They were the type of questions Rob Blake has likely never needed to answer before.
The Hall of Fame former player and third-year Kings general manager was asked during a Wednesday conference call: Why should his team keep playing if the NHL’s delayed season resumed?
What would his organization, long out of the playoff picture and now lacking its normal routine amid the coronavirus shutdown, have to gain from a few final regular-season contests likely played in another city?
Health concerns aside, would it really all be worth it?
Blake answered with a resounding yes.
“We will find positives by playing those games,” he said. “That’s our mentality. It’s expected of us.”
That’s the approach Blake and the Kings have taken to this almost two-months-long hiatus: one eye fixed on the upcoming offseason and next year’s campaign; the other keenly watching what might happen in the short-term, staying sharp in case the season is able to start again.
“There’s so many different scenarios that have been floated out there, but the message to our guys is try to keep the same mindset,” Blake said. “There are still games to be played.”
In the meantime, Blake has been busily completing the latest steps in his club’s long-term rebuild.
The front office is putting its final touches on preparations for the NHL draft, an event that could take place as soon as June (as it would during a normal offseason) or be pushed back until the fate of the current season is decided.
“I think we’re quite comfortable with either scenario,” Blake said. “We’ll have to work with it. Obviously, the one thing we know for sure, nothing will be status quo. So whether it’s prior to June or later, you’re going to have to make the necessary adjustments.”
Blake didn’t offer specifics on some of the most pressing draft-related questions, including how the lottery odds might be affected or whether the conditions attached to several of the team’s trade-acquired draft picks will take effect. But he said the team had already begun conducting video interviews with potential prospects and was using game tape to complete what little scouting work was left.
Mark Yannetti, the director of amateur scouting, and his staff “were advised a few weeks ago to be ready for a June draft if that’s a possibility, or a later one,” Blake said. “So both scenarios have been played out.”
Roster-wise, Blake has started plotting out his plans for the offseason, which will likely include additions to the defense.
“That would be one area of need that we would look at,” said Blake, who re-signed defenseman Kurtis MacDermid to a two-year contract last month. “Whether it’s the free-agent market or acquisition market, and most likely on the left side.”
Prospect Mikey Anderson could help there, a left-handed defenseman Blake can “fully envision ... making that jump to the NHL” as soon as next season. There were other young players at forward and on defense the GM praised Wednesday, including Mikey Eyssimont, Kale Clague and Tobias Bjornfot. All of them could be added to a potentially expanded roster if this season were to resume.
Another development from Wednesday’s call: Jeff Carter’s season might be over, regardless of whether more games are played. Blake said the forward was still rehabilitating from a core injury suffered in mid-February — a recovery process that has been complicated by protective social distancing and self-isolation measures.
“Part of the issue is he needs to travel to see a certain specialist to get a further diagnosis and nothing can be taking place right now,” Blake said of the 35-year-old Carter, who missed the team’s final 10 games before the league was suspended on March 12. “He’s continuing a rehab program from home. He hasn’t been around the practice rink in that aspect, but I wouldn’t expect him to be able to play if our season were to start in the next couple of months.”
The Kings’ healthy players have been affected too but have been following the guidance of strength and conditioning coach Matt Price to try to stay in game shape (eight players are still in Southern California, Blake said, with the rest having returned to their offseason homes). Some have borrowed gym equipment from the weight room at the team’s El Segundo practice facility. Others have had to buy gear of their own.
“The training aspect has dramatically changed,” Blake said, “where home gyms are obviously a priority.”
But it all falls in line with Blake’s big-picture thinking: It’s OK to start thinking about next season. Just don’t forget the current one quite yet.
“We’ve tried to provide a mindset to these players that there will be games, that the league will do everything they can to resume play,” Blake said. “So make sure we’re on that path.”