During today’s conference calls with Dean Lombardi and Rob Blake, neither man shied away from the fact that some Kings fans – albeit, a small vocal group – may not like the hiring of the future Hall of Fame Player.
Despite a long list of credentials, including being the Kings’ all-time leader in games played, goals, assists and points by a defenseman, some people still live in the past and hold onto what they perceive the truth to be.
So, what is the truth about Blake?
It’s probably a mixture of many different things and may need a book to cover all the key points.
At the end of the day though, and I’ve shared this several times over the past few years, every single person I’ve ever spoken with connected to the game of hockey – both on the record and off the record – have had great things to say about Blake.
If you want the longer version of that point, well, you’re in luck.
During today’s call I asked Lombardi about those who might be critical of this move… and, yes, this was all one answer:
“I guess you can say that about every move a general manger makes, there is always going to be a vocal sector that doesn’t agree. But, the one thing that I’m well aware of… and I understand where that sentiment comes from, it obviously goes back to – what was it now, 20 years ago? I don’t know how you say this, because I was explaining this to somebody else who asked me this question, it wasn’t in a media-type setting. I was explaining to him that in a roundabout way, what happened there is one of the reasons he’s so respected. Now I don’t mean that… and the problem with saying that sounds like it’s a militant or something. I think what people fail to realize during that period is that players were under enormous pressure from the union. That was the time, don’t forget, where the union was beginning to really flex its muscles and was the beginning stages of the players getting to where they are today. Remember, hockey players were well behind the other sports in terms of the strength of the union, which was reflected in their salary.
“We were in the midst of this, and I certainly saw it from the management side. I can’t remember how many times that players were… it was that period where they really came together and everybody’s contact was looked at as having an impact on the other 600 guys. This was purely part of the old theory that a rising tide raises all boats. And Rob, as one of the top defensemen in the league, coming off the Norris Trophy, was clearly one of the most… when the union was looking at who is our biggest wave to raise this tide, it was Rob.
“A player is put in an incredibly difficult position, because on the one hand, clearly he wants to be loyal to his team. I don’t think there’s any question that Rob Blake wanted to be a King for life. But, the player is in a very difficult position where on the one hand, you have an obligation to your team, but then the team becomes bigger as you go onto a team of 600 or however many players were in the league… 20 times 600. I don’t think people understand the amount of pressure that’s put on a player in those situations. You want to stay there, that’s fine. But, that’s not going to be good for the other 599 players, because they need you to get X-amount so that the next player coming up can draft off [him] – ‘I’m 3/4 of Rob Blake, so I should get this.’ That’s how it works, that was the reality of that period.
“It was even from the management side, both managers knew what Blake was up against. So on the one hand you’re going, ‘Wow, that’s not right’, but on the other hand you go ‘Well, he’s doing it for the rest of the players.’ You’re caught in that middle area, where on the one hand it’s a lot of money – yes, no question, but it wasn’t about the money. It was an obligation that was being felt among the players to support each other. So, in a roundabout way, what he did, and subjected himself to that type of criticism on the behalf of 599 other guys, I get it. On the one hand, it’s a lot of money. But, then you look at the emotional part and essentially going on a limb and you say ‘Wow, that takes the risk factor.’ He was obviously very happy in Manhattan Beach and everything else.
“Again, I come back to people in the know, and I’m not saying this was the watershed moment, but people in the business know that this was a reflection of his character. You understand why people would say that’s just greed and everything and yeah I get it. But, there’s another side of this. That’s when, again, I said I called around to every facet of the league, I’m not saying it’s ‘the’ moment, but it’s a reflection of his character in terms of his commitment to a team. It’s just that this team was at this time in this industry, was a much bigger team. It didn’t just involve the 20 players in the room.
“That’s a very difficult thing. I saw some players on my team go through it, and I know how hard it was and I understand some of those players wanted to be in but realized they had enormous pressure put on them from the union. I can’t imagine, from what I saw from my players, being the Norris Trophy winner and what he was going through. So, I get it, but I think that at some point in time, you step back and say wait a minute here. I would not in any way indict him for that one moment in his career. Because certainly this industry hasn’t, I can guarantee you that. Every facet, whether it’s general mangers, equipment guys, players, there was nobody who doesn’t hold this guy… I can’t find one blemish on this guy. Not only not a blemish, but how highly in esteem he was held. I’ll tell you, whenever you go through this, you can always find something. I do my due diligence and I get it. If you put that type of character and commitment, and like I said, if he shows up with the work ethic that he showed with the league, he’s going to be a valuable asset to this organization. I don’t know if that makes sense, but having lived through it, I get it.”
We’ll have lots more with Lombardi next hour – talking Dustin Brown contract extension, the trade for Dan Carcillo, talks with Kyle Clifford and more.
For more from Lombardi, check out the stories linked below.
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