Notes, quotes and bullet points as learned from Rob Blake’s conference call and elsewhere:
–The Oscar Fantenberg trade was finalized after the team did not come to an agreement on a new contract with the defenseman, who is eligible to become a free agent on July 1. Blake revealed that there had been a discussion on a new contract, and “being UFAs, in the position we are, we kind of understood the path we were taking with them.”
–There were lots of discussions over recent days, but no additional trades materialized. Characterizing the balance between trying to make something work now as opposed to around the draft and trade deadline, Blake acknowledged “contract structure and different things come into play, obviously.” The team has been wary of absorbing too much AAV that would affect future salary structures, but that’s not the only consideration that made the off-season the more likely target for the larger-scale negotiations, or “heavy lifting,” as many of us have called it.
“Again, it’s an ongoing process, not a quick process, not an easy process, because you deal some really good guys and really good players,” Blake said. “It makes for a difficult process.”
–While there were questions about Matt Luff – more on him in a moment – and other younger prospects looking to get a late-season cup of coffee, there was clearly an onus placed on the need for the veteran players to raise their levels of play.
“I want to see them compete,” Blake said. “I think I’ve been pretty honest with that from the last conference call when we started a couple of these moves – they come in and they compete. There’ll be some young guys in the lineup, there’s no doubt about it, but our veterans need to lead, and we’ll get on that right away.”
“I’m sure there is frustration. There should be because of the position we’re in. I understand that part of it. As far as going forward, the deadline’s passed. If that seemed to be something that was something that was playing on their minds, that shouldn’t be a factor going forward. Like I said, I want to see the level of compete much higher than it has been.”
Playing time down the stretch will be based on a meritocracy, per Blake. “I think my message to this staff is whoever is playing the best is going to play down the stretch. We need our veterans just as competitive. Don’t get me wrong that they’re getting off the hook here and we’re just going to play young guys. We’re going to play the guys that are playing the best and most competitive.”
–Regarding Luff, he joined the team in Tampa this morning after flying from Los Angeles (through Salt Lake City) to Tampa on a red eye. (Luffer, wanna spare any Delta SkyMiles?)
Both Luff and Michael Amadio were then loaned to AHL-Ontario this afternoon. Neither is on the roster or available to play tonight. Luff’s arrival served as insurance in the event the team was going to trade a forward or two today, but no trades other than Fantenberg materialized. Keep in mind as well that today is a big day for paper transactions across the league to get players eligible for the Calder Cup Playoffs, but the Reign aren’t in the mix for a postseason berth. Also, none of Matt Roy, Sean Walker or Austin Wagner were involved in any moves, and all three would’ve been prime candidates for paper transactions for hypothetical postseason eligibility. I’ll add some clarity to this should it be available tonight, but Blake hinted at some upcoming roster juggling.
UPDATE: The clarity.
— AHL Communications (@AHLPR) February 25, 2019
“There are some CBA rules that allow so many recalls,” Blake said. “We have to juggle a little bit around the deadline on players’ availability for both Ontario and LA, but we’re open to these options right now. We’ve got a healthy lineup here with the guys that are going to go here tonight and we’ll get things sorted out.”
–On Luff, Blake was happy with his recent performance in Ontario. “We went down the last couple while we were home through this road trip. Most of the hockey staff remained here in LA, so we went and watched him. He was good in those games. He’s had a really good attitude when he has been sent back down that he comes and plays right away and he goes out there. Credit to Mike Stothers – he gets him going like that. Continue that same path, the same drive he has. He’s generating shots and producing at the American League level.”
–The workload in net will likely continue with the same balance, per Blake. “Our coaching staff will determine most of that. I wouldn’t see a lot different than we had in the past. We have confidence in Jack when he’s in there. It sounds like he’s playing there tonight against a real good team in Tampa. Our goalies are competitive, just as I expect whoever is in the next games are just as competitive.”
–Alec Martinez (upper-body), meanwhile, has skated back at home for the last several days and is getting closer to returning to game action. “Going to see the doctor today,” Blake said. “We’re hopeful within the next week we’ll get him back into a game lineup.”
–Not a major update, but the “whole [coaching] staff” is still undergoing evaluation. “Just as it has continued this year, it will continue throughout the season and we’ll deal with things after,” Blake said.
Rob Blake, on whether it was good to get ahead of the trade market with the Jake Muzzin trade:
I’m not sure. It was difficult. I think the Muzzin deal and Toronto, once we understood what we were asking for for Jake and that came, we did the deal because that’s where we were at. It’s hard to tell if you wait you get more or whatever the aspect was of it. We just felt that we had asking prices for individuals on our team, and when they were met, we did those deals.
Blake, on his conversations with players around the trade deadline:
Difficult conversations, for sure, with the matter of individuals on the team. They’re not easy conversations. I tried to be as upfront and honest. There’s no guarantees one way or the other, so yeah, we’ve had some conversations with some of the guys. My conversations with the players that are here will continue next week and get things in order here and move forward.
–Lead photo via Juan Ocampo/NHLI