6:47 PM CDT, September 12, 2013
A few words to those unforgiving fans who didn't disguise their disgust when Rob Blake became the Kings' assistant general manager because they consider him a traitor for leaving as a player in 2001 and again in 2008:
It's time to bury the hatchet. And not in Blake's back.
Former Kings executive Tim Leiweke, who told then-General Manager Dave Taylor to trade Blake in 2001 after the standout defenseman sought a longer contract than parent company AEG would give him, thinks the antagonism is misplaced.
"He has, in my opinion, always been unbelievably professional and a class act and very loyal to the Kings," said Leiweke, now head of Toronto-based Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. "Sometimes in a career a player has to go someplace else to accomplish what he was trying to accomplish at the time and he did, in Colorado, win the Cup."
General Manager Dean Lombardi, who signed Blake as a free agent in 2006 and let him go to San Jose two years later, did extensive research on Blake as a potential replacement for Ron Hextall. Lombardi quickly found a common theme.
"Whether it was management or league people it was off the charts in terms of respect, and it wasn't the phony political stuff," Lombardi said. "People I really respect said, 'This guy's good.'"
That reinforced what Lombardi saw during the two-plus years Blake worked for the NHL's Department of Player Safety.
"The way he conducted himself in meetings, which isn't easy, he commanded a lot of respect. So that was the first thing that showed me," Lombardi said.
"One thing he also has as a gift is a presence. Whenever you can bring back a former player of his stature and combine that with a work ethic, clearly he knows so much about the game, like so many defensemen do. He's very analytical.
"He's been through a number of meetings and it's going to take some time to adjust, but as long as he has the work ethic you have the confidence he's going to do a good job."
Blake wouldn't discuss the specifics that led to his 2001 departure. "Rehashing what happened and going through everything and pulling out my documents and seeing where I stood on things, I don't need to do that. I'm fine," he said. "I've moved on with this thing."
But he's not a prima donna and he didn't rip the captain's "C'' off his jersey, as has been whispered. He offered to relinquish it so the team could move on under new leadership if he were traded before he reached free agency for the first time. He wanted to stay in Los Angeles long-term. The Kings, unwilling to spend big, wouldn't bite. It wasn't his decision alone.
"It wasn't about money and there was no animosity," Leiweke said.
Maybe not at the management level, but fans nursed their grudges.
"The bottom line is I got traded. I didn't have a choice. I had to go. I went there. And that's fine," Blake said. "Look around. You see these decisions made all the time. The good thing was when I left I didn't have hard feelings for anybody in the organization and I think it was the same for them. It was more the fans."
Some of those fans questioned Lombardi's sanity for giving Blake a three-year contract and making him general manager of the Kings' farm team in Manchester, N.H. Blake learned to mute the angry noises.
"There are some people that will never understand the situation. That's their opinion 100%," said Blake, who brings the added element of working on-ice with young players.
"Whether it's coming back here to play or as management, there's times I've left for different reasons. But when the position is here and they're looking for someone to fill it, it's been mutual coming back. It's not like I didn't want to come back."
In the pantheon of misfortunes that have afflicted the Kings — trading draft picks for washed-up veterans in their early years, getting derailed by an illegal stick during the 1993 Cup finals, and the fraudulent acts that sent owner Bruce McNall to jail and devastated the franchise — Blake's first departure should rank as a misunderstood moment and the second as a defensible case of leaving a non-contender for a late-career Cup chase.
He's passionate about the game and knowledgeable about the NHL's inner workings. He has joined former teammates Luc Robitaille, Nelson Emerson and Glen Murray in strengthening an organization that fell short of the summit when they wore Kings' uniforms but which won the Cup in 2012 and is positioned to compete for more.
"You look around and there's the right people in the right places leading that charge," Blake said. "That's to Dean's credit over the years, putting that whole staff together."
Blake can be a valuable part of that. It's time to put away old grudges and recognize the relevance and intelligence he brings to a vital role.
"It's funny the way it all worked out, but it works out," Leiweke said. "He got a Cup, we got a Cup, he's back in the Kings' organization. I would say that's as good a resolution as you're ever going to find."
The only better resolution would be for the hatred to end.
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