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Blake, Kovalev know all about living with trade rumors

by Staff
Each season hockey fans, writers, sportscasters -- even NHL general managers -- go up and down each team's roster and make a wish list of players they would love to see trading spaces. Once the trade winds start blowing and the "wanted" players actually become available, the NHL world spins out of control faster than a Carolina Hurricane.

The fans scour the Web and check out television shows, looking for the latest news and/or rumors about their favorite players or team. The beat writers and sportscasters gather around the dressing room hoping to get the scoop on the possible trade, while the GMs go about their business, risking carpal tunnel syndrome while burning up the phones.

While this may sound like it's all fun and games, the players who are on the the subject of all this attention beg to differ.

Just ask San Jose Sharks defenseman Rob Blake or the Canadiens’ Alexei Kovalev. These two have been on the "hot seat" during their careers, sweating out possible moves.

Along with all the trade rumors during their careers, the two even had to withstand the barrage of questions from the media during All-Star Weekend.

In separate years at the event, Blake and Kovalev were under the hot lights of the press. The two All-Stars were constantly being asked about what city they would be traded to instead of how it felt to be taking part in a star-studded contest with the game's best players.

At the 2001 All-Star Game, Blake, who was still a member of the Los Angeles Kings, was bombarded with the 'so where are you going?' questions, while Kovalev was peppered at the 2003 game in South Florida, where he was representing Pittsburgh.

"At something like (the All-Star Game) when all the media is around rumors are going to be flying," Blake explained. "I feel for a player when that happens."

Kovalev made like Patrick Roy and deflected all the trade-talk questions into the corner of the availability room.

"It keeps the media busy," Kovalev joked at the time. "Sometimes you help them out and sometimes they help you out. We all have a job to do. They ask the same questions and we give them the same answers.

"I went through all the trade rumors once in New York, so I'm a little used to it. You have no control over it or what is said. As long as it doesn't bother my teammates, it's OK with me. I can handle it. Whatever happens, I will still have my job."

Blake remembers the rocky trade road he traveled as a member of the Kings. He recalls that a day didn't go by in the 2000-01 season that he wasn't hounded about being moved out of Los Angeles.

"I was constantly being asked if I played my last game as a King," he said. "(At the 2001 All-Star Game) I didn't even know how many suitcases to bring. You hear a new rumor with a different team every day."

The Kings were under the impression they would lose the All-Star defenseman the following year to free agency, so they decided to test the waters and see what they could get for the stellar defender before they lost him for nothing as a free agent.

"It was evident to us from very early on Rob was intent on free agency," former Kings GM Dave Taylor said.

The team and player came to an agreement during that season's training camp that when the right deal came along, Blake would be dealt.

"It was tough, but I knew from training camp on that it was going to happen, so the adjustment wasn't as bad," Blake said. "I think the hardest part was dealing with different rumors or different teams every week. As far as personally, I knew between the Kings and I that it was going to happen and that it was just a matter of time."

However, the right time for Blake to be traded didn't come until the season was almost two-thirds completed, which turned out to be a hard thing to process.

Blake was traded, along with Steven Reinprecht, from Los Angeles to Colorado on Feb. 21, 2001 for Aaron Miller, Adam Deadmarsh, a player to be named later (Jared Aulin), the Avs' first-round pick in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft and future considerations.

Even when he was informed of the deal, Blake was still shocked that his career in Los Angeles had come to an end after wearing the Kings' crest for more than a decade.
"It was tough, but I knew from training camp on that it was going to happen, so the adjustment wasn't as bad. I think the hardest part was dealing with different rumors or different teams every week. As far as personally, I knew between the Kings and I that it was going to happen and that it was just a matter of time."
-- Rob Blake
"You know all year long you're going to get traded, but you don't know when, you don't know where. So you prepare yourself as much as you can," he said. "Still, there's a little bit of a shock when it happens."

While Kovalev may have understood that trades are very much a part of the business, he still took the news hard even when he found out he was going back to his old team in New York when the deal was consummated less than a month after the ’03 All-Star Game.

"It's definitely hard. It's not easy to be traded," Kovalev said after being dealt back to the Rangers. "Pittsburgh is a great organization and gave me a great opportunity. Playing with Mario (Lemieux) and Jags (Jaromir Jagr) helped me a lot. I learned a lot from those guys."

Former Pens GM Craig Patrick, who had to trade the lethal forward because he couldn't afford to keep the potential free agent, also found it hard to part ways with Kovalev.

"He's a tremendous guy," the Penguins' GM said. "These days aren't fun, but it was something we had to do. It was a tough decision, it (the playoffs) weighed into the decision, but it was the best deal we could make. That said, if that's the best deal you can make, you've got to go with that way."

In that particular deal, the Rangers gave up Rico Fata, Mikael Samuelsson, Joel Bouchard and Richard Lintner to get Kovalev, Dan LaCouture, Janne Laukkanen and Mike Wilson.

"When you have a chance to get a player like Alexei Kovalev, you can't really pass that opportunity up," Rangers GM Glen Sather said at the time. "He's an elite player with tremendous skill. He competes and we need someone to put the puck in the net."

The Avalanche, like the Rangers, felt they couldn't pass on the opportunity to get a player like Blake when they dealt for the defender eight years ago.

"Rob Blake is an elite and one-of-a kind defenseman who is in his prime right now," former Colorado GM Pierre Lacroix said then. "Blake is recognized as a major force in this League and an all-around great defenseman that combines size, skill, toughness and agility."

Los Angeles, who ironically met and lost to the Avalanche in the 2001 Western Conference Semifinals, also felt they made out on the blockbuster deal.

"We were able to obtain two players who can step into our lineup now and have a definite impact," Taylor said after the '01 trade.

But Blake and the Avs wound up getting the better of the deal when all was said and done. Colorado went on to knock off the Kings in seven games in the Western Conference semifinals en route to their second Stanley Cup championship, which just so happened to be Blake's first.
"I never expected to be traded. I never expected to meet L.A. in the playoffs. I never expected to go to a Game 7 and win a Cup," Blake says. "During the time it was difficult, but when you look back it's the best way it could happen."

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