While his most high-profile player doesn’t think there’s much of a point in playing out the rest of this season, Los Angeles Kings GM Rob Blake believes his team can take some good out of reporting for a training camp and playing out the string in what will ultimately be a pointless exercise when it comes to making the playoffs in 2019-20.
And while it’s clear Blake realizes he has to take one for the team here – the team being the NHL and hockey world – he said there are some positives to be gleaned by the Kings playing out the rest of the season with almost zero hope of competing for a playoff spot, even in an expanded playoff format if that’s the way the NHL decides to go if it’s able to finish the season this summer.
Even though the Kings entered the pause on a seven-game winning streak, they were still hopelessly out of the playoff picture, not so much because they only had 64 points in 70 games, but because they had three teams in their own division or five in the Western Conference to leapfrog in order to make the playoffs. If the league resumes with its hub proposal, qualifying for the playoffs would be next to impossible. Perhaps that’s why Kings defenseman Drew Doughty was so cool on the concept of returning when asked about it a month ago. Blake said there are eight Kings players still in the area, which conceivably would mean that two-thirds of the roster would have to return to L.A, then quarantine for two weeks, hold a mini-training camp and play out the regular season before going into the off-season.
But from his perspective, Blake sees some positives. “I feel the players and the NHL and the union are in the same capacity where they understand the importance of playing these games,” Blake said on a conference call Wednesday. “Does it have anything to do with our standing or us making the playoffs? No. But what it also does is you’re probably going to have an expanded roster and you’re going to carry extra players just because of the situation we’re in. You have the ability for younger guys to get into a training camp, plus a regular-season development. We will find positives by playing those games.”
That would represent some very good news for the likes of defensemen Tobias Bjornfot and Kale Clague, centers Gabe Vilardi and Jaret Anderson-Dolan and left winger Carl Grundstrom, all of whom played for the Kings’ American League affiliate in Ontario this season. Another prospect, center Rasmus Kupari, underwent season-ending knee surgery in January. Even though all of them saw time with the Kings this season, having them around the team and playing in games that are likely meaningful for the opposition would be nothing but good for their development. “That’s our mentality,” Blake said. “They are NHL players and they’re expected to play these games, they’re expected to create that excitement. But as an organization, we’re expecting to get benefits.”
Blake also weighed in on the possibility of the NHL holding its draft in early June rather than after the season finishes. There is talk that just for this year, the league will go back to the old lottery rules, but that won’t negatively or positively affect the Kings’ chances of picking first overall. Under both scenarios, they have a 10 percent chance of winning the lottery and getting the No. 1 overall pick. Where it might hinder them is in their ability to make a trade. Let’s say they were willing to retain salary and give up an asset to trade Dustin Brown, for example. The early draft will prohibit them from doing that.
“That seems to me the biggest concern is the possibility of the different trade scenarios that could happen with the draft post-season,” Blake said. “What we’ve been doing is kind of doing our work and analyzing the two different scenarios – if there’s a June draft or if there’s a draft at the end of a possible season, and going over different things. As far as our team is concerned with the plan, I think we’re quite comfortable with either scenario. The one thing we know is nothing will be status quo."
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