Rob Blake still believes in the San Jose Sharks despite another stunning early playoff exit. The Sharks certainly showed that they still believe in him.
The two sides agreed on a one-year, $3.5-million deal to bring back the former Norris Trophy-winning defenseman, who showed he still had plenty left after delivering 10 goals, 35 assists and a good dose of professionalism in his 18th full NHL season.
The signing wasn't made official until Thursday, but Blake and the Sharks reportedly made their agreement June 30, the eve of free agency. Chasing a second Stanley Cup with another team wasn't a real option.
"We were disappointed with our playoff run but I think we've got a good base there," Blake said. "Once I knew that my health was good, I decided to come back. I consider (the Sharks) a Cup contender. Anytime you win a Presidents' Trophy, you have to be considered a contender."
Blake has 233 goals and 514 assists in 1,200 games with San Jose, Los Angeles and Colorado. In his first season with the Sharks, the 39-year-old, played 73 games and finished eighth among League defensemen in shots with 198.
Not bad for someone who is supposed to be in the twilight of his distinguished career that has already seen hin named an All-Star seven times.
"If it was anything less, I can walk away and I'll always be excited for what I've done over a career," said Blake, speaking to NHL.com from his off-season home in Ontario. "I don't see anything else I want to do other than play. Sometimes players think that they can play forever. Management will tell you when the time is right."
Sharks GM Doug Wilson vowed to make changes after his team was upset by the Anaheim Ducks in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs despite a franchise-record 53 victories and 117 points.
But the biggest changes Wilson has made thus far is letting restricted free agents Marcel Goc, Tomas Plihal and Lukas Kaspar walk after not tendering the forwards qualifying offers. Re-signing Blake made it clear that the veteran wasn't the problem.
"Rob's performance this past season speaks for itself," Wilson said in a statement. "He's a true professional, a leader that has been a captain in the League and still plays at an elite level. The way that he carries himself day in and day out is something that every player in our locker room should try to mirror."
Outside of the shocking six-game loss to Anaheim, Blake said he enjoyed the complementary role he took on in San Jose.
"It was kind of what I expected," he said. "It's a simpler game there. With the talent they have, you just kind of do your own job and fit into their system. It makes things fun."
"The problem with our team is we didn't take it up another level in the playoffs. You need to understand that you have to go to a different level."
One thing Blake took from the disappointment is watching star center Joe Thornton
challenge the Ducks' Ryan Getzlaf before Game 5 and fight the young All-Star after the opening puck drop in Game 6. Thornton's three points in Game 5 helped the Sharks stave off elimination for a night.
Barring any big changes in the long-term plan, Thornton will be back, along with long-time captain Patrick Marleau
, goaltender Evgeni Nabokov and defenseman Dan Boyle
"I'm really excited to see Joe," Blake said. "Everyone there understands Joe and what he brings to a team. When you lose in the playoffs a few years in a row, the top guys are going to take the heat. Those guys are the ones that are going to feel the most pressure.
"I think (the fight) was his ways to say he's going to do whatever he can to help us get past that point."
It's become a familiar refrain for the Sharks -- tremendous regular-season success followed by an aborted Stanley Cup run. This past season may have been the most painful. Blake said he's not past it yet, and that is what will drive him in a 2009-10 season he hopes will end in redemption.
"That's the best thing about hockey," said Blake. "As long as you have the opportunity to come back and play the next season, you have the opportunity to redeem yourself.
"I know every interview I've done since, you talk about the failure because it's always brought up and it should be. You should be reminded of that daily until you accomplish that goal."