SAN JOSE, Calif. – Rob Blake is heading up the California coast, hoping to end his stellar NHL career with a shot at another Stanley Cup title in San Jose.
The veteran defenceman signed a US$5-million, one-year contract with the Sharks on Friday, leaving Pacific Division rival Los Angeles for a more immediate chance at playoff success.
Blake is the longtime face and soul of the Kings, spending 13 1/2 of his 18 NHL seasons with Los Angeles, including the past two campaigns. Just last month, Blake said he expected to re-sign with the club – but when the Kings didn’t contact Blake in the first few days of free agency, the Sharks quickly grabbed their rivals’ captain to mentor their young defencemen while easing the impact of Brian Campbell’s departure.
“San Jose is something I’ve always admired,” said Blake, a seven-time All-Star. “They have a ton of potential, and they’re always right there every year. The excitement is in moving up the road a little and playing for a championship again.”
The 38-year-old Blake is one of the NHL’s most respected blueliners, and he showed no signs of slowing down last season, according to Sharks general manager Doug Wilson, a longtime admirer. Blake has 702 career points, tied for fourth among active players at his position, and a Stanley Cup championship from his time with the Colorado Avalanche in 2001.
He leaves the losing Kings for the division champion Sharks, whose defensive shortcomings played a role in their playoff struggles over the past few years. San Jose has been eliminated from the second round in each of the past three post-seasons, leading to coach Ron Wilson’s firing this summer.
He’ll get significant responsibility from new coach Todd McLellan in the Sharks’ six-man defensive rotation, which looks solid despite Campbell’s defection to Chicago.
“He’s a player that we’ve identified for a long period of time as someone that would fit into our club,” said Wilson, who chased Blake at each of the past two trade deadlines. “He’ll play a lot of minutes, and players like this, great players, need to have the ability to win to really thrive.
“I think he enjoys mentoring young players and all that, but you do need to be able to win to bring out the best in you,” Wilson added. “He can still skate. He can still play. In fact, maybe the last half of last season was among the best I’ve seen him play.”
The signing is San Jose’s first move on the summer free agent market. The Sharks lost Campbell this week to the Blackhawks, who lavished San Jose’s late-season trade acquisition with an eight-year contract worth nearly $57 million.
Blake, who won the Norris Trophy in 1998, has been remarkably durable late in his career, playing at least 71 games in every season since 2001. Blake had nine goals and 22 assists last season while logging big minutes, and his right-handed shot is badly needed on the Sharks’ power play.
Blake didn’t know why Kings GM Dean Lombardi didn’t return his calls after free agency opened Tuesday, but Wilson made his first call to Blake, who said he wasn’t sure he would be up for yet another year of rebuilding in Los Angeles anyway.
“I’m not really sure what happened down the line there,” Blake said. “The team is going to keep growing. I wish them all the best, and years down the road, I’m sure I’ll be watching them.”
Blake also is a three-time Canadian Olympian, teaming with Sharks star Joe Thornton.
“I’ve gotten to play with Rob at several international tournaments, and we’ve built a friendship over the years,” Thornton said. “He’ll fit right into our group, and more importantly will help us win.”