There’s an old, corny joke that asks: Where does an 800-pound gorilla sit?
Well, where does a 6-foot-4, 225-pound Norris Trophy-winning future-Hall of Famer sign when he’s an unrestricted free agent? You know the punch line, and you know Blake’s answer.
“I look at how this team performed over the past couple of years and the thing that intrigued me about San Jose is how hungry their players and management were to win a Cup,” Blake, who inked a one-year $5-million deal on July 3, told THN.com Wednesday. “They knew they only had a short window to do it, so they were very committed starting with the first day I talked to them and all the way through the process.”
It’s been a deal that’s turned out swimmingly. After a pair of seasons with a rebuilding Kings squad where Blake was a combined minus-45 and averaged .45 points per game, the four-time NHL all-star is plus-18 and has 39 points in 61 games (a .63 PPG average) this campaign.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” said the Simcoe, Ont., native who represented Canada at both the 1998 and 2002 Olympics. “We play a real good system with a really talented bunch, so it’s been really easy to adapt.”
With nearly 1200 regular season and 125 playoff games of experience over his 18-year career, it would be natural to assume the 39-year-old was brought in to impart his wealth of knowledge on youngsters such as 21-year-old fellow blueliner Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
It’s an assumption, however, that falls flat.
“It’s a little different with this team” said Blake. “There’s no need to mentor them to become better players; they’re already good players.
“It’s a different situation than I was in last year with L.A. Many of our kids have already played in big games at an early age and they understand what it takes, so it’s just a matter of going out there and playing.”
So, how does this Sharks squad stack up against the Avalanche team Blake helped lead to the Cup as a 30-year-old?
“The biggest similarity would be the depth of the lineups,” he said. “The team in Colorado in 2001, we had a good regular season all the way through, but we needed every bit of our depth in the playoffs because we lost Peter Forsberg in Round 2 and we were still able to go on and win it. This team is very deep like that. Joe Thornton and Patty Marleau are the two key guys, and we can split those two up and we just keep coming at you.”
While some of San Jose’s success can to be pinned on their new-look blueline featuring Blake, Norris candidate Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich, the biggest reason comes in the form of freshman head coach Todd McLellan, who defected from Detroit in the off-season and brought with him an up-tempo, puck-possession style.
“He came in and demanded from Day 1 that we respect the style of play,” said Blake, only two years younger than his 41-year-old bench boss. “(The system) is simple, but it’s rewarding. When you do it and you go back and watch it on video and you see the outcomes and the good things that happen from it, it really makes you buy into it very quickly.
“There’s no gimmicks with coach McLellan. It’s simply, ‘this is the way we’re going to play; we’re men, we’re here to do a job, so let’s get to it.’ It’s been a message that’s really carried over to the players.”
Now all that’s left is to see if that message will resonate in the playoffs and give Blake an opportunity to be fitted for a second Stanley Cup ring.
Edward Fraser is the editor of thehockeynews.com. His blog normally appears Thursdays.
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