Jason Blake didn’t even have a uniform number.
He arrived from Toronto late Sunday night after being traded by the Maple Leafs and joined his new Anaheim Ducks teammates this morning for their pre-game skate in Florida. There was no uniform number on his helmet, no name plate on his locker stall and no complaints from Blake.
“I was thrilled (about the trade),” Blake said in an interview after practice.
Relieved too because he signed a big free agent contract in 2007 and in his own words, “didn’t work out.” Blake was coming off a 40-goal season with the New York Islanders when he joined the Leafs, but only a few weeks into his new season, was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML).
Blake’s cancer was treatable and never kept him out of the lineup, but the veteran winger’s scoring totals in Toronto didn’t come close to matching his New York numbers and that made him an easy target for the frustration of fans and media in one of hockey most intense markets.
“It’s a tough place to play no question,” Blake said. “Everything runs through there, all the rumors and B.S, and coming to rink dealing with 25 media guys every day asking what’s wrong, and why aren’t winning. It’s not an excuse but it does wear on you.
“I enjoyed my time in Toronto, but I know I didn’t adapt to it well so I was looking for a fresh start a long time ago. Hopefully this will be the right fit.”
It does have potential. While the Ducks were still getting used to the idea of not having popular goalie J-S Giguere around anymore, Blake got to spend most of his first practice on a line with Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne, who will be making his return to the lineup ahead of schedule after breaking his jaw.
Coach Randy Carlyle will have them together on a lineup to take advantage of Blake’s speed, which was part of the thinking for GM Bob Murray in acquiring him in the Giguere deal. But Murray said he thought the change of scenery could breathe new life into the 36-year-old forward.
“I know how he played in New York, Toronto didn’t work out but that’s part of our business now with big contracts,” Murray said. “If you get a big contract in Canadian dn cities, you’re under the gun, that’s what happened.
“This is the piano off his back, that’s what I’m hoping for. He’s got something to prove and he will prove. He’s got some speed and with Teemu coming back, we’ve got some speed, something our big forwards can use around them.”
That’s what Blake hopes.
“I’m very excited but I’m very nervous,” he said. “You don’t want to come in a ruin things.”