Blake hungry for another Stanley Cup

Originally published in Eishockey News in 2008

By Lucas Aykroyd

When the San Jose Sharks offered Rob Blake a one-year, $5-million deal on July 1, the start of NHL free agency, it wasn’t because they wanted him to come in and serve as a glorified assistant coach.

The Sharks believe the 38-year-old defenceman, who had nine goals and 31 points as the captain of the L.A. Kings last year, can make a real contribution in the franchise’s quest for its first Stanley Cup. Blake previously won a Cup with Colorado in 2001.

“He’s going to play on the power play and penalty kill, and he’ll get as many minutes as his body can handle,” said new Sharks head coach Todd McLellan. “He’ll provide leadership in the room, but I don’t think we want to put him in a mentoring role here. We want him to play Rob Blake’s game. Just by his actions, he’ll mentor some of the younger players.”

Compared to last season, San Jose has dramatically revamped its blueline. Talented power play quarterback Brian Campbell, who was a rental player during the playoffs, accepted a mega-offer from Chicago, and the Sharks also dealt away defencemen Matt Carle and Craig Rivet.

But with the acquisition of Blake, as well as two 2004 Stanley Cup winners in Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich from Tampa Bay, you could argue that the Sharks look even better on the back end this year. And Blake is definitely the biggest legend in the group.

“Blake’s been to the top of the mountain,” said Boyle. “He’s going to bring a lot of leadership, and he’s got that big bomb of a shot.”

Personally, Blake has been impressed with his new teammates, whom he mostly knew as divisional rivals in the past: “Obviously the main guys are Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton. They’re the leaders of this team. They’re going to carry us a long way, and we’re going to lean on them. Then you’ve got Evgeni Nabokov in net as well. It’s extremely nice to play in front of a goalie with his talent and poise.”

Partnering with Marc-Edouard Vlasic so far has been another treat for Blake. The smooth-skating 21-year-old is entering his third NHL season, and was a major point producer in junior hockey, although he fell off to 14 points last year, compared to 26 as a rookie.

“Vlasic is very good,” said Blake. “He’s similar to John-Michael Liles when I came to Colorado. He’s not really big, but he’s mobile and moves the puck well. His first pass is very good. For a young guy, he has a lot of poise.”

Blake is well-positioned to evaluate young defencemen. He won the Norris Trophy in 1998 with the Kings. So who, in his opinion, is the most likely candidate to end Nicklas Lidstrom’s three-year reign as the NHL’s top rearguard?

“I don’t know if anybody’s going to!” Blake said. “I think a guy like Dion Phaneuf has a chance with his all-around game, as well as Zdeno Chara. But again, until Lidstrom decides to retire, I don’t think there’s anybody better in the game right now. He’s one of a kind. He’s so smart, and he’s never in a bad position. He knows how to read plays and knock pucks down. And his first pass and ability to join the play is tremendous compared to anybody else.”

Blake won’t win another Norris himself, but the three-time Olympian is still enjoying the game. He trains rigorously with fitness guru T.R. Goodman in L.A. during the off-season, and he’ll take it year by year in terms of prolonging his career. And he sees reasons to believe that San Jose will finally stop being nothing more than a highly touted contender and go all the way this year. The Sharks have lost in the second round three years in a row.

“The good thing is that they’re hungry,” said Blake. “If you look at their main guys in Joe and Patty and Nabby and Jeremy Roenick, these guys want a Cup. They want to get to that next level. When you’re hungry like that, you can make a team go a long way.” Digg it Furl iFeedReaders Netscape RawSugar reddit StumbleUpon Yahoo MyWeb YardBarker

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