Mike Ulmer has worked for seven news organizations including the National Post and, most recently, the Toronto Sun. Mike has written about the Leafs for 10 years and wrote Captains, a book about the club’s greatest leaders.
(TORONTO) - As usual, it fell to Maple Leafs coach Paul Maurice to hit just the right note about the team’s newest free-agent acquisition, left winger Jason Blake
“What I like about Jason,” Maurice said, “is that I didn’t like Jason. I didn‘t like competing against Jason. Rarely do you get a skill player who competes so strongly, at home and on the road.”
“I’m a guy who wants to win and I want to win every night.,” Blake said. “ I’m a competitor and I want to win a Stanley Cup in Toronto. I’ll do whatever I need to do that.”
In signing a 40-goal scorer away from the New York Islanders, the Leafs accomplished a number of things.
First, they added a potent goal scorer and a potential first-line partner with Mats Sundin who himself re-signed with the Maple Leafs for another year. Blake’s 40 goals was the tenth highest in the league. No current Leaf broke 30.
They made themselves tougher to play. While he has never neared 100 penalty minutes, Blake is an excellent skater and a major irritant. He raises cane on the forecheck and while he is listed at five-foot-10, the obstruction rules make him virtually impossible to harness.
Finally, with Mike Peca declaring that he doesn’t expect to return to the Maple Leafs, Blake figures to inherit prime penalty-killing time. The Leafs penalty kill hit the skids once Peca went down with a leg injury in 2007.
Blake is a late bloomer. He was undrafted and didn’t reach the NHL until he was 25. He was a bust for the team that promoted him to the NHL, the Los Angeles Kings and scored only eight goals in his first full season with the New York Islanders.
“I started out at 25 and it took me a few years go get started,” the Minnesota native said.
When he did, he put up 25, 22, 28 seasons before hitting for 40.
Now, at 33, he insists the Leafs will get full value for their five-year contract.
“I look at a guy like Chris Chelios, who I have played with. He’s 45. I’d like to be a guy like him. I keep myself in tremendous shape. I love the game. I love to play. I’d love to play until I’m 50.”
“This is a day where you can make a big real difference in your franchise and it’s a day we feel really good about,” said Leafs GM John Ferguson. Ferguson acquired goalie Vesa Toskala and two-time 20-goal scorer Mark Bell at the NHL entry draft in exchange for draft choices.
“We have bettered our goal scoring, we’re stronger down the middle and now we’ve added a scorer for one of the top two lines,” Ferguson said.