It was announced on Monday that the Los Angeles Kings will retire Rob Blake's No. 4 on January 17 at Staples Center before the silver-and-black play host to the Anaheim Ducks. Considering no player has worn No. 4 for the Kings since Blake's departure in 2008, this was only inevitable. The franchise leader in goals, assists and games played by a defenseman will also be officially inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame this coming November. But while a plethora of fans are thrilled for Blake to be receiving this honour from the Kings, there are some fans who are stubbornly unwilling to let bygones be bygones. To them, I say it's time to let go of that big bag of rocks.
When Rob Blake left Los Angeles in the summer of 2008, it left a bitter taste in the mouths of many Kings fans, yours truly included. As the 2008 Trade Deadline drew closer, the rebuilding Kings were looking to trade some of the older assets in exchange for draft picks or prospects to build for the future. Rob Blake's name was on the top of that list. Blake, however, vetoed any proposed trades, claiming that he wanted to finish his NHL career where it began: in Los Angeles. But the pending unrestricted free agent angered many in the City of Angels that July when, contrary to his claim to finish his career in SoCal, signed with, of all teams, the San Jose Sharks. So, instead of receiving helpful compensation for the defenseman, the Kings were left with nothing.
It is possible that Rob Blake had a change of heart between said trade deadline and the summer, and it is also possible that Blake just flat-out lied to the team that drafted him two decades earlier. But if the Kings didn't want to be in said situation, then they should not have given Blake a no-trade clause in his contract. And if said no-trade clause was the deciding factor towards whether or not he was to return to Los Angeles, then I would have politely said, "No, thank you," and went shopping for another veteran free agent who could help guide a rebuilding team.
Regardless if he changed his mind, lied or what have you, Rob Blake was, like it or not, perfectly within his rights to sign with another team. Was I this objective in 2008? Not even close, but you do have to appreciate what state the Los Angeles Kings were in then as opposed to now. And let's not forget that Rob Blake was unable to bring a Stanley Cup to San Jose in his two years there. Heck, the Sharks couldn't even win a conference championship with Blake - or ever, for that matter.
But for some fans in Los Angeles, the hard feelings for Rob Blake didn't stem from 2008. Instead, the bitterness came about in 2001 when Blake - then also a pending UFA - was traded to the Colorado Avalanche with Steven Reinprecht for Adam Deadmarsh and Aaron Miller.
For those Kings fans with the hard feelings, they were dismayed - some even disgusted - that June when Rob Blake hoisted his first Stanley Cup as a member, not of the Kings, but of the Avalanche. But unlike in 2008, the Kings were a playoff team in 2001 - and thanks to one of the newest Kings, the aforementioned Adam Deadmarsh, they pulled off a shocking upset of the Detroit Red Wings in the opening round.
From my vantage point, when Rob Blake was with the Kings up to that point, the team had seemed to rely too heavily on their defenseman. Once they traded him, they played more like a team - and to this day, that series versus Detroit is one of my favourite moments in team history. Could that have happened with Rob Blake instead? No one knows obviously but I'm guessing no.
After the Kings beat Detroit, they met none other than Rob Blake and the Colorado Avalanche. They may have lost that series but the Kings did come very close, coming back from 3-1 series deficit to force a Game 7. The likes of Felix Potvin, Glen Murray, and Jere Karalahti had a team on the ropes which featured Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic, and Ray Bourque. Just imagine what could have been.
As for the bitterness towards Rob Blake, some of it stems from him winning his lone Stanley Cup elsewhere. But I seem to remember that in 2002, some guy named Luc Robitaille won his only Stanley Cup as a player with Detroit - and from what I hear from Kings fans, there is a greater consensus of hatred towards the Red Wings than the Avalanche. Heck, I don't think any hockey fans in Los Angeles would be burning anything if Robitaille was deemed more popular than Jesus.
Rob Blake certainly isn't perfect, but who is? What he did in 2008 was a tough pill to swallow and I admit that I was furious at the time. Him winning a Stanley Cup in 2001 certainly wasn't a picnic either but let us not forget what No. 4 brought to the Kings when he was in Los Angeles.
In 805 career games with the Kings, Blake scored 161 goals and added 333 assists for 494 career points. It is admittedly difficult to justify his -88 rating overall with the Kings, but Blake was named an All-Star four times while with the Kings and he won the Norris Trophy as the league's best defenseman. He even helped guide the Kings to the Stanley Cup Final in 1993.
Finally, let's look at the end result.
The Kings have now won two Stanley Cups in three years. The San Jose Sharks have never even been to the Final, let alone winning hockey's Holiest prize.
As a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan, I had the utter dismay of seeing Wade Boggs sign with the hated New York Yankees following the 1992 season. Boggs won his first (and only) World Series in 1996 with the Pinstripes while the Red Sox had to wait another eight years to realize their championship dreams. But as bitter as that was, I don't hold any grudge towards Boggs. And while it hasn't been retired (yet), no one in Beantown has worn No. 26 since Boggs left way back when.
As for Rob Blake, it's time to give up the grudge. He never ruined anyone's life by skipping town and he certainly didn't ruin the fortunes of the Los Angeles Kings. Plus, while he didn't win a Stanley Cup for Los Angeles, neither did Rogie Vachon or Marcel Dionne or Dave Taylor - and fans in Los Angeles think the world of those three (strictly as a player for the latter, though). So, it's time, once and for all, to let go of that big bag or rocks and finally give Rob Blake what he deserves.
When No. 4 gets raised to the rafters of Staples Center alongside the numbers of Dionne's 16, Taylor's 18, Robitaille's 20, Vachon's 30 and Wayne Gretzky's 99, I will be there celebrating a proud moment for one of the greatest players to even don the silver-and-black. And if you know and appreciate your hockey, you should do likewise.