NHL observations: Rob Blake should have realized Kings needed an overhaul years ago

Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Kyle Clifford skates during the third period against the Ducks on Friday in Toronto.
(Frank Gunn / Associated Press)

The Kings’ Stanley Cup core lost a significant piece Wednesday when general manager Rob Blake, two or three years late in arriving at an obvious conclusion, declared he had to “reshape that roster” and shipped rugged forward Kyle Clifford and backup goaltender Jack Campbell to Toronto for California-born forward Trevor Moore, a third-round draft pick in 2020 and a conditional third-round pick in 2021.

Clifford’s offensive stats don’t measure his value to the 2012 and 2014 Cup teams and every edition after that. He was a good teammate, took no guff from anyone, and he made an honest effort on every shift.

If that could be said about the rest of his teammates the Kings might not be at the bottom of the barrel in the Western Conference and so urgently need the overhaul Blake finally realized is necessary. “He’s a special player and there’s a reason he was on those championship teams in L.A.,” Blake said during a conference call with reporters after the trade.

But there’s a point where business sense must overrule sentiment, and the Kings are well past it. Clifford is 29, he has an expiring contract, and the Kings need youth, speed and finishers. Clifford couldn’t give them those commodities. Campbell was a shining example of the reclamation magic routinely performed by goaltending coach Bill Ranford and former goalie development specialist Dusty Imoo.

With Cal Petersen in the pipeline and an expansion draft coming in 2021, one goalie had to go — and it wasn’t going to be 34-year-old Jonathan Quick because of his mediocre numbers and the three years remaining on his contract after this season with a cap hit of $5.8 million per year.


The U.S. and Canadian women’s national hockey teams finish their Rivalry Series on Saturday at Honda Center in another chance to showcase their sport.

Feb. 7, 2020

All in all, it wasn’t a bad return for two players who weren’t going to be factors in the Kings’ future, especially since the conditional pick can become a second-round selection if Clifford re-signs with Toronto or if the Maple Leafs make the playoffs and Campbell wins six regular-season games.

Campbell got his first win as a Maple Leaf on Friday in a 5-4 overtime decision over the Ducks, and he’s expected to keep the starting job while No. 1 goalie Frederik Andersen recovers from a neck injury.

The Maple Leafs were unhappy with backup Michael Hutchinson (3.66 goals-against average, .886 save percentage) and Campbell has the potential to be a good replacement. He has a salary cap hit of $675,000 this season and $1.65 million each of the next two seasons.

The Maple Leafs, who have a league-high 69.5% of their payroll tied up in forwards (per, got the Kings to keep $800,000 of Clifford’s cap hit to stay under the limit.

Clifford took the trade well, joking with Toronto reporters he didn’t have to be told what his role will be. “I mean, they didn’t bring me in to outpace Auston Matthews in goals,” he said. “I know what I am and I know who I am and I know there’s a lot of skill guys in here and there’s a lot of guys who play hard, too, so I definitely want to add that element.”


All signs point to the Kings trading defenseman Alec Martinez and winger Tyler Toffoli before the Feb. 24 deadline with only a middling return. Could another deal with Toronto be coming after the Maple Leafs lost defenseman Cody Ceci for at least a month because of an ankle injury?

The Kings have stockpiled nine picks in this year’s draft, including two each in the third and fourth rounds, and eight picks in 2021. Blake will continue collecting picks and prospects as he deals anything that isn’t nailed down and anyone who doesn’t have a no-trade clause. A few of those picks must turn into scorers.

“We understand the need and focus to move forward,” Blake said. That’s good to hear, but he should have come to that conclusion last year or the year before that.

NHL and players union to meet this week

Negotiations on extending the current collective bargaining agreement are scheduled to resume on Tuesday in Toronto. Each side agreed last summer not to reopen the CBA after this season and let it run through 2021-22.

Deputy commissioner Bill Daly told the league favors reviving the World Cup, which was last held in 2016 in a heavily contrived format. Letting players return to the Olympics after skipping the 2018 Games is partly “tied to our labor situation and labor peace for an extended period of time,” Daly said.

Translation: He and commissioner Gary Bettman want a major concession from the union in the next labor deal as a condition for allowing players to represent their homelands in Beijing in 2022. Players want to go. Fans want to see best-vs.-best.

The man who disrupted three seasons by imposing lockouts repeatedly says taking a break for the Olympics is too disruptive, but it’s worth losing a bit of continuity to gain the global exposure the Olympics bring.

The Kings traded forward Klye Clifford and backup goalie Jack Campbell to the Toronto Maple Leafs for forward Trevor Moore and draft picks.

Feb. 5, 2020

Welcome back

Ottawa Senators forward Bobby Ryan practiced with the team on Wednesday for the first time since he entered the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program last November. There’s no timetable for his return.

Best of luck to a good guy who went through nightmarish times as a child after his father assaulted his mother and took the family on the lam to avoid being caught. His father eventually was captured. Ryan somehow kept going and made it to the NHL, first with the Ducks and later the Senators.

Nolan Patrick, who has yet to play for the Philadelphia Flyers this season because of a migraine disorder, skated with the team a few times last week. Coach Alain Vigneault, however, isn’t counting on the No. 2 pick in 2017 returning this season.

“My expectations are that Nolan is not coming back,” Vigneault told reporters. “In my mind, he hasn’t been here since the beginning of the year, and I’m moving forward. I work with the guys that are here.”

All was quiet on the coaching front

No coaching changes were made this week, leaving the firing/resignation number this season holding at seven. At this late date it makes no sense to fire coaches whose teams are well out of the playoff race (think Jeff Blashill in Detroit) or first-year coaches whose teams are rebuilding (think Todd McLellan of the Kings and Dallas Eakins of the Ducks).

The end of the season likely will bring more changes.