Trade Won’t Rob Kings of Problem


The Kings say they can’t afford to sign Rob Blake at $10 million a season and must trade him instead of losing him as a free agent. But can they afford not to sign him?

He’s a solid citizen. An impact player. A defenseman who can change the course of a game with a hit or a slap shot, respected by his teammates as a leader.

“We don’t want to see it,” winger Ziggy Palffy said of losing Blake. “But we can’t do anything about it. As players, we play hockey. That’s for the general manager. . . . I don’t think Robby wants to go. He wants to stay with the Kings, but if he has to go, he has to go.”


Club President Tim Leiweke contends Blake would consume too much of the payroll and leave the Kings unable to spend money to upgrade their talent. If they can trade Blake for younger players with lower salaries, they can funnel money toward acquiring a top-notch goalie before the March 13 trade deadline or this summer.

As the Kings resume play today after the All-Star break, they’re 10th in the West. Leiweke believes they can’t be worse without Blake.

Can’t they? Blake isn’t the reason they’re not in a playoff position. Shaky goaltending is the culprit. And the power play, one of their most consistent weapons, is sure to be hurt by Blake’s departure.

“We’re fortunate. In Ziggy we have another star,” Leiweke said. “The future of this league is built around young players, and if you tie up one-third or one quarter of our payroll on one player, that would be a mistake. . . .

“We have doubled our scouting staff. We bought our own AHL franchise [in Lowell, Mass.]. We built our own training center. We have more hockey franchises in Europe than anybody. We are giving them more resources. The pressure rests solely on Dave [Taylor, the Kings’ general manager] and his scouts. But I believe we can do that. I believe we’re seeing in [Steven] Reinprecht and [Lubomir] Visnovsky the beginning of getting good young players who can play.”

Maybe. But trading Blake on the basis of half a season by Visnovsky--or anyone else--is risky and will be a public relations nightmare.


“Are we going to take a hit for this one? Yes,” Leiweke said. “But I believe people will see Dave will make a deal that allows us to grow. This is not the beginning of the end for the Kings.”

No, but it’s the beginning of the end of an era. That will be when they say farewell to Luc Robitaille, who’s also eligible for unrestricted free agency July 1.

Leiweke insists the Kings have an obligation to the other clubs to be fiscally responsible. Their primary responsibility should be to their fans. Whether Taylor can balance both burdens will determine how he will be judged as a general manager.


The Kings and Staples Center sent more than 25 people to Denver to study how Sunday’s All-Star game and related events were staged, and to take notes on how to do it better next year.

Staples Center will host the game, superskills and heroes of hockey exhibition, and some unique touches are planned. Instead of recruiting former players for the heroes’ game, one team will be made up of celebrities. The Feb. 2 game will have an Olympic theme to tie in with the Feb. 8 start of the Salt Lake City Winter Games and NHL players’ participation.

Commissioner Gary Bettman said the NHL is seeking something “a little more exotic that is workable,” instead of the North America vs. the World or East vs. West formats.


Lee Zeidman, vice president of operations of Staples Center, said the logistics of staging the game are relatively simple because he has experience preparing for major events such as the Grammys, the Democratic National Convention and the NBA finals.

“One of the things we did when we designed the facility is, we knew we were going to go after all these events, so we made the Staples Center a blank slate,” he said. “You can come in and tell us how you want to set up and we can do it.

“The only challenge from an operations standpoint is dealing with so many entities, so many groups within the NHL and outside. You want to make sure you tend to everyone and get what they need so the lasting impression of the building is good.”


Last week’s $183-million sale of 80.1% of the Montreal Canadiens and the Molson Centre to American businessman George Gillett Jr.--pending approval of the NHL Board of Governors--was seen by Canadian hockey fans as another fall on the slippery slope to U.S. domination of their game.

The purchase by Gillett also sparked fears the Canadiens will be moved. But Bettman quickly assured everyone north of the border “this jewel” will stay put.

“The reason you buy the Montreal Canadiens is because you want the Montreal Canadiens,” Bettman said. “The whole package legally and economically doesn’t make sense if the team isn’t there.”


Not that any difference should be apparent; money is money, no matter the source. It’s also worth noting that no Canadian company made an offer to buy the team and arena from Molson’s brewery.

The Canadiens, burdened with heavy taxes, a weak Canadian dollar and costs associated with a poorly conceived arena, need a financial boost. Molson was losing about $15 million a year and Gillett has promised to invest money to upgrade the personnel. That should matter more than the owner’s nationality.


U.S. Olympic Coach Herb Brooks said he didn’t intend to cause an uproar when he suggested the NHL cancel next year’s All-Star game to give Olympic teams more time to prepare for the Games.

He said the notion came up during casual conversations with Kevin Lowe, assistant executive director of Team Canada, and Bob Goodenow, executive director of the NHL Players Assn.

When Goodenow rejected his idea of holding a summer training camp, Brooks suggested a brief pre-Games gathering. Canceling the All-Star game and annual break, he figured, would let the NHL halt play for the Olympics earlier than its planned Feb. 13 date.

“If the NHL is trying to showcase great athletes, you’d think there would be some orientation time,” he said. “You wouldn’t see the NBA do this. What am I supposed to do, get a couple of cans of WD-40 and just open the gate? And give the other cans to [Canada Coach] Pat Quinn?


“I talked to Wayne Gretzky and said, ‘Wayne, see what you can do.’ Now, everybody’s making all these politically correct statements. All I’m saying is, there should be an orientation period. The players’ association is saying no tryouts. OK. But there should be orientation, just to talk about systems.”

As always, Brooks is ahead of his time and far too logical. A 12-day break and one travel-practice day aren’t nearly enough, but NHL governors refused to let players go to Salt Lake City if the league suspended play for 17 days again, as it did for the 1998 Nagano Games.

“I know Herb is going to do a great job coaching the team,” Bettman said. “I’m not sure he has been involved in the logistics of setting up the Olympics to understand why we do what we do, but at the appropriate time, I will be happy to explain it to him.”


St. Louis Blue defenseman Al MacInnis had to spend a night in the hospital to relieve pressure in his eye after being struck with a stick last week. He had blurred vision and will be sidelined at least a week. Blue General Manager Larry Pleau said MacInnis’ vision had improved by last weekend but doctors are concerned about the blood in his eye.

And no, even as Bryan Berard adjusts to limited sight in his right eye after being struck with a stick last March, there is no groundswell among players to adopt visors. Bettman said 21% wear visors, up from 15% two years ago, but still a minority.

According to its collective bargaining agreement with the NHLPA, the NHL can’t order players to wear visors, and players maintain they should determine whether to wear one.


“If I had a child playing in the NHL, or a father playing in the NHL or a husband playing in the NHL, I’d want him to wear a visor,” Bettman said.

Are the Detroit Red Wings too old to make one last concerted run at the Stanley Cup?

“I’m 31,” said center Sergei Fedorov, who is enjoying a strong season with 23 goals and 51 points in 54 games. “We’ve still got our legs, I hope. I’d like to answer that question a month before the playoffs start. We do have a few uncertain points. I’d like to find some stability in our game before we go into the playoffs. Then we can talk about the possibilities.”

The much-delayed sale of the Phoenix Coyotes to Gretzky and developer Steve Ellman will close this week, club personnel say.