After more than 18 months as Kings general manager, Rob Blake recorded a first last Saturday when he addressed the team in the dressing room following the game.
It was a bold move for an executive known for patience and prudence, but a step he needed to take. His message was clear: He believes the Kings are better than their 2-6-1 record, and he’s giving them a chance to prove it before making a move.
That has become a growing possibility during five straight losses, including four against non-playoff teams. Darren Dreger of TSN reported Tuesday that the Kings would likely make a trade before firing coach John Stevens, but Blake on Wednesday left it ambiguous when asked if there was anything he wanted to say about Stevens.
“He’s a good coach,” Blake said. “A real good coach.”
Blake’s primary concern is that the Kings are not playing the fast-tempo game they played during Stevens’ first season. They resurrected some of their forecheck in a 4-2 loss to the Dallas Stars on Tuesday, but their awful start has raised questions of looking old and slow in a younger, sleek NHL.
“That’s the way it looks right now,” Blake said.
Their best players are either underachieving or trying to do too much. It’s a hairpin turn for a team that began last season 9-1-1 and reached 98 points.
“They’re good players not playing to the level of their expectations by any means, or mine,” Blake said. “And they’ve been vocal about it too. They’re not hiding anything.”
Blake wouldn’t comment on Dreger’s report that Alec Martinez could be a trade piece, other than to say, “I’m not going to go into specifics into any of the [phone] calls. Listen, when you start a season like this, you’re going to have a lot of different rumors. That’s all I can say.”
One of their foundational defensemen in the Stanley Cup-winning era, Martinez shrugged off the talk and turned toward more pressing areas.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s not worth giving any thought because it’s not going to make things any better,” Martinez said. “I, like everyone else in this room, am focused on our game, focused on getting wins and quite frankly, I don’t give a … about the rest.”
Possible light at the end of the tunnel is the impending return of Dustin Brown. Blake said Brown must get final clearance from a broken finger but Brown said he’s ready to come back from long-term injured reserve when he’s eligible Sunday. This is the first extended time missed for Brown, and he’s assessed this slide from afar.
“I think [there is] frustration within our group that has played together a long time, been through a lot of hard things,” Brown said. “This is another one of them that we need to get our frustration in check as a group and as an individual because being outside in the room, for the last three weeks, I tell you one thing, a lot of guys care, deeply, about this team and each other, which is the most important thing.”
This is new ground for Blake in his second year as general manager. He knows the character in the Kings’ dressing room. He just doesn’t want to be back in there again.
“We’ve had a lot of meetings,” Blake said. “I know from the inside that they’re not happy about it either.”
Gabriel Vilardi is “very close” to being integrated into a practice, Blake said. Vilardi has been skating for weeks in his rehabilitation from a back injury that has kept him out since the summer. … Tanner Pearson skated on a line with Jeff Carter and Ilya Kovalchuk, and Adrian Kempe was with Kyle Clifford and Nate Thompson in practice.
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