At this time last year, Rob Blake
was in his 20th season as an NHL defenseman and gearing up for another run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs as a member of the San Jose Sharks
Fast-forward 12 months and Blake is still very much involved in the game -- but now instead of scoring goals and dishing out big hits, he's part of the League's Hockey Operations department. Hired on Jan. 27, the veteran of 1,270 regular-season games for the Los Angeles Kings
, Colorado Avalanche
and Sharks, whose career highlights include winning the Stanley Cup and Olympic gold, works with Senior Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell
and his staff on all aspects of the game, including the All-Star Game and the NHL's summer Research and Development Camp.
"The transition's been good and (I'm) welcoming the change," Blake told Stan Fischler, guest-hosting during Thursday's "NHL Hour With Commissioner Gary Bettman."
Blake became the second high-profile player to take a position with the League in recent years, joining Brendan Shanahan
, the Vice President of Hockey and Business Development.
"Keep a pretty open mind to all different aspects," Blake said when asked what type of advice Shanahan has offered. "When you first come out of [playing], you tend to stay right to the on-ice product and different things because that's what we've done for 20 years. But he said to keep an open mind to the business side and try to get involved in different meetings and become aware of everything that goes on to putting on a hockey game."
Exchanging skates and a hockey sweater for a suit and tie has provided Blake with the opportunity to view the game in a new way.
"I do watch games differently now after being involved in the Toronto office for a few weekends in the war room," he said. "You watch some of the calls and the missed calls and the hits and different things, things that I didn't probably pay attention to when I played as much as the score."
Blake, who amassed 1,679 penalty minutes in his career and undoubtedly challenged the call of an official or two in his time, has gained a greater appreciation for the work referees and linesmen do while spending time in the NHL war room in Toronto, where all video reviews are handled during games.
"The thing is, when you play, no matter what penalty you get -- unless it's super obvious -- you always tend to say, 'well, that's not a penalty,' and you go to the box and you yell and you do your thing," Blake said. "When you sit in the room [in Toronto] and you watch it, the speed that it happens and the decisions that these referees make, we can sit in that room and replay it 30 times and we're not sure if it's quite an elbow or not. They make these split decisions and nine out of 10 times they're right on. So you have to credit them, the understanding and the learning they put in to do that job."
Following the incredibly tight playoff races in both conferences and with the pursuit of the Stanley Cup right around the corner for 16 teams, it wouldn't be surprising if Blake felt a pang for his playing days.
"When you first come out of [playing], you tend to stay right to the on-ice product and different things because that's what we've done for 20 years. But he said to keep an open mind to the business side and try to get involved in different meetings and become aware of everything that goes on to putting on a hockey game."
-- Rob Blake
"I don't miss playing as much as I thought I would," he said. "Obviously I was fortunate enough to play long enough to be able to walk away at a time when I knew my body and everything was ready to say enough for playing. But I do miss being around the game of hockey and talking about hockey and being involved, and fortunately I've been able to attend a lot of the Kings games with Luc Robitaille
and now get involved with the NHL to kind of keep me into that."
Might Blake one day be interested in moving from the League headquarters behind a team's bench as coach?
"I didn't want to do it right away, just for the fact of the hours," Blake said. "I see the hours these coaches put in and they're very committed and they're there every day. I've done that kind of schedule for 20 years, and I wanted to kind of step away for a little bit and have the family and things involved and slowly see, but it is an aspect I do enjoy. I've been coaching my kids here for a little bit at a total different level, but it is exciting. I think it's a way to be very close to the game, is to be right behind the bench, and you're involved emotionally probably as much as you are as a player."