"I had texts from a bunch of guys," Blake said. "I was laughing. Joe Sakic texted me yesterday. He was like, 'What are you doing?'"

The 47-year-old paused and added, "I've got my hair. Do I have to take a picture? So at least I know how much I had when I started this."

There's little doubt the aging process is accelerated for each of the NHL's 31 general managers. The man Blake is replacing, Dean Lombardi, lasted longer than most. Lombardi, whose 11-year tenure with the Kings ended Monday, was fourth in seniority among NHL general managers.

It's been a whirlwind 48 hours since the Kings finished the regular season and missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second time in the past three seasons. Lombardi and Kings coach Darryl Sutter, who won two Stanley Cup championships in three seasons from 2012-14, were fired Monday. Blake was promoted, and Hall of Fame player Luc Robitaille expanded his responsibilities and will oversee the business and hockey operations.

Robitaille was a ninth-round pick (No. 171) by the Kings in the 1984 NHL Draft and went on to become the highest scoring left wing in NHL history. It is an extraordinary journey for the man who showed up at their draft table late in the day in Montreal -- no one was expecting him -- and now is its president.

What would Robitaille, 51, have said if someone had predicted the future then?

"I would have said, 'Let me learn to speak English first,'" Robitaille said smiling.

Video: Rob Blake discusses his new role as Kings VP and GM

Blake, too, was reflective.

"I've been really, really fortunate and lucky to end my career and to be offered a position here and move up now," Blake said. "It's an opportunity of a lifetime."

Blake and Robitaille have a long to-do list. First is hiring a coach. They will open the search to external candidates, but Blake said that doesn't rule out Kings associate coach John Stevens, who was assumed to be the heir apparent to Sutter, but that was under Lombardi's watch.

"What I do think is, very important for me the next couple of days is to sit down with our current staff," Blake said. "They've had an element of culture and success here. We need to continue to build on it.

"I need to get a real good look at them and understand their philosophy going forward and understand also what they think went wrong. It might be totally different than what I'm thinking."

Robitaille, Blake and Dan Beckerman, the chief executive officer of AEG, the parent company of the Kings, each rejected the notion they need to rebuild. Robitaille suggested the word "tweak" or a "reboot."

Beckerman said, "I absolutely would not characterize it as a rebuild. We have so many of the core pieces in place to be successful. I don't see it as an overhaul by any stretch of the imagination. We have the expectation we're going to be back competing for championships immediately. And under Luc and Rob's leadership, there's some changes that obviously need to be made."

Scoring was a season-long concern. The Kings were 25th in the NHL, captain Anze Kopitar dropped from 25 goals to 12, and forward Tyler Toffoli regressed from 31 to 16 this. The Kings had zero or one goal in 27 games this season.

"I'm not going to make anything up. We don't score," Blake said. "It's been that way this year. There needs to be some emphasis on how we're going to do that. … I'm going to lean on these players to find out."

Defenseman Drew Doughty, center Jeff Carter and Kopitar were on hand Tuesday for the news conference. Carter said the game had changed and the Kings had a hard time keeping up with younger players. Doughty said the Kings could use their speed better and suggested they had become predictable in Sutter's sixth season.

"We've been taught the same things over and over for so long," Doughty said. "We're almost easy to read because we've been doing it so long. Bringing a new coach in will definitely change the way we play and make it harder for our opponents because they aren't going to be used to what we're doing."

Kopitar owned his shortcomings. Though he was looking to the future, he couldn't help but think about his long relationship with Sutter and Lombardi. Kopitar and some of his teammates went to Lombardi's house Monday after they found out about the firings. (Assistant coach David Payne was let go Tuesday).

"I saw Darryl too," Kopitar said. "A situation like that, it's really difficult to talk. You do talk, but at the same time you don't want to push it too much. But we've seen each other and I think that's the most important.

"We've worked with Dean for 11 years. We've been right at the very bottom my first couple of years. He came in and he had a vision and started building the team that ultimately won a few years later.

"It might have taken him a few more years than he thought it would. But we did. And we won twice."

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