Kings Make Headway With Free Agent Blake : Hockey: Defenseman, who seemed on verge of leaving, says he would like to stay in Los Angeles.


The Kings seemed almost resigned to moving forward without defenseman Rob Blake on their blue line next season, saying they were not confident he would return to Los Angeles.

But that was a month ago.

Tuesday, the Kings and Blake sounded a more positive tone in regard to his future in Los Angeles. King General Manager Sam McMaster smiled and nodded, saying, "It's a pleasant situation. We've made some headway."

McMaster has spoken with Blake on the telephone and met with Blake's agent, Ron Salcer, for an hour and a half this month.

"Things are coming around pretty good," Blake said Tuesday from his summer home in Canada. "There's a few stipulations they want to work on.

"I don't want to leave. Barry (Melrose) and the style he coaches best fits me and that helps the decision. Money is one thing, but where you like to play is important. If you get stuck in a city you don't like, it makes it tough."

Blake recently bought a home in the South Bay.

"The kiss of death, right?" he said.

Previously, the Kings had offered him a four-year package in the $6-million range. Blake became a restricted Group 2 free agent on July 1. He said the Kings have since improved their offer.

"Rob is a great young defenseman," Melrose said of the 24-year-old. "We think Rob wants to stay here and we want him to stay here."

In other King developments:

--Several prospects--goaltender Jamie Storr and forwards Matt Johnson, Kevin Brown and Jeff Shevalier--were in town for testing and other activities.

"You can see what we're trying to build here," Melrose said at a Forum news conference. "They're all big. They're all talented. We've had them here for three days. . . . They're the direction we want to go with this team."

--Training camp will start on Sept. 5 at the team's practice facility in North Hills. McMaster said that about 53 players will be invited to camp. Forward Phil Crowe, who played in 31 games last season and had two assists and 77 penalty minutes, is a free agent and won't be back, Melrose said.

--The first exhibition game is Sept. 11 against the Mighty Ducks in San Diego. Three exhibitions are scheduled for the Forum.

Melrose gave the four youngsters instructions for training camp.

"I had them in here and told them they should come into camp thinking they can make the team," he said. "I said they're not here to meet Gretz (Wayne Gretzky) and shake hands with Marty (McSorley) and get autographs. I want them to come in with that attitude."

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