Unwilling to sign Rob Blake for the $9.6 million he requested and unwilling to let him walk away as an unrestricted free agent, the Kings traded their Norris Trophy-winning defenseman and rookie center Steven Reinprecht to the league-leading Colorado Avalanche late Wednesday for right wing Adam Deadmarsh, defenseman Aaron Miller, a first-round draft pick in the June entry draft, a player from a group of prospects and unspecified future considerations.
General Manager Dave Taylor, who flew to Minnesota last week in an effort to reach a compromise that would keep Blake in the uniform he wore for 11 seasons, said he would have preferred to re-sign Blake. However, he could not do so because Blake was intent on testing the free-agent market this summer. As an impact player with offensive and defensive skills, Blake will command big dollars--and the Kings have said they won't commit a quarter of their payroll to one player when so many other needs remain to be satisfied.
After that Minnesota meeting with Blake, Taylor and President Tim Leiweke failed to produce an agreement, Taylor was told by ownership to trade Blake and not prolong a situation that has clearly been a distraction to Blake and the Kings, who are struggling to reach a playoff position in the Western Conference.
"My first choice, our first choice, would have been to retain Rob," said Taylor, who was Blake's teammate and close friend during his playing days. "When it became evident he was intent on becoming a free agent, it became evident we had to make this trade."
Taylor acknowledged making the trade was one of the most difficult moves he has made. "I did go through a series of emotions," he said, "really through the course of the season."
Blake, 31, was the Kings' 1988 fourth-round draft choice. He holds several club records, including most career goals by a defenseman (138), most career assists by a defenseman (291) and most career points by a defenseman (429). He ranks 10th in all-time scoring, seventh in games played (608) and fourth in penalty minutes (1,051).
Blake had missed the Kings' 5-0 loss at Edmonton on Tuesday because of a family matter but rejoined the team in Calgary and participated in Wednesday's practice. He said afterward he expected a trade at any moment.
"I knew that [he would be traded] around Christmas time," he said. "That's fine. There's no animosity. The hardest part is waiting."
Deadmarsh, 25, has two years remaining on his contract. Miller, 29, will be a restricted free agent after this season. Both players were told of the trade after the Avalanche's 8-2 rout of the Boston Bruins at the Pepsi Center in Denver--Deadmarsh scored two goals to increase his season total to 13 and 26 points in 39 games--and both were expected to arrive in Calgary today in a jet supplied by King owner Philip Anschutz.
Blake ranked second among the NHL's defensemen in scoring, with 17 goals and 49 points and a minus-eight plus/minus rating in 54 games. Reinprecht had been struggling lately and had 12 goals and 29 points and a plus-11 plus/minus in 59 games.
Deadmarsh sat out games this season because of a concussion and a sprained knee, but Taylor said those injuries had healed. Miller had four goals, 13 points and 29 penalty minutes in 56 games, in addition to a plus-19 plus/minus rating.
"Both Miller and Deadmarsh will be welcome additions to our team," Taylor said. "Miller is a big defenseman 6-4, with great reach. He's a real good defender in his own end. Adam Deadmarsh will bring an element that we needed. He's gritty and can stand in front of the net on power plays. . . .
"Certainly, we're going to miss Rob Blake. He's been an outstanding player for the Kings for nearly 12 years. We certainly wish him nothing but the best. We're adding two quality players to the lineup, and we also pick up some additional assets, and we also have some dollars we can use in other areas."
Said Leiweke: "We have deep appreciation for everything Rob Blake as done for the Kings' organization. He is a class act and we will certainly miss him."
Deadmarsh and Miller are expected to play tonight.
"I think it's a pretty good deal for a player that could walk away from his team at the end of the season," King Coach Andy Murray said.
Mighty Duck forward Dan Bylsma, a former King, said it will work out for Blake.
"I know how much Rob enjoyed playing in L.A. and living in L.A.," Bylsma said. "I know whatever transpired between Rob and the Kings, he agonized over it. But he has a chance now to go to Colorado and make that team an instant favorite to win the Cup."
Staff writer Elliott Teaford contributed to this story.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
* TO COLORADO: Rob Blake (Defenseman) and Steven Reinprecht (Center).
* TO KINGS: Adam Deadmarsh (Right Wing), Aaron Miller (Defenseman), first-round pick in 2001, prospect to be named and future considerations.
The Blake Factor
How the Kings have fared over the last seven seasons with and without Blake in their lineup.
Season Games With Blake Without Blake 1994-95 48 8-13-3 8-10-6 1995-96 82 3-0-3 21-40-15 1996-97 82 19-33-10 9-10-1 1997-98 82 37-33-11 1-0-0 1998-99 82 28-29-5 4-16-0 1999-00 82 37-29-11 2-2-1 2000-01 60 24-22-7 1-4-1