Work in Sports
PACIFIC DIVISION |
2 Los Angeles Kings
Team Page | 2000-2001 Schedule | Roster
Sports Illustrated Ranking: 10
By Josh Elliott
At a glance, Rob Blake's off-season appeared downright idyllic: days spent enjoying beach volleyball near his home in Manhattan Beach, Calif., playing in charity golf tournaments or visiting his family's Ontario farm. Yet as late as September the Kings' star defenseman sounded like a man whose team had been eliminated from the playoffs just yesterday. "The way the season ended is not something you easily forget," Blake says of the Kings' getting swept from the playoffs by the Red Wings last April, which extended the franchise's postseason losing streak to 11 games. "We went into the playoffs believing we had a chance, and we got wiped out." Again.
That debacle overshadowed a 94-point regular season (fourth best in franchise history) and the successful coaching debut of Andy Murray. Fairly or not, much of the blame for the postseason flameout was directed at Blake, who quarterbacked a power play that went 0 for 23 against Detroit. Frustrated by his team's persistent playoff failures and the belief that he might be traded, Blake forfeited his captaincy shortly after the start of training camp. Two weeks later, however, Murray -- who has focused on weaning his players from their habit of looking to Blake first, last and always -- convinced the four-time All-Star to take back the C . "It's important that Rob's teammates not just feel they're along for the ride," says Murray. "I think that happened last year, and it put an awful lot of pressure on Rob."
To ease Blake's burden, Murray will depend heavily on the first line of flashy right wing Ziggy Palffy, underrated center Jozef Stumpel (who at press time was holding out in a contract dispute) and still dangerous 34-year-old left wing Luc Robitaille. Despite missing a combined 52 games last season because of injury, that trio amassed 198 points. Palffy and Robitaille looked especially energized in camp. Still, even if the top line stays healthy, look for the deep-pocketed Kings to make a major personnel move. One possibility: L.A. has been mentioned as a potential destination for the Flyers' oft-concussed Eric Lindros. Such a move would likely prevent yet another early playoff exit, which is essential if the Kings hope to hold onto Blake, who will be an unrestricted free agent at season's end. There are only so many times this captain will go down with his ship.
Issue date: October 16, 2000
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