Since taking over as General Manager of the LA Kings in April 2017, Rob Blake had worked his way through three Trade Deadlines prior to this season. Each time the league’s annual roster circus rolled around, the Hall of Fame defenseman did his heavy lifting early.
In 2018, Blake executed a Dion Phaneuf for Marian Gaborik deal with the Ottawa Senators two weeks in advance.
One year later, he beat the buzzer by a full month when he moved Jake Muzzin to Toronto in exchange for three assets.
Last year’s Trade Deadline was set for Feb 24. True to form, Blake dealt Kyle Clifford and Jack Campbell to Toronto on Feb. 5, Tyler Toffoli to Vancouver on Feb. 12, and Alec Martinez headed to Vegas on Feb. 19 – leaving little to do in LA in the days leading up to the big event.
If the past 14 months have taught us anything it’s that we really aren’t living in normal times.
Case in point: with about 15 hours — HOURS — until the 2021 Trade Deadline, Blake was still on the clock, with moves to make.
With a noon Monday finish line quickly approaching, veteran forward Jeff Carter was traded to Pittsburgh way after the majority of Penguins fans had already gone to bed.
Then, with about 90 minutes remaining on the clock, forward Alex Iafallo and the Kings reached an agreement on a new contract extension, ending rumors that he may be traded.
With the dust now settled, let’s hear from Blake about the week that was… and a brief eye on the future:
On if the team is now at a point to start importing talent rather than trading it away
In a frame of building, yes. The key with Alex [Iafallo] was locking up what we consider our ‘core.’ He’s come in here, proven to be a very versatile player, very reliable, a real good fit with [Anze] Kopitar and [Dustin] Brown over the years. By extending him, taking a step forward was important to us.
On Carter not being open to a trade a month ago, but becoming receptive to it as they got closer to the Trade Deadline
Yeah, we had conversations with Jeff, and I think we owed him that respect. He’s been a tremendous player for this organization. There’s a group of these guys, like I’ve said, unfortunately numerous times over the last deadlines, that have done so many good things for this organization, taking them to two Stanley Cups. Jeff was that. He was a true professional, showed up every day, did his job, and did it very, very well. I spoke to him [Sunday] night, and [Monday] morning. It’s not easy at all. We understand and respect, he’s going to a good spot there, and we wish him continued success. It’s a difficult part that we deal with, but we can’t be any more thankful for everything he’s done for this organization. He’s been tremendous.
On the importance of signing Iafallo, who is known to fit in well with the team, rather than sign another player at similar cap value
We fully understand what Alex does, how he fits to this team, and the importance he brings to this group. From day one, we were gonna get it done. These things take time, it’s something I’m learning. It’s a process that we have to go through. We were 100% committed to getting him signed. Now, you take other steps, and when you get to the summer, you have the availability to add to the group. Now you have Alex, and you have part of that core going forward. You know where he fits, now you add to that. That’s been solely our focus. We were focused on Alex right from day one. We understood the process, it does take some time to get that done, but he was 100% committed to what we wanted to do going forward.
On the status of restricted free agent Andreas Athanasiou
That’s more ongoing, we’ve had talks [recently]. It’s a little different situation than Alex, being a restricted free agent vs. an unrestricted free agent. We’ll continue to have that dialogue. He’s been a good fit with us. He gives us a dynamic, with his speed alone, and with his skillset. The feeling has been mutual between the two parties. We hope and look forward to getting something done there.
[ed. note: We believe the Kings and AA are close on two-year contract.]
On which players may be recalled from Ontario in the near future
We have to juggle with the four-recall. We have the conscious effort on the back end. Toby [Bjornfot] and Matt Roy would be in our lineup if healthy. Now we have to juggle when they can come back in, based off of timeframe and availability. It’s about setting your roster, then allowing for four recalls going down the stretch, as needed. There will be some roster juggling on that front.
The four-recall rule referenced above is from section 13.12 of the CBA, which limits player movement after the Trade Deadline. Per Puck Pedia – “Starting on Trade Deadline day, teams are only permitted to call up four players from the minors/taxi squad for non-injury related purposes. If there are not enough healthy available players on the team’s active roster, they can call up a player as an emergency recall and that does not count towards the four recalls. However, as soon as a player on the NHL roster is healthy, the emergency recall player must be sent back down.
Most seasons, a team will typically hold onto the fourth recall until the final week of the season to avoid having any emergency situations. With the compacted seasons and taxi squad availability, we may seem teams use the rule differently in 2021. Either way, Quinton Byfield is expected to be one of the Kings four recalls, with the timing being something we’ve discussed recently on Kings Of The Podcast.
On if they ever had a deal on the table to trade Iafallo
No. We were 100% to getting Alex done. It’s a learning process for me, it naturally takes time to get that deal done. We’ve been focused on building a group in here, and Alex has been a part of that group. He’s come in, played alongside [Kopitar] on that line, and been very effective, very reliable, a system type player that constantly is a real good pro. We want to make sure we are taking care of the good hockey players, the guys that are gonna fit and go forward here with us.
On if he considered adding pieces to the roster over the last few weeks
We looked at different options there. Reluctant to move picks and prospects at this time. We were looking at different things there. The focus the last few days there was getting Alex done. We knew where we were there. The moves to further get better and improve will take its course over the summer.
On if he has targeted which two Reign players might be the first to come up to the NHL
Not really, I wanna sort through that defense issue with these injuries and get a little further update on their recovery process. Roy has more of a specific, set date, where Toby Bjornfot is a target, as he’s getting better. He skated again today, hopefully with further testing [soon] he’ll be able to join our practices very shortly.
On what he plans to do with the large amount of cap space the team has this offseason
Get better. We want to try to improve and try to get better. The players have put themselves in a very good position this year, they’ve played extremely hard, we expect that continued here and push for that playoff spot. What we’ll do in the summer is to improve this team.
On juggling taking on cap space for value and keeping the cap space number high
We’ve been looking at all those different options from the summer on, the availability of the cap space. There’s a balance between the cap space and the cash, using that for assets, we’ll continue to look for that. When I say, ‘improvements to the team,’ it’s not necessarily always just a free agent signing. We understand the flat cap over a number of years here, teams will have to be creative to stay or maintain that level. That’s where we’ll engage talks on different players in different situations.
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