Rob Blake has been adding pieces to the Los Angeles Kings organization through college free agency ever since he was named general manager. With these additions, he’s been able to propel the team forward, and these college free agents have made a rather large impact on the Kings organization.
How Rob Blake has Effectively Managed Assets With College Free Agency
To build a competitive team, the front office needs to manage assets efficiently and responsibly. Every move that is made is some form of asset management. When a team goes out and signs a free agent, they gain an asset in the player but lose one in cap space. This is why low risk, high reward type moves can be a safe, yet effective way to bring in assets. One of the most common forms of these moves is through the signing of college free agents.
Due to never having played in the NHL, college free agents have to sign entry-level contracts. Entry-level contracts have a maximum cap hit of $925,000, making them fairly insignificant to an NHL team’s cap hit. This allows entry-level deals to provide significant asset value to teams. They pay little to gain what can sometimes be a productive player.
For example, in 2016-17, Connor McDavid was in the second year of his entry-level deal and scored 100 points. A player of that calibre would usually be making upwards of $10 million per season, but the Edmonton Oilers were able to have him at a cap hit of under $1 million. While this is a rarity, it goes to show how these contracts can provide little risk and high reward. Worst case, the player doesn’t make the NHL and the team doesn’t need to worry about the money spent.
How it Applies to College Free Agency
Of course, when getting a player like McDavid, the Oilers had to spend two assets. Those being the money for his contract and the first overall pick, a very valuable asset. When signing players through free agency, the only asset spent is the cap space. So when teams sign college free agents, they can get them at an affordable cap hit. Then they own the rights to that player without having to use additional assets on them, like draft picks. College free agency can be so enticing to a general manager because it gives away minimal assets while gaining an asset that can be much more valuable.
How it Applies to the Kings
After the Kings fired former general manager Dean Lombardi, one of Rob Blake’s first tasks was to re-stock the Kings with young talent. The team was thin on prospects because Lombardi had traded multiple draft picks and prospects for roster players to propel the Kings to two Stanley Cups and attempt to keep their cup window open. Blake made it clear his goal was to hold onto draft picks and add as many young players as he could. This is exactly what he did.
Not only did he make 32 selections in just four drafts, but he was enticed by the low risk, high reward option of college free agency, and he explored it quite a bit.
Probably the most significant and effective college free agent signing Blake made was that of Alex Iafallo. Practically ever since he got to Los Angeles, Iafallo has been playing on the Kings top line along with Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown. His game complements them perfectly, as he adds some speed and grit to the line. So far throughout his career, Iafallo has been on an upwards trajectory points-wise. He scored 25 points in 75 games in his rookie year in 2017-18, then followed it with 33 points in 82 games the following year.
In the 2019-20 season, Iafallo scored 17 goals and 26 assists for 43 points in 70 games. This put him on pace to score about 20 goals and 50 points in a full 82 game season. The last time a Kings winger not named Dustin Brown scored or paced for at least 50 points in a season was a tie between Tyler Toffoli and Milan Lucic in the 2015-16 season. This goes to show how valuable an addition Iafallo is becoming for Los Angeles. They were able to make this addition through college free agency and gave up virtually no assets to do so. All that was given up to obtain Iafallo was an entry-level contract.
The only person who could possibly challenge Iafallo for the most effective college free agency signing is Cal Petersen. After being drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in 2013, Petersen chose not to sign with the Sabres and signed with the Kings after being attracted by their world-class goaltending coaches. After spending three years with the Ontario Reign Petersen will be a full-time Kings player for the 2020-21 season. He will likely share the starting role with Jonathan Quick. Don’t be surprised, however, if he starts to run away with it. He is an important player to the Kings and could be a major factor in their success next season.
Petersen is widely considered to be the future staring goaltender of the Kings. At this point, it’s only a matter of time. He’s been phenomenal in the few NHL games he’s played, being a bright spot for an ugly past few seasons in LA. Once again, Rob Blake was able to add a player of this value through college free agency with a mere entry-level contract. He gambled on Petersen’s potential and seems to be winning. Getting Petersen in the Kings organization and only spending a couple hundred thousand dollars is exceptional asset management by Blake.
This name might come as a bit of a surprise, mainly because Brad Morrison is no longer in the Kings organization. He was traded in October to the Chicago Blackhawks for defenceman Olli Maatta. After signing him from college free agency in 2018, Morrison was a player where the reward factor didn’t pan out. He played a year with the Ontario Reign but was then sent down to the ECHL Fort Wayne Komets.
The way Morrison turned out for LA didn’t matter though. Blake was able to flip him and address an expressed position of need, a left-shot defenceman, with Olli Maatta. Once again Blake was able to show strong asset management. He essentially turned an entry-level contract into a defenceman who’s expected to play top-pairing minutes with Drew Doughty. Not only did Blake get good value for the Morrison signing, but it also allowed him to allocate assets elsewhere.
It was apparent that Rob Blake was looking to acquire a left-shot defenceman who could play with Doughty. There were rumors that he was willing to potentially part with one of the Kings three second-round picks in the 2020 NHL Draft. By acquiring a defenceman with Morrison, the Kings were able to hold onto those picks. This let them bring Helge Grans, Brock Faber, and Lias Andersson into the organization. Had Blake not signed and then traded Morrison, the team would likely be without one of the three players listed above.
When Rob Blake became general manager of the Kings, he needed to address the lack of young talent. One of the first ways he did this was by using the college free-agent market, and it paid off very well for him. He was able to manage assets incredibly well by spending little to obtain low risk, high reward players. Some of these players became key pieces to the Kings organization. The Kings were able to get them by giving up little to nothing.