The post-lockout seasons have been a roller coaster personally and professionally for Jason Blake
. The more things change, however, the more they stay the same.
Traded to Anaheim with Vesa Toskala
by Toronto earlier this month in exchange for Jean-Sebastian Giguere, Blake feels the answer to getting his career back in a positive groove is by not changing a thing.
"Go to the net hard, get in on the forecheck," Blake told NHL.com. "You have to go to those areas that aren't fun. I can't change my game around."
The Ducks hope his experience will help the club continue its long climb back into the playoff race. With a fresh start alongside two fellow Bill Masterton
Trophy winners, Teemu Selanne
and Saku Koivu
, Blake is energized and ready to restore his game in Anaheim. In his first seven games, he has a goal and 3 points.
A 40-goal season with the 2006-07 with the Islanders earned him a five-year, $20 million free-agent pact with Toronto. But the following season, Blake's goal production dipped, due in no small measure to playing through a cancer diagnosis.
In the preseason, despite experiencing no symptoms, he was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia. It's a rare but treatable form of the disease, and remarkably he played all 82 games that season and earned the Bill Masterton
Trophy to reward his "perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey."
"(The medication) looks like a multivitamin," said Blake. "I take it every day."
In hindsight, though, Blake admits he probably should have taken some time off after the diagnosis. At the time, however, he believed the normalcy of the work day was helpful.
"When I first found out, the big question was, should I take some time off?" Blake said. "I didn't. I thought that (work) was my rehab. To go to the rink, get away from it (cancer), enjoy two hours and not think about it. I had great support. The Toronto organization was great in that respect."
After his 15-goal season in 2007-08, he rebounded last season to 25 goals, but often was burned by the spotlight in hockey-mad Toronto. Few critics remember that despite his struggles, Blake still led the Leafs in shots on goal during both seasons in Toronto, and his 25 goals last season were good for first on the club.
"I've always liked Jason Blake
," said Anaheim GM Bob Murray
. "It's unfortunate how it went in Toronto, but he won't be the first or last guy who gets into one of those markets where it just doesn't go (his way). He got sick, fought his way through it. Jason is a quality hockey player."
"Toronto is a great organization," said Blake. "(But) you come to a team like (Anaheim), with all the talent, you just don't have that (in Toronto). That's just the way it is.
"(In Toronto), I just sort of played all over the place. I'd start the game with someone and the second shift, it'd be a different line. There, it just didn't work out. I'm coming here and getting a chance to play with (Koivu and Selanne), hopefully we can make a run for the playoffs."
With Koivu, Selanne and Blake, the Ducks' second line is replete with skill, speed and character.
"Teemu is a Hall of Famer and Saku is right behind him," Blake said. "Two great players who have been in the League a long time and been successful. For me, coming to a new team, it's always about trying to fit in."
So far, so good in Southern California, where the Ducks are 4-2-0 since his arrival.
Blake has much in common with his new linemates, who also have survived tough hockey times to earn success and Masterton trophies of their own.
Koivu endured a difficult battle with abdominal cancer in 2001-02. Then captain of the Canadiens, he returned for the playoffs after chemotherapy treatments and was honored with the Masterton trophy after that season.
Selanne snagged the 2005-06 Masterton after recording 40 goals and 90 points in the first post-lockout season. A variety of injuries had slowed him prior to the lockout, his goal totals dipping to just 16 with Colorado in 2003-04.
The 36-year-old Blake admits he's a late bloomer who originally intended to use his skillful shot for a different sport entirely.
"I actually wanted to play golf, to be honest," he said of his college days. "I went to Ferris State for a year to be a golf pro at a course. Hockey worked out my freshman year (16 goals in 36 games) and I transferred to North Dakota."
The undrafted Blake signed a free agent contract with the Kings in 1999, and made his NHL debut during the 1998-99 season at age 25.
"I took the long route," he said. "There's no question about it."