Rob Blake is off to a solid start with the Kings


Much like (another former Kings assistant GM) Ron Hextall with the Philadelphia Flyers, Rob Blake was handed quite a salary cap mess when he took over for former Los Angeles GM Dean Lombardi.

It’s taken years for Hextall to wade through most of the Flyers’ issues, and so far, it seems like Blake is going to need to follow in similar baby steps. On the bright side, it seems like he’s doing just that.

Passing early – and easier – tests

While losing Brayden McNabb to the expansion draft really stings, the bigger picture so far is that Blake might be capable of making lemonade out of L.A.’s lemons.

Consider this: he re-signed Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson to bargain deals, and very well might have enjoyed a sneaky-great bargain in bringing Michael Cammalleri back to the franchise for just $1 million. Those three forwards cost less than $10 million combined.

Some snickered at the Darcy Kuemper signing, but considering the cheap price and his solid .910 career save percentage, it might be another incremental victory for Blake.

Time will tell how well he fared, yet it’s another promising sign that the Kings were frequently mentioned as “winners” of the 2017 NHL Draft.

Big decisions and challenges to come

Can the Kings rid themselves of albatross deals, particularly in Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik? Other contenders and rebuilding franchises have found ways to do that, so some might expect Blake & Co. to pull a rabbit out of a hat in such regards.

Blake will also need to ask tough questions about how wide open the Kings’ window really is.

Anze Kopitar either suffered from an “off year” or is headed for a rapid decline. Jeff Carter keeps scoring goals, but at 32, you have to wonder if he’ll slow down soon.

The biggest fork in the road might come with Drew Doughty; the 27-year-old boasts a (relative) bargain cap hit of $7 million, yet those savings evaporate after 2018-19. He’ll be a UFA and close to 30 heading into his next deal, so the Kings must decide if they want to stick with this mix or make some painful, drastic changes.

Right man for the job?

At least the early signs are that Blake is attuned to what makes this team work, and how the franchise might adapt to an evolving NHL.

Kings director of scouting Mark Yannetti told the Los Angeles Times’ Helene Elliott that Blake distinguishes himself with a patient approach, and he may very well need it.

“Dean is abstract and progressively thinking and there’s a James Joycean quality to the way Dean moves. It’s almost stream of consciousness. And Rob is very patient and measured,” Yannetti said after the Kings chose center Gabriel Vilardi with that pick. “They’re both extremely intelligent and they get to similar places with different routes … Rob was a very steadying and very calm influence at the table.”

Hey, it’s not every day that you hear an NHL GM compared to James Joyce.

With that in mind, Kings fans need to be patient with this process, though maybe not “reading Ulysses” patient.

McLellan excited about addition of ‘utility player’ Strome

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To hear Todd McLellan explain it, Ryan Strome could be wearing many hats next season.

That’s what the Oilers head coach said on Wednesday of the former Isles forward, acquired earlier this summer in the Jordan Eberle trade. McLellan expressed excitement over Strome’s ability to play both center and wing.

“He (Strome) is a utility player,” McLellan said, per the Sun. “He has the ability to play center and has in the past. He’s been able to win faceoffs and he’s comfortable on the wing. We have the luxury of moving players around, and as the fans here know, we like to do that.”

That last sentence is clearly a reference to Leon Draisaitl. Draisaitl has flipped back and forth between playing as Edmonton’s No. 2 center and as a winger on the top line alongside Connor McDavid. The talented German’s had success at both, which is why Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli is still unsure if Draisaitl is a center or a winger.

More: Strome pumped at prospect of playing with Draisaitl, McDavid

As for Strome, he certainly gives Edmonton some flexibility — on the ice, and on the books.

With a $2.5 million cap hit (compared to Eberle’s $6M), he’s provided Chiarelli with more cap space to get the Draisaitl contract done. And there’s also the potential for him to be a real bargain. Remember, Strome is only two years removed from a sophomore campaign in which he scored 17 goals and 50 points in 81 contests. His subsequent two years with the Isles were a disappointment, but the talent is still there.

The wildcard in all this is the fact that Strome’s heading into a contract year. He’ll be a restricted free agent next July, so the ’17-18 campaign will go a long way in determining his value… and, potentially, his future in Edmonton.

McDavid disappointed at NHL decision to skip Olympics


TORONTO (AP) Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid said he’s disappointed the NHL won’t be sending players to the Winter Olympic in South Korea.

“It would have been a special group, and you’re just hopeful to be a part of it,” McDavid told reporters at a charity event Wednesday. “It’s disappointing, but that’s the way it is. You want to be able to represent your country on the highest stage, and the Olympics is obviously the highest stage possible.”

McDavid’s comments came a day after Hockey Canada announced it was looking for non-NHL talent for Canada’s roster in Pyeongchang.

Sean Burke, the team’s GM, said Tuesday the bulk of Canada’s team will come from players based in Europe.

The NHL’s reasons not to participate in the upcoming Games include disagreements over costs as well as problems accommodating the Games during its regular season.

When asked whether there was the possibility of getting permission from the Oilers to attend the Olympics, McDavid was non-committal.

“I’m not too involved in all that stuff,” he said.

The NHL Players Association has said the league’s decision is “short-sighted.”

The NHL allowed its players to compete in every Olympics since 1998 Nagano Games, and Canada was won three of the last four gold medals.

Markov, Habs officially part ways


Andrei Markov‘s run of 17 consecutive seasons in Montreal is over.

On Thursday, the Habs announced that Markov — who’s played all 990 of his career NHL contests with the Canadiens — wouldn’t be brought back for the 2017-18 campaign.

The news comes after months of rumblings about Markov’s contractual status. It was initially believed the 38-year-old UFA was looking for $12 million over two years, and there was a brief flirtation with the Flyers (which, it later turned out, was simply Markov’s interest in going to Philly, not the Flyers actively pursuing him).

Montreal GM Marc Bergevin stated on several occasions he wanted to bring Markov back, but only at the right price and term. That’s because Bergevin knew Markov still played an important role — despite appearing in just 62 games last year, the Russian rearguard was offensively productive, with six goals and 36 points, and averaged nearly 22 minutes per night.

That said, Bergevin also knew the financial realities. He dished out big bucks this offseason — a combined $154.8 million for Carey Price, Jonathan Drouin, Alex Galchenyuk and Karl Alzner — and just didn’t have the money left to give Markov a big ticket.

Instead, Bergevin played it conservative in rounding out his defense, which included Tuesday’s one-year, $700,000 deal for Mark Streit. Some saw that deal as the writing on the wall for Markov in Montreal.

Looking ahead, it’ll be interesting to see where Markov ends up. If he lowers his asking price, there’s no doubt an NHL team would be interested. If he doesn’t, he could angle for a KHL deal and the opportunity to represent Russia in the upcoming Winter Olympics.

Malkin wants to see Ovechkin win a Stanley Cup


Evgeni Malkin‘s career is far from over, but he’s already accomplished so much.

The 30-year-old has won three Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe Trophy, a Hart Trophy, two Art Ross Trophies and a Calder Trophy.

Fellow countryman Alex Ovechkin has also won a number of individual awards, but he hasn’t been as fortunate when it comes team awards and playoff success.

There always seemed to be a rivalry between the two Russian forwards, but that doesn’t mean Malkin isn’t rooting for Ovechkin to take home a championship before his career is over.

“I was a bit luckier than (Ovechkin), that’s why I won those cups,” Malkin said, per Sports-Express’ Igor Eronko. “He has everything ahead of him. I wish him to win the cup.”

How do Penguins fans feel about that?

Malkin was also one of the more controversial omissions on the NHL’s “Top 100 Players” list. The Pens forward was disappointed about being left off the list, but hoisting Lord Stanley again seems to have erased that sting.

“I was a little bit disappointed when I wasn’t included in the list of 100 greatest players,” added Malkin. “But I won the cup and am happy.”