Rob Blake is off to a solid start with the Kings

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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.